Sunday, 21 November 2010

Pick your own negative adjective. Spurs match report.

Arsenal 2 Spurs 3

Much though it might surprise some people, usually I have an idea of where I'm going within each blog post. Not today. Not after that.

I'd come up with some kind of analogy to describe how I'm feeling but I don't think I could do it justice - I genuinely think I'd rather see George Osborne anally rape my new-born son whilst grinning maniacally than be subjected to the second 45 minutes of football ever again (note to the family: it's alright, the son doesn't exist).

The only positive thought today is that Spurs fans have been subjected to this over and over again. But in a sense, that makes it hurt even more. We're just not used to this.

And worse, it started so well. When we lost 5-1 in the Carling Cup in 2008, we didn't start well nor did we care. This time, Spurs were so thoroughly outplayed in the first half it was embarrassing (for them). Nasri feathered in from an incredibly tight angle to put us ahead, and though Chamakh made it two after about 25 minutes, it could have been more than that before half time. 3-0 at half time and it really would have been game over.

Make no mistake, the complacency had slipped in before half time. The tempo went out of our game after 40 minutes and the ol├ęs will only have helped to fire up the opposition.

But equally, what makes the defeat so galling is just how bad Hutton and Assout-Ekkoto were in the first half. To say they were poor would be the understatement of the year. Time and again, we got in behind them on the flanks and why we stopped running at them in the second half like we did in the first is still puzzling me.

There's a school of thought which suggests that Arshavin and Nasri were tired from the internationals, but that doesn't explain why Theo did as badly as he did when came on; I think the defeat was born more out of a collective poor second half than individual performances but Walcott was truly woeful.

And it must be said, that we made it far too easy for Spurs to get back into the game after the break. Bale’s goal from the defence being stretched (inexcusable at 2-0) and a failure to win a ball in the air from Jermaine Defoe. That’s pathetic. I suggested Fabianski might have come out earlier but to blame the goalkeeper seems very harsh.

The second goal though, encapsulated much of what I think is wrong with Arsenal. Fabregas jumped with his arm in the air against Liverpool in February and got away with it. But in retrospect, Liverpool were probably right to feel aggrieved that they didn’t get a penalty. That should have been a warning to Cesc to stop jumping with his arm in the air. But even if it wasn’t, you’d think Wenger would have had a word.

Clearly not, because Fabregas obviously hadn’t learnt from it. He did it again! I hate to criticise this team but it’s pretty much unforgiveable. We’ve been here before against Spurs and we’ve been here before against other teams. It hurts more because it was Spurs but we did the same thing against Wigan just a few months ago. There’s no real choice but to echo what Kevin Whitcher says for the Online Gooner, that these last five years have largely been trophyless because of an innate inability to hold a lead.

There are the ones which stand out the most – the 4-4 against Spurs and the defeat at Anfield in the Champions League quarter final – but that’s just because they were haunting because they were unexpected.

We’ve won at Old Trafford only once in this trophyless period – and how did we manage that? Because we scored in the very last minute. And still Jens Lehmann had to make an unbelievable save at the end. Twice, we’ve led at Stamford Bridge in the last few years and failed to close out victory. The only time we have won there post-Abramovich, it was because Chelsea didn’t have one shot on target after we took the lead.

And somewhere along the line, the manager has to hold his hands up and take some blame for it. His substitutions have become more and more ponderous in recent weeks. Cesc put in some very dodgy performances and Arsene has clearly shown that unless his captain is injured, he won’t be withdrawn. Yesterday, it was one thing to be readying RVP to replace Chamakh at 2-1. But 2-2 at home to your biggest rivals, he shouldn’t be replacing his main striker with just another striker, let alone one who clearly isn’t fit.

It says a lot that Denilson was our best player in the second half. I like Denilson but Arsenal won’t win the League with 11 Denilsons. I think there’s something mentally wrong with players who think a game is won and stop playing; but what’s the excuse for the subs? Rosicky, RVP, and Theo all came on and their impact was limited. Nasri and Arshavin had definitely gone off the boil in the second half, but in retrospect, they couldn’t have done any worse than their replacements.

The team selection was equally odd. I try to avoid watching Spurs, it generally makes me retch, but even I know that Spurs like playing high balls over the top. So to drop Johan Djourou after an excellent game against Everton – a player who is very good in the air – makes no sense. There was much made of how Laurent Koscielny didn’t lose a single tackle last year but as somebody in the pub after the game remarked, this is simply because he fouls players. A lot.

Everyone in the pub also said that Wenger should sit them down and make them watch a DVD of the second half while analysing their mistakes. But we all know he won’t do that. He’s far too nice to the players; why has it taken two full seasons for Nasri to establish himself in the Premiership as one of the very best? My take on this, and I may be wrong, but I suspect I am actually right for once, is that this year Nasri is trying to avenge not being picked in the French squad for the World Cup.

It’s really difficult blogging about Arsenal right now. I want to write positive pieces about how this team is going places. So I big them up after great away results at Wolves and Everton. And then time and again I’m left with egg on my face as they trip up at home. This result could easily have happened at Everton last week, with us holding on by our fingernails at the end. On the other hand, we do seem to have found some resilience away from home which means that we are hanging on in matches where we once wouldn’t have managed to.

The stats show we’re the best team in the League away from home at the moment. But if three home defeats wasn’t worrying enough, remember that Chelsea, Man United, Man City, Everton and Aston Villa all still have to come to The Grove – the home fixture list has been kind to us so far.

Chelsea’s defeat means that on paper we’re only two points off the top of the table. But what’s so tragic, is that considering how poor our rivals are this year, we’re not taking advantage of it.

To end on a positive note, if anyone truly does want some perspective: Harry Redknapp says Spurs are title challengers. As Goodplaya points out, they are on course to take 59.6 points from the season.

Keep the faith.

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