The Arsenal Report
Tottenham v. Arsenal, White Hart Lane
Arsenal headed down the road to take on their cross-town rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. The Gunners have recently been able to squeak by with close victories during league play while their cup form has been lacking. Last week they were able to rescue three points from Aston Villa with a late brace by Santi Cazorla. Close and late victories have been a staple of Tottenham’s 2013. Gareth Bale has had a flare for magic at the closing moments of the match. The young Welshman has been arguably the best player of the Premier League this campaign and certainly the talisman of Spurs’ run for the Champions League. Arsenal sat four points behind Tottenham in the table and supporters would find a loss unacceptable. With only eleven games to play, points are scarce and there may not be room for both clubs in the top four.
Arsenal Starting XI:
Jenkinson – Mertesacker – Vermaelen – Monreal
Ramsey – Arteta
Walcott – Wilshere – Cazorla
Tottenham Starting XI:
Walker – Dawson – Vertonghen – Assou-Ekotto
Dembele – Parker
Lennon – Bale – Sigurdsson
Arsene Wenger once again chose to go without his German star on the left wing. Lukas Podolski has had success for the Gunners with great service and powerful shooting, but has found himself selected as a late substitute for Arsene Wenger. There was only one change to the side that saw victory over Aston Villa last week: Abou Diaby felt the remnants of his injury suffered against the Villains and was unable to play. Aaron Ramsey took his place in the middle of the pitch.
The first ten minutes of the match went in Arsenal’s favor. They were able to work the ball through the middle and supply the wings with on-running passes. The attack wasn’t able to break the back line, though it put together decent runs which resulted in corner kicks and shots on net. Spurs began to shift their tactics by attempting to keep some possession of their own. The tentative play that was expected at the early moments of the match came out after Arsenal’s initial pressure. The intensity and toughness was clear from the opening stages, but the hard tackling began with former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor’s rash challenge on Aaron Ramsey in the 20th minute. Ramsey was able to leap over the danger, but the referee saw it necessary to show a yellow card for the intent.
Arsenal enjoyed more possession and better play in the attacking third, but Spurs altered their strategy to capitalize on counter-attacking opportunities. This shift would bear fruit in the 38th minute as Sigurdsson slipped a ball between Vermaelen and Mertesacker to Gareth Bale in stride, who managed to keep his run just onside. Bale was left alone in front Szczesny, and the in-form forward easily slotted it home. Although Arsenal were the better team to that point in the match, Spurs took advantage of an opportunity against the run of play and led 1-0.
Arsenal’s defensive organization failed as they attempted a high line against a pacey front attack. The strategy would prove sub-par two minutes later as Spurs attempted an eerily similar counterattack. This time Scott Parker found Aaron Lennon cutting into the middle from his wide position and pushed past the center of the Arsenal defense. He, like Bale, was also left in front of goal without a defender to challenge him. Lennon slotted home Spurs’ second goal in the 40th minute.
Arsenal were left flat as halftime approached. The Gunners had shown a good spirit for the first 30 minutes of the match but could not find that killer final pass in the attacking third, and their defense let them down on two important occasions. They’d be disappointed with the score line as their possession game was decent, but it was deserved with their poor defending. 2-0 Spurs at halftime.
The second half started slower than the first as Tottenham, with the lead, were happy take their time in possession. There was no need to rush to get the ball back in play or press up the pitch with the same spirit as the first half . Arsenal were hesitant to push too far forward and let the game get out of reach. Five minutes into the half, Arsenal had a free kick on the left wing after hard work by Aaron Ramsey. Walcott took the free kick and found Per Mertesacker near post. His header glanced off of Bale and into the net. Arsenal had cut the deficit in half in the 51st minute, 2-1 Spurs.
Arsene Wenger made an interesting substitution in the 60th minute by taking off Carl Jenkinson and bringing on Tomas Rosicky. Arsenal’s defense let them down in the first half and this was a major shift in strategy as Aaron Ramsey moved back to play on the right. Tottenham made their first substitution when Adebayor came off with an apparent knee injury and was replaced by Jermaine Defoe in the 67th minute. Wenger eventually sent on his German hit man in the 78th minute; Podolski took his regular spot on the left flank. The attack began to target Podolski and he had a couple of decent chances, but his short time on the field didn’t materialize into too much danger for Spurs. Both sides had some late opportunities, but the home team was fixed on seeing out the result. Villas-Boas made defensive changes by bringing on Jake Livermore for Dembele in the 89th and William Gallas for Aaron Lennon in injury time. Tottenham’s defense held without much of a scare and the home side celebrated when the final whistle blew – both for the match and the demise of Arsenal’s European hopes.
Positives and Negatives
1. Midfield play
For the most part, the Arsenal midfielders were superior in this match. They held the ball up well and controlled the flow of play. Wilshere and Cazorla kept play moving in the attacking third while Arteta made some tough challenges when needed. Ramsey contributed with plenty of grit while sprinting from box to box throughout the match. Although Sigurdsson and Parker would get credit for well-placed assists, the Arsenal midfielders had plenty of impressive passing of their own.
1. Defensive miscues
Early on the Arsenal defense was able to limit all service targeted for Gareth Bale. The centerbacks would pinch in to limit his space and kept the Tottenham midfield from creating opportunities. Once Arsenal began to get caught on a few small counterattacks, all shape and strategy went out the window. Vermaelen and Mertesacker were torn apart with diagonal runs while Monreal and Jenkinson failed to provide cover when needed. It was a sloppy display from a unit that has been consistently average. There is no excuse for clumsy defending in a derby match with a Champions League spot in the balance.
2. No Lukas
I can understand Wenger’s thinking that using Ramsey would help control the midfield, and it worked to a degree, but Arsenal have not been able to show consistently that they can score with only Walcott and Giroud as the primary targets. Neither forward was ever really given an opportunity to bury home clear chances. Most of the service was coming from the middle of the pitch and the Tottenham defense would just clump the middle when the ball reached the 18-yard box – this strategy worked to perfection. Arsenal’s attack was hurting for good service and maybe another shooter around the box. Lukas Podolski has had a good season with the Gunners, but recently hasn’t been selected in the starting-11. There was little pressure on the left side of the Arsenal attack and Podolski’s quality could’ve gone a long way. Monreal made decent runs, but his focus was on his defensive responsibilities which prevented him from staying forward too often.
This match represented Arsenal’s season as a whole. Their two weaknesses were at the forefront of the fixture: sloppy defending and lacking the killer touch in the box. They possessed the ball well and were the aggressors for most of play, but they ended up getting bullied in front of both goals. This was a difficult match for many Arsenal supporters. It’s always difficult to go to White Hart Lane and expect a victory, but this was Wenger’s last chance to save the season. It may be too wide a gap for Arsenal to close on Spurs and Chelsea, now seven and five points clear, respectively, with only ten games to play. It could happen, but seeing Spurs overtake the Gunners both on the pitch and into a Champions League spot is not an easy pill to swallow for the Arsenal faithful. There have been plenty of stories swirling around about a possible 1.5 billion POUND takeover by an Arab consortium. Many would feel that Arsenal would lose their identity if they fell into the same mold as the super spenders in Europe, but the frustration has never been higher and a change may be inevitable.
Here’s to hoping for a 3-0 victory in Munich next week.
Match rating 4/10