Tottenham 1-1 Arsenal: 16 Conclusions

Date published: Sunday 3rd March 2019 4:38

1) Tottenham could not afford to lose this game. Just a few weeks ago, they looked like they could push Manchester City and Liverpool all the way in the title race; now, they need to be more concerned with what’s behind them.

A combination of a defeat here and results elsewhere going against them would potentially have meant Spurs holding a lead of just one point over Arsenal, two points over Manchester United, and four points over Chelsea, who would have had a game in hand.

In the end, their first draw of the season means they will end the weekend with at least a three-point lead and a better goal difference than any of their rivals. At this stage of the season, that is probably all they will care about.

 

2) It has been roughly 17 years since Claudio Ranieri was derisively nicknamed ‘the Tinkerman’ in reference to his constant squad rotation, but the concept still seems lost on some people. We’re looking at you, Martin Keown and Rio Ferdinand.

Arsenal last played on Wednesday evening, just two and a half days ago, beating Bournemouth 5-1. They played six games in February, including a trip to Belarus, and have an away trip to Rennes on Thursday followed by another crucial league game, against Manchester United, on Sunday.

So giving some players a rest seems only sensible; that’s why you have a squad, after all. Yet to watch the pundits’ reactions on BT Sport, you would think Unai Emery had picked Petr Cech, nine teenagers and a returning Nicklas Bendtner.

“He has really played into Spurs’ hands,” was Ferdinand’s take, while Keown declared: “We are scratching our head. Aubameyang has scored more than Henry did sometimes. You wouldn’t have Henry on the bench.”

You might if he was just one of two fit strikers, and his ‘deputy’ had scored five goals in his last six league games, as Lacazette has done; Aubameyang has scored two in his last six league games.

The strangest thing of all is that Ferdinand and Keown spent the best years of their careers playing under Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger respectively, both of whom were avowed and demonstrable believers in squad rotation. What a strange business all round.

Incidentally, our own Matt Stead called this nearly a week ago. Get him on the sofa.

 

3) Birthday boy Mauricio Pochettino plumped for a 3-4-1-2. That’s quite a defensive system all things considered, but also the same formation they used to good effect in the 3-0 win against Dortmund two and a half weeks ago, albeit with very different personnel.

Harry Kane was up top alongside Son Heung-min and would have been even keener than most at Spurs to secure the win: Spurs had lost their previous two games, but Kane had lost four of the previous five games he had started.

The idea was presumably to fight counter-attacking fire with counter-attacking fire. Not only was this in direct contravention of every lesson Pokemon has ever taught us, but the problem with that tactic was exposed once Arsenal took a 16th-minute lead.

 

4) It was a truly awful goal to concede, too. Granit Xhaka hit a rather hopeful ball forward from the edge of the Arsenal box after Kane had been dispossessed, and it should have been simple for the Spurs defenders camped on the halfway line to deal with.

Davinson Sanchez made a right mess of it, though, coming for a header and getting barely anything on it, giving Arsenal both the ball and the entire Spurs half to run into.

Lacazette quickly released Aaron Ramsey, who raced towards goal, held off Victor Wanyama, rounded Hugo Lloris, and put the ball into the net.

Individual errors have plagued Tottenham in recent weeks, and this was just one more to add to the pile.

 

5) The defensive error was awful, but the Spurs attack that led up to it revealed an issue that would plague them throughout the game, especially in the first half: Kane had tried to run the ball into the Arsenal box, found nobody in support, and found too many players in front of him to beat all on his own.

They repeated that pattern a number of times, with Son going on an impressive run 10 minutes later that saw him beat two players only to find two more defenders standing between him and the goal, with no passing opportunities available at the end of that blind alley.

And therein lay the problem with that 3-4-1-2: it left Spurs with five defenders on the pitch against a team that had a one-goal lead and were happy – nay, determined – to sit back and preserve it.

 

6) Nevertheless, this was the third game in a row that Tottenham have made more individual errors in both defence and midfield than we have come to expect from a Pochettino side, and the simple truth of the matter is most likely just because they’re all bloody knackered.

Spurs players racked up 4,816 minutes at the World Cup last summer, more than any other Premier League side. That was significantly more than their top six rivals: more than twice as many as Liverpool players (2,094) and nearly three times as many as Arsenal’s (1,820). Only Manchester City (4,583) came close.

But at least City added Riyad Mahrez to their squad for this season to freshen things up a bit. Spurs have signed just one player to their squad since summer 2017: Lucas Moura, who joined in January last year.

On top of those World Cup minutes, Spurs share their minutes around less than almost any other side, and have had runs to the FA Cup semi-finals last year and the League Cup semis this year.

Pochettino has done what he can by bringing through youngsters like Juan Foyth, Oliver Skipp, and Kyle Walker-Peters, but the strain on their senior players is starting to show.

 

7) For all that, Spurs would have been level had it not been for an absolutely incredibly save from Bernd Leno just before the break.

Kane chipped a delightful ball over the top for Christian Eriksen to run onto for a first-time shot. Leno saved that with his legs, then recovered just in time to pull off an excellent backwards-diving save from Moussa Sissoko’s effort on the rebound.

Leno started the season behind Petr Cech in the Arsenal pecking order, and while he might initially have got into the side through an injury to Cech, he has grown significantly throughout the season to at least slightly reduce Arsenal fans’ irritation that Woijcech Szczesny is doing so well at Juventus.

