Thursday, 15 April 2010

It was brilliant while it lasted. Tottenham match report.

T*ttenham 2 Arsenal 1

Let's not overdo the reaction to the match last night.

Arsenal were facing a team trying to prove something having been humiliated in the FA Cup and also trying to prove something having not beaten Arsenal for eleven years. And amongst all this, it is easy to overlook that they've become quite good. After last night, arguably the fourth best team in the League.

So for the first time in eleven years, in the biggest game of their season, Tottenham managed to get a result against Arsenal at home. And to do this, they were still reliant on a once-in-a-career goal from Danny Rose.

Because lets be clear: any blaming of Almunia for the first goal is completely unjustified. He came, and he got a good punch on it. Almunia isn't the best keeper, but people like Reina and Casillas might well have done the same thing. He was just unfortunate that he half slipped, and half fell into Bacary Sagna, so that he was unsighted for the shot. Which was, make no mistake, a brilliant volley. Sometimes one just has to say too good.

When Sp*rs added the second goal right after the interval - following 25 minutes of Arsenal pressure - it was fair to accept that it wasn't going to be Arsenal's night. Bacary Sagna didn't exactly add to his reputation with his performance last night but I'd be nervy with Silvestre playing next to me.

At 2-0 it was always going to be really hard to manufacture the three points needed to keep us in the title race. What was shameful was that Sagna was immediately taken off and replaced by Walcott, with Eboue pushed back to right back. As usual, Theo did very little. But more importantly, he only did anything, once Van Persie had been introduced.

Didn't he get it? He was brought on because this Arsenal side was missing its six best players and had Samir Nasri played out of position. He was brought on to change the game and run at defenders. And instead, Walcott hid. One gets the impression that a lot of these Arsenal players simply do not have the temperament for the big occasion. It's interesting to note that it was only three years ago that Arsenal did come back from two goals down at The Lane. But that was in the Carling Cup: the players would probably be tarred with the brush of being 'naive' and 'too optimistic'. The reality is, that if you keep on plugging away, you will take something from the match. The game was not lost when Arsenal failed to make their pressure count in the first half; it was not lost when Arsenal fell 2-0 behind; it was lost when Arsenal let the game go scrappy for twenty minutes before the introduction of Van Persie.

There was no impetus: Diaby was doing his thing of dribbling in circles; Nasri wasn't creating and it was impossible to get Theo and Bendtner involved. And one has to question the temperament of players like Diaby and Rosicky. On nights like these, when the core players are injured, one would hope they would respond. They failed, royally so. The most galling thing was the refusal to put a single cross into the box. It's interesting to note that when Arsenal eventually did, they scored and it was their best way of threatening Spurs. But more pertinently, the long shots of Van Persie were reasonable because they were accurate and required good goalkeeping; Rosicky smashing one wide from forty yards when Bendtner was in the box is ridiculous. And what's the point of bringing Walcott on, if he isn't allowed to run down the flank and put crosses in?

What was most remarkable though, was how well Robin Van Persie played. As he was warming up, my brother and I were recalling how back in spring 2008 when he came back from injury, it took him a long time to play himself into form. I hazarded the suggestion that he was being brought on to take free kicks and nothing else. I was partially right as he did hit a perfect free-kick which required a world-class save. But he did more than that: he galvanized his team-mates. Suddenly, Diaby was playing, Theo was sashaying, and Bendtner was flaying opponents. Rosicky got involved and Nasri started to use his 12 million pound vision. But - and it's easy to say this now - it was all too late. Why do they only start to play with 15 minutes left?

In the end Sp*rs were left hanging on for their victory after a masterly cameo from Van Persie, but it's fair to question 'what might have been' if the rest of the team had played properly.

Most interestingly though, Van Persie's injury was mis-diagnosed for three weeks. It's fair to presume that if he had been back sooner, Arsenal would have five more points in the League, even if they might still have struggled to beat Barcelona. It's a case of a very expensive mistake.

At the end of the day, considering for Tottenham fans it is the biggest game of their season, the fact they struggled to beat Arsenal without their six best players is an indictment on their team. And have they ever seen Tottenham win the League? Have the f*ck.

Keep the faith,
Adam

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