Technical deficiencies. Unforced errors. Tactical incoherence. Predictably disappointing result.
In the preview I was talking about the need for three goals if Arsenal are to win this one and a general feeling that the result will not be positive. Unfortunately, it came true.
I thought Arsene picked a fairly strong line-up with Walcott and Gervinho on the wings. Coquelin was selected over Frimpong to anchor the midfield and with the benefit of hindsight, on individual performance alone, it was a good choice.
In another sign that teams no longer fear Arsenal, Redknapp picked a two man strike partnership which gave Arsenal numerical dominance in midfield. That, along with the playing styles of the two teams – the hosts set up to play on the break, gave the Gunners a great deal of possession.
I also felt there was a slight tactical change in that at least one wide player was drifting inwards for Arsenal. Both Gervinho and Walcott spent a great deal of time just around the edge of the Spurs box. This, and the fact that Tottenham wingers weren’t always tracking back, created space for Sagna and Gibbs to bomb forward but those opportunities weren’t well utilized as most of their balls into the box were harmless and hit an opponent.
Spurs, on the other hand, used their wide areas effectively, and produced some threatening moments.
In the opening minutes Tottenham won a couple of set-pieces but Arsenal defended well enough. The first real chance fell to Scott Parker in the sixth minute after Song conceded possession with a sloppy pass deep in the Arsenal half. The England international’s effort lacked conviction and Szczesny made himself big to save it.
Around the 15th minute Arsenal has a strike on goal. Walcott’s left footed curled attempted was deflected just beyond the far post.
Most of the play involved Arsenal attempting to break through the middle or with the full-backs in wide areas. Spurs were looking for counter-attacks through Bale or with long diagonals. Neither side was creating clear cut chances.
It changed in the 27th minute when Van der Vaart got in ahead of Ramsey at the near post to guide a Defoe cross towards goal. It went straight to Szczesny and the Gunners survived.
A minute or so later Van Persie created a great chance at the other end after getting the better of Walker on the wing. Gervinho couldn’t hit the target when well placed and in space inside the box.
In the 34th minute Gervinho made his first meaningful contribution after a run inside that led to a pass for Walcott. Theo went for a left footed blast when a return pass to the Ivorian would have been the better choice.
Arsenal were having a strong period possession wise which eventually led to a loss of shape and an easy goal for Spurs. A throw was taken just inside the Tottenham half. From that Modric found Defoe who was unmarked and in acres of space just inside the Arsenal half. The striker then found his partner who had drifted away towards the right with Gibbs nowhere to be seen. Van der Vaart made a run towards the back post and Adebayor found him with a deft chip. The Dutchman finished the move with an elegant strike. Far too many mistakes from Arsenal to pin this on any one player.
There was a point that Van der Vaart should have been sent off for a second yellow after celebrating with the crowd but Arsenal cannot hide behind such issues.
The start to the second half was bright and showed the right mentality. Arsenal pinned the hosts back and looked even more dominant than in the first half.
The equalizer came soon enough after a number of balls into the box were cleared with Arsenal camped in the final third. Song got on the end of one such clearance and drove into the box. Van der Vaart was too casual and didn’t track the run. The Cameroonian drilled a low cross and for once Arsenal had bodies arriving in the right areas. Ramsey finished with a quality connection.
For ten minutes Arsenal showed the kind of football that made the team a title contender last season. But the gaps in the structure are too big this year and the number of counter attacking opportunities for opponents are high. In the 57th minute Adebayor was clean through after a few simple passes from the hosts. Szczesny got down well to save a relatively weak strike.
That chance gave Redknapp’s team some confidence and the game evened out. Kaboul was able to get to the Arsenal box far too easily after a one-two with Adebayor. Only a smothering tackle from Mertesacker took the ball out for a corner.
The worst moment of the game, much worse than the winner in my opinion, came in the 66th minute when Sagna twisted his foot after an aerial collision with Assou-Ekotto. The club have announced that the defender has fractured his fibula and will be out for approximately three months.
With 20 minutes to go Arsenal introduced Benayoun for Walcott to provide better cover to Jenkinson who had come on in place of Sagna.