 

8) That save kept Arsenal ahead at the break, and it was well-deserved. The defence kept their shape superbly, with that attack representing the only time in the entire game that Tottenham threatened from open play.

For a side that hasn’t kept a clean sheet away from home all season and had conceded 18 goals in their eight previous league games against the top six this season, Arsenal looked incredibly solid.

Were that not the case we might give them rather more stick for not showing a little more adventure against a Tottenham side looking to avoid a third consecutive defeat; but having taken the lead, you could hardly blame them for sticking with a defensive plan that was overall very effective. Had Lacazette not failed to hit the target early in the second half, they would even have got a second before Spurs were able to respond.

 

9) Unfortunately, they were the victims of a slightly poorly-positioned linesman. We don’t like to go too hard on the officials if we can avoid it, not least because it tends to be dull, but I must confess to having been baffled by this one.

First of all, the officials had got it right in the first half, when Kane had an excellent header correctly ruled off from an almost-identical crossed free kick. And secondly, Kane was hardly the only player who had inched ahead of the Arsenal defence: there was a whole line of white shirts in offside positions when the ball came in.

All that said, Shkodran Mustafi’s decision to haul Kane to the ground was absolutely idiotic. Even if the officials weren’t specifically on the lookout for defenders’ treatment of Kane – and after the World Cup, they definitely will be – his barge was as clear a foul as you will see. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but they sure make you rather less sympathetic towards the Gunners.

 

10) It was rather a let-off for Spurs, who had lacked impetus throughout the game even as the second half ticked by. Regular readers will know we’re big defenders of Pochettino’s, but hey, he already had more than enough defenders today. Five of them, in fact.

He did, in fairness, switch Danny Rose into central midfield shortly before the penalty was awarded, which was a strange solution to the problem with Oliver Skipp and Lucas Moura both unused substitutes on the bench with a change still spare.

Perhaps the intention was to open up more space for Sissoko to operate in, with the Frenchman on good form once again for the hosts. But it nonetheless highlighted Tottenham’s need to invest in some other options to freshen things up when things get tough.

 

11) Actually, we’ll take back that ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ thing, for Arsenal were awarded a soft penalty of their own late on.

Sanchez was judged to have bundled over Aubameyang, who had come on early in the second half in place of Lacazette, and the contact appeared to be pretty minimal. But there was no need for Sanchez to have his hands all over the striker; don’t give the referee a decision to make, as the old adage goes.

Again, though, Spurs were let off the hook, as Aubameyang struck a terribly poor penalty into an easy spot for Lloris to make the save in the last minute of normal time. Jan Vertonghen had a more difficult challenge to deny Aubameyang’s attempt at a follow up, but was successful in clearing it practically off the line and away from danger.

And we thought Tottenham didn’t do draws.

 

12) There was still time for one last bit of action to round off the late flurry of activity, though, as substitute Lucas Torreira was dismissed for a challenge on Rose.

While the challenge was not malicious, it was late and high, and though it was very harsh, you could at least see how Anthony Taylor had arrived at his decision.

But then why was it treated any differently to a very similar challenge Rose had himself made on Leno midway through the second half? He was making an earnest attempt to win the ball and get a shot away, but ended up following through and planting his studs in Leno’s chest. For that, he got a yellow.

Again, we try to avoid criticising the officials where we can, but this was a particularly odd bit of inconsistency.

 

13) Nevertheless, there was something to enjoy there. The two players Keown so desperately wanted to start both came off the bench. One took a penalty Gareth Southgate would be ashamed of, and the other got sent off.

Perhaps the universe does have a sense of humour.

 

14) Despite the disappointing nature of the dropped points, Emery will have been pleased to see his side playing with something like some solidity and a clear, decently-executed gameplan, rather than the kind of fun but chaotic showings they have put on now and then this season – especially against the other big sides

Emery said: “We are thinking each match for three points, to continue in our way, our target is clear. We can be proud of everybody in our work. We showed everybody we are creating and doing it our way.”

Unfortunately, the positives are more indicators that things are going in the right direction in the long term, rather than that they will be able to maintain their improved form in the short term – say, for the rest of the season. At this stage, with things as tight as they are, they need points more than statements.

 

15) That point does a lot more for Tottenham than it does for Arsenal, so Pochettino was understandably pleased to have avoided defeat, regardless of the many frustrating aspects of their performance for much of the game.

“It was a tough game and difficult to play Arsenal but I am happy after two defeats to take a positive result to build confidence for Tuesday, to go to and Borussia Dortmund and go through to the next stage of the Champions League,” he said.

Just as importantly, though, they still have a bit of daylight between themselves and the chasing pack. That may not be a huge lift to their spirits, but it sure beats the crushing blow that defeat would have inflicted.

 

16) The season is still far from over, though, and there is every chance of Arsenal moving up the table and Spurs sliding down over the coming weeks – not least because the Gunners’ next game, against United, is their last top-six head-to-head of the season, while Tottenham must still play both Liverpool and Manchester City away from home.

There were enough of the worst aspects of both sides to leave both sets of fans feeling like the corner remains unturned, which is not terribly reassuring now that this war will need to be won or lost on different battlefields.

It’s going to be a nervous couple of months in both halves of north London.

 

Steven Chicken is on Twitter

 

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