Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal
Despite the feeling of great disappointment at the final whistle yesterday, having seen their side lose 2-1 to bitter rivals Tottenham and subsequently falling seven points behind Andre Villas-Boas’ team and five points behind Chelsea in that much coveted fourth spot, Arsenal supporters could take some solace in the fact their side had actually produced a good performance.
In fact the Gunners were the better side and had more of the game, enjoying greater possession and pushing onto Tottenham, who played more like an away side, as they simply sat back, hoping to catch Arsenal on the break. However the Gunners were simply undermined once again by the poor defensive mistakes which have blighted the club’s progress for years. With the first half coming to a close and the expected Tottenham onslaught yet to materialise, Arsenal self-imploded, conceding two goals in the space of two minutes to effectively gift their hosts all three points before the break. First, Sigurdsson was allowed to surge forward without any Gunners player confronting him and as the Icelander played the ball forward, most of the Arsenal back four stepped up, Mertesacker however, was just a fraction too slow and kept Bale onside, as the Welshman exploited the vast space between Vermaelen and Monreal to run through on goal and flick the ball past Szczesny.
Bale’s goal was a real sucker punch for the away side. Tottenham had not caused Arsenal any problems whatsoever until this point and it had been the Gunners who appeared more likely to score with Giroud earlier spurning a golden opportunity, taking far too long to unleash a shot when through on goal, allowing Vertonghen time to chase back and tackle the Frenchman. Although Bale’s goal was unmerited and hard to accept, Arsenal should have collectively gritted their teeth, seen out the first half and regrouped at halftime. However, as has been witnessed time and time again during this season’s big games, the Gunners just do not have the mental strength or the leaders on the pitch to do this. Against Manchester City, Chelsea and Bayern Munich, concession of the first goal was quickly followed by a second and yesterday was no different. Within two minutes of Bale giving the home side the lead, Arsenal were two down to a goal which was a carbon copy of the first. Aaron Lennon this time was allowed to run through on goal, unchecked by Monreal and with Vermaelen completely unaware of Lennon’s run behind him, the Englishman had a ridiculous amount of time and space to round Szczesny and fire into the empty net. Having only had two shots on goal and caused the Gunners very few problems, Tottenham were somehow in total control of the game.
Before the match, the English media couldn’t help themselves from eulogising over the talents of Gareth Bale, proclaiming the Tottenham man as a world class talent whose equals in the world game are only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Yet the Welshman struggled to get himself into the match yesterday. Yes he scored the first goal but he never once tore Arsenal apart, as had been prophesised by the media before kick-off and was largely anonymous. The problem for the away side was that while Bale toiled, their own star man, Jack Wilshere, was also far from his best. The young Englishman, upon whom the Gunners rely to provide their attacking thrust from central midfield, just could not get himself going, with the game largely passing him by as he failed to exert his usual influence on proceedings.
Unfortunately Arsene Wenger’s team largely struggled to make their superior possession count and frustratingly, certain players such as Theo Walcott seemed far too eager to make runs in behind the Tottenham backline, when the pass just wasn’t on. On numerous occasions during the first period, Carl Jenkinson would have the ball in the Tottenham half but Walcott, rather than offering the right back the option of a pass along the line, would instead run into the middle to try and get on the end of a chipped pass over the top. As a result, Jenkinson had no real option when on the ball, other than to pass back or square and the Arsenal attack would fizzle out. With Cazorla deployed on the left flank and instinctively cutting inside too, Arsenal did not have any real width to their attacking play and the central midfield area became extremely congested.
Had Walcott remained on the wing, he could have worked in tandem with Jenkinson to attack the Tottenham left back, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and get crosses into the box, or reach the by-line and cut the ball back. Yet only on one occasion did the Gunners attempt this tactic throughout the game, early in the second half, and it almost resulted in a goal with Jenkinson’s cross just cut out by Hugo Lloris at the near post, with Arsenal players rushing into the box, ready to pounce. It was extremely surprising to see Jenkinson replaced by Rosicky in the 58th minute as Wenger decided to switch Ramsey to the right back position and there was a distinct feeling of Arsenal having missed a golden opportunity to cause Tottenham serious damage on this flank.
Having pulled a goal back as early as the 51st minute, through Per Mertesacker’s deflected header, from Walcott’s free kick delivery, it seemed as though the Gunners were more than capable of securing another famous comeback against their North London rivals. Unfortunately, the ball just would not fall for Arsenal in the second half. Theo Walcott would have been clean through on goal had his first touch not been so heavy, the ball going straight to Lloris. Lukas Podolski’s control similarly let him down later in the game, when on the edge of the box, looking to surge through, Aaron Ramsey was played through but took too long to shoot on goal and his effort was blocked by Assou-Ekotto and Walcott’s powerful effort on goal from a free kick flew just the wrong side of the post.
As the match entered its final stages and Arsenal pressed forward, Dawson and Vertonghen stood firm and ultimately it just wasn’t meant to be. At the final whistle the Gunners only had themselves to blame for allowing the home side to secure three points they didn’t deserve. Until Wenger properly organises his team’s defensive shape, Arsenal’s hard work will continue to be undermined by sloppy defending. Yet despite the huge disappointment at having lost this game, the fight for fourth place continues. The Gunners cannot afford to feel sorry for themselves and must quickly pick themselves up. Tottenham may be seven points clear as things stand, but they also have some very though fixtures before the end of the season and Arsenal must continue to apply as much pressure as possible by winning games and capitalising on any slip ups.