Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday November 21 2010
It`s a shame my hard drive died before I had the opportunity to publish my match report from the Everton game. There was a fair bit of anger and disillusionment in it that might have seemed unbefitting for a hard fought 2-1 away win. The main source of my chagrin was that at Goodison Park, Arsenal, who had played so well for 80 minutes, completely stopped playing for the last ten minutes. At the time I put this recurring habit of ceasing to play at 2-0 as self congratulation and smugness. Yesterday has changed my mind on that. With the early kick off, pre match drinks were off the menu and we headed straight for the ground. The atmosphere built right from the off. Retrospectively I have seen that Nasri avoided Gallas for the ritual pre match handshake. Gallas has a reputation for being flaky and soft in the head. Yet on that occasion, Nasri was the one who was childish and let petty matters go to his head. In hindsight, it`s perhaps not so difficult to see why Nasri was completely and utterly burnt out after 30 minutes. He expended his energies in the wrong direction and ran around like a blue arsed fly trying to get one over on Gallas. Gallas merely played the game and played well. Food for thought for Arsenal fans that had allowed themselves to believe that Gallas was the flakiest character in Christendom.
Arsenal appeared to repeat a mistake Tottenham often used to make against us by starting a game so quickly that they burned themselves out. After thirty seconds Fabregas slipped a delightful ball with the outside of his right foot to Nasri, whose progress to goal was impeded by a superb last ditch tackle from Gallas. But after 9 minutes, the same combination would put Arsenal into the lead. Nasri began to steam away from Assou Ekotto and Fabregas picked him out with a sumptuous ball over the top of the Spurs defence. Nasri didn`t quite take the ball cleanly, but Gomes stayed rooted to the spot for a second too long, allowing Nasri to fumble the ball past him and squeeze the ball in from an impossible angle when well off balance. The Gunners were in their stride and Fabregas, the chief orchestrator, almost made it 2-0 when he collected Song`s pass, flicked the ball around Younes Kaboul but then dragged his shot wide as he spun in the area. But the home side were soon 2-0 up, Tottenham over committed to attack on what was proving to be an incredibly open game. Arsenal countered with Denilson finding Fabregas, Cesc sent a searching pass wide to Arshavin and the diminutive Russian sent in an early left foot cross which Marouane Chamakh bundled past Gomes.
At this stage, Tottenham were there for the taking, with the RedSection indulging a rousing chorus of "North London is ours, North London is ouuuuurs, **** off to Stratford, North London is ours." The "we won the league at White Hart Lane" chant was given that annoying, slow treatment that Tottenham fans give to their "when the Spurs go marching in" chant. Arsenal had a chance to go three nil clear when Cesc played Chamakh in, but he infuriatingly checked back when he could have made a beeline for goal. It was a mistake, like so many of Arsenal`s mistakes, which would be repeated soon enough. Nevertheless 2-0 at half time was satisfying enough, but I still had anxiety gnawing at the nape of my neck. There was a point in about the 40th minute when Arsenal committed seven players to attack. Fabregas, Arshavin and Nasri didn`t make it back when Spurs won the ball back and broke. All three stood on the halfway line in unison and as soon as Tottenham`s attack petered out, all three put their hands on their knees and looked like they were hyperventilating. Senseless when you`re already two goals ahead.
Spurs made a change in personnel as the ineffective Aaron Lennon was replaced by Defoe. But they changed more than that. They narrowed the game and squeezed Arsenal in field and looked to hit them on the counter. Jermain Defoe stayed glued to the shoulder of Koscielny as Spurs looked to stretch our defence. It worked a treat as the Gunners just don`t have the guile to appreciate a shift in a game. Like horny teenagers they just keep ramming away without thought. Within five minutes of the beginning of the second half, Tottenham hit Arsenal on the counter attack. Assou Ekotto was left to punt the ball to the halfway line, Jermain Defoe beat Clichy in the air (!), which allowed van der Vaart time and space to bring the ball down and nudge it into the path of Bale, who caressed the ball in his stride before prodding it past Fabianski with the outside of his left boot. The game was back in the balance, meanwhile, you really were left to wonder how on earth a team gets hit on a counter attack with only three men defending their own half when they`re already two goals ahead. I`ve spoken in recent weeks about the annoying propensity for the likes of Clichy and Djourou not to clear their lines because all they know to do is to pass, pass, pass without appreciating that sometimes, just sometimes, you have to read a situation and sometimes that situation calls for you to clear your lines. What seems to be clear is that this isn`t a foible particular to a couple of individuals; it is a squad wide malaise. The team simply don`t know how to read a situation and react accordingly. They just do the same thing again and again and just pour forward in numbers when a smart side takes the sting out of the game at 2-0, instead of groping lustfully for 90 minutes of every single game no matter what.
