At least twice a season, Arsenal line up against their most hated rivals. While they have been able to finish above them in the table every year of Wenger’s reign, it is clear the two sides are closer in stature now than in the past, much as Man City has made major inroads that have surpassed the “noisy neighbor” moniker once given to them by United boss Ferguson. Unfortunately, the closing of fortunes in the past few years has been paralleled by increasing success for Tottenham in the North London Derby.
Heading into