So. Ermmm. The 7th of Feb wasn’t great was it. BUT THE 10TH WAS. SO LETS TALK ABOUT THAT INSTEAD *weeps uncontrollably*
It’s incredible how quickly football changes. How your outlook on things can be quickly reversed with the swing of someone’s boot. I’ve decided in the last few days that at least 40% of my mood is completely determined by Arsenal’s form. Sad I know, but it’s the little things that make it all worthwhile.
Meanwhile, having to deal with the frustration on a Monday morning is the worst, bumping into people *those people* (we all have one). Smug people, who don’t really seem to know what they’re talking about, but always have the last laugh. Sometimes I wish they would all just fall in a hole.
The most frustrating thing about the Spurs game is the fact that it’s a stain on our season. We’ll have to sit and dwell on the fact that we won’t get another opportunity to try and redeem ourselves against an average Sp*rs side. Forget all that other stuff; finishing above them, etc, it’s the bragging rights we all want and we currently don’t own.
I’ve rambled enough so let’s talk about ‘that’ game. Our ‘Plan B’ didn’t really work. As much as it pains me to say, Sp*rs dominated possession for very long periods. We put ourselves under a lot of pressure with very poor passing. I do live by the motto that the majority of stats are wanky, but our pass completion was terrible, with Francis Coquelin and Per Mertesacker the only starters to finish the game with over 75% pass accuracy. Coquelin was the best with 78% (which is still awful).
Hindsight is obviously 20/20 so it’s easy to sit here and say this player should have played or the approach, should have been completely different, but personally I thought it was the right way to go. It’s just that the execution was very poor. Watching it for a second time (I know, I know), Spurs did in fact, play well. Pochettino organised his troops very well and also managed the game in a particularly good way. I remember thinking when I saw their line-up, it seemed bizarre. Playing Dembele so high up the field, considering his lack of end product. As the game went on it became very clear why the decision was made. He totally wiped players out, stealing the ball off our midfield trio and recycling possession. I heard a very interesting story about him on The Guardian Podcast a few weeks ago. When he was a child in Belgium, he played football on a basketball court, with no goals. The aim of the game was to take players on and eliminate them. All makes sense when you watch him play.
The decision of Danny Welbeck to start over Theo Walcott seemed bizarre for many. However, considering the opposition and the occasion, it was entirely understandable in my opinion. Welbeck’s all round game was more appropriate, especially his defensive work rate, which I think was the key for chasing him. Arsène probably anticipated Pochettino’s pressing approach. It was something he had success with against us last season when he was in-charge at Southampton.
Theo’s lack of defensive contribution was proved when he did very little to prevent Bentaleb’s cross from sailing perfectly onto Harry Kane’s head. Slightly more gutting was his clumsiness, but can that be put down to rust? In the final minute, when Rosicky sent him clear of the Sp*rs defence, the ball just bounced off him and rolled to safety. Is that rust or a wider issue of his all around game? Have we all forgotten Theo of three years ago, who would frustrate and delight in equal measure?
Football is all about fine margins. The same reason Theo wasn’t on the pitch when Arsenal conceded. On the other side of the coin, Arsenal needed a goal, but he fluffed his lines.
I said a few weeks ago that Theo deceives. I wonder what the consensus on him will be in a few weeks time. Part of me feels he should have a free pass until the end of the season (before he’s judged amongst the masses) but his contract is looming above his head. It will be interesting to see how things stand in a couple of weeks.
Anyway, in our last handful of games we’ve appeared to be comfortable to allow the opposition possession of the football to see if they can hurt us. The difference between the win at The Eithad, the draw against Liverpool (For small periods), was that we were able to relieve the pressure. Against Spurs we didn’t have enough to trouble them on the counter which just allowed them to put us under even more pressure. You can’t win a game of football if you keep giving the ball to the opposition in vital areas.
What I found interesting from Sp*rs’ approach, they essentially isolated Harry Kane and Per Mertesacker for the majority of the game, which was definitely a bad matchup for Arsenal considering we didn’t have a right back or [Insert description of choice] midfielder to relieve pressure. It appeared that Sp*rs ‘allowed’ Ramsey to actually have the ball. That’s interesting (not in a good way) because a) He isn’t a ball carrier and wasn’t able to break out for their press, b) He was very poor on the day, and C) He isn’t Mesut Özil.
They overloaded our left hand side. Which left Bellerin isolated whilst cramping out Özil and Cazorla. I wonder if Welbeck had been a little sharper in possession, we may have done considerably better.
So what have we learned about Arsenal in the last year or so? Against teams that employ a high pressing strategy they will get something from us.
I think in time we’ll improve and we’ll be more comfortable when we’re under the kosh. We’ve all played football, well attempted anyway. When you’re three nill up and the opposition score. You can feel the tide turning and you can’t stop it. It just felt we were drowning and couldn’t even tread water, let alone float unaided.
On paper, a high press can leave space in behind and if you can just break that first wave of pressure, you’re away. We will improve playing the system, I have no doubt about it, it just may take a little more time than hoped.