Spurs won a throw halfway in the Arsenal half. For a few moments the Gunners were tracking their men. But as the throw was delayed for a few more seconds, it was as if time stood still. Only one Tottenham player was moving and the throw found his run into the box as everyone else was just caught napping. The cutback led to a shot that was blocked by Song. That block took the ball away towards the right back Walker who unleashed a ferocious strike from distance. It swerved a bit as it got towards Szczesny but the youngster effort to save it was terrible. It seemed Szczesny wasn’t expecting a strike and reacted late.
Minutes later Bale wasted a glorious chance to seal it for Spurs. Mertesacker and Song let a long ball bounce and were expecting the Keeper to come and collect. Bale sneaked in as Szczesny was caught unawares. His attempt was again pedestrian and wide off the mark.
After going down Arsenal tried to push forward but lacked any sort of cohesion. Too many balls were played down the middle and very few reached Arshavin who was the most creative player on the pitch having arrived in the 77th minutes for Gervinho. Most of the balls down the middle were cleared easily and many led to counter attacking chances that were wasted.
Szczesny: Made a number of decent saves but one expects a Keeper to make those. Awful mistake for the goal.
Sagna: Bale was relatively well controlled as long as the Frenchman was on the pitch as he got back to tackle even when beaten for pace. Got a great deal of space in the attacking areas but there were hardly any unmarked bodies in the box.
Mertesacker: Made a number of last gasp tackles or interceptions. Won many long balls early on. Played higher up the pitch in the final few minutes but the ball didn’t find his head.
Song: Struggled against Adebayor in the initial minutes but was very strong after that. Played some ridiculous passes in the closing minutes as he was trying to find players in congested central areas with passes from the half-way line. Excellent work for the assist.
Gibbs: Good work rate, got into the right attacking areas but again lacked targets, was AWOL for the first goal when Adebayor pulled wide.
Jenkinson: Couldn’t keep up with the pace of Bale. Needs to learn better positioning to counter that.
I thought the defenders were not very good but there were far too many counter-attacking chances for Spurs which put them under pressure. The central defenders worked hard and got most of their decisions right. The full-backs have to offer more in attack and defence. It’s a balance Arsenal have struggled to achieve and it took Sagna and Clichy a long time to get it right after the change in formation. Gibbs and Jenkinson are going through that learning period now and it will make the work of the centre backs that much harder in the coming games.
Coquelin: Was impressive, especially in the first half, as he read the game well and made some timely tackles. Faded a bit late in the game as the intensity was raised to another level. I said earlier that the French lad will end up higher than Frimpong in the pecking order before the season is over. This performance should get him more chances.
Ramsey: Gave the ball away far too often in an uncharacteristic manner. I am finding it hard to understand the problem as he made mistakes when in a great deal of space. One can understand if he is struggling mentally due to his injury and makes mistakes in tackles. These were technical mistakes and rather elementary ones for this level. Very disappointing. Good finish though and one can only hope his confidence returns soon enough.
Arteta: Saw a lot of the ball but just didn’t make it count. A decent performance but not at the level one expects from a quality player in a dominant midfield.
I thought the midfield was able to control the game but didn’t offer any penetration. The midfielders were also caught in a no man’s land regularly. They didn’t arrive in the box to provide an attacking threat and weren’t deep enough to provide cover when the hosts broke at pace.
Walcott: Got into central areas frequently. Had a few shots at goal but nothing special. Was lost in a crowd more often than not.
RvP: Another game with phenomenal work rate. Technically he looked on a different planet when compared to everyone else on the pitch. Didn’t receive many quality passes.
Gervinho: Terrible miss just before the half hour mark. Offered very little in attacking areas and didn’t track back as well as one would have liked. Not sure why he wasn’t tracking Walker when the second goal was scored.
I thought there was a clear tactical change and the wide players were instructed to move in at every opportunity. That in itself was a good idea and created a lot of space for the full-backs. But the wide players lacked the technical quality to play in tight spaces and just didn’t make the right runs. Eventually it just resulted in a congested centre and the hosts must have been relatively comfortable in defending against this attack. Playing Arshavin with such tactics might have resulted in a lot more chances.
Subs: Arshavin didn’t get enough time on the pitch and was rarely found by his team-mates. Benayoun didn’t offer much in attack.
Wenger: I thought this was a strong team with a decent tactical approach but the players lacked understanding and a bit of quality in the final third. The team switched to man-marking on set-pieces and it was decent but the midfield was not getting into the right positions to break down counter attacks. On the whole the system isn’t working as there seem to be too many technical and positional mistakes which then lead to other problems.