In truth, Spurs still didn`t look overly dangerous but Arsenal didn`t really know whether to stick or twist and in lieu of a decision or some direction, they did neither and encouraged Tottenham. Arsenal had an opportunity to go two goals clear when Arshavin played Chamkh through. Once again he tried to cut back and allowed Gallas to come back with a tackle. Wenger had seen enough and absolutely instantly beckoned van Persie from his warm up. By the time van Persie entered the fray, Spurs had pulled level. Modric was squeezed out by Song and Squillaci and Dowd incorrectly called the foul. One of a number of minor calls Dowd got wrong. What he did not get wrong was the decision that followed. Van der Vaart clipped his free kick goalwards and Fabregas astoundingly lifted his arm to punch the ball away from its destination. Had he and Chamakh simply jumped they would have blocked it comfortably. Instead Cesc stayed grounded and gave away one of the stupidest penalties I have ever seen us concede. Van der Vaart coolly slotted the penalty and Tottenham were level having not had to work incredibly hard to be so.
At this stage, Arsenal did provide a response. Jenas` tackle fell unwittingly fell to Fabregas; he drove at a gap in the Spurs defence and bent a shot goalwards which Gomes flung himself to palm away. The Gunners were applying the pressure and really should have reassumed the lead when van Persie worked himself some space and clipped a right footed cross to the back post where Laurent Koscielny was completely unmarked five yards from goal, but he inexplicably lifted his header over the crossbar when it was easier to score. But the Gunners received the ultimate punishment when Koscielny fouled Bale near the touchline (though not as badly as Bale`s constant triple somersaults of faux agony suggested). Van der Vaart swung in an excellent delivery which Younes Kaboul glanced into the far corner. The last time I had watched Arsenal lose a home fixture to Spurs, I sat inside Highbury contemplating my upcoming ninth birthday. This was a feeling a generation of Arsenal fans have yet to experience. Still, the ultimate defeat could have been averted when Sagna found Walcott in a nook of space in the channel in the area, but Walcott did not look up, he just turned and whacked it as hard as he could, skying the ball horribly. The game was up and the misery began to sink in.
Every team tosses away leads on occasion, but Arsenal do it a lot more than a team of this ability and quality should. Caught trying to play pretty football in their own area at St. Andrews, the 4-4 at home to Spurs, the surrender at Upton Park last October and ultimately, the rotten capitulation at Wigan. Any one of those incidents should have scarred this team for life, but we continue to make the same errors. As alluded to earlier, I used to put this down to self congratulation, (doubtless we will beat Villa next week and Walcott or Nasri or someone will tell the press how we`re going to do this and that and how we`ve learned our lessons) but I don`t think that to be the case. We have a terrific squad of players- Bendtner and Gibbs couldn`t make their way into the 18 yesterday- all of whom have ability, all of whom work hard and can tough out results away from home when required and can stand up to physical onslaughts blah, blah, blah etc. I have come to the conclusion that the reason these capitulations have become so commonplace is due to plain old lack of intelligence. And there ain`t no cure for stupid. Arsenal don`t know how to adjust to situations, the culture of playing good football has become so inculcated on the club that they don`t know how to do anything else. So when a defender has the ball in his own area in injury time when we`re a goal up away from home, he still looks for an aesthetically pleasing pass. When we`re 2-0 up at home to a decent side who have already shown a proclivity towards comebacks this season, we still throw a ridiculous amount of players forward instead of putting a foot on the ball and trying to control the pace of the game. At times it`s part basketball, part basket case. It`s hard to know how exactly the manager cures that. The club and the manager have to be savvy and treat their PR with kid gloves now, because **** knows we don`t want to hear anymore idle pleasantries about how they`ve learned their lessons or how they`re going to win the league again because they`ve won a game. A dignified silence needs to permeate the club now, the knives are going to be out and the natives are going to be restless. Wenger complained about a sour atmosphere at home games when we were suffering in the league two seasons ago and that negative atmosphere will be back with a vengeance now. The players are going to have their work cut out bleeding any semblance of faith from their supporters and cynicism levels will soar through the roof. Worse than this, this regular capitulation, coupled with our poor home form, means teams will not give us an easy time any longer. They know that even if we`re 3 goals clear, they can still get back into the game. Meanwhile, we are going to have to just suck up the taunts of the Spurs fans, it`s their weekend on this occasion.LD.
21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA, 18.SQUILLACI, 6.KOSCIELNY, 22.CLICHY, 15.DENILSON, 17.SONG, 4.FABREGAS(c), 8.NASTI (14.Walcott `76), 23.ARSHAVIN (7.Rosicky `76), 29.CHAMAKH (10.v.Persie `68). Unused: 19.Wilshere, 20.Djourou, 27.Eboue, 53.Szczesny.
Date:Sunday November 21 2010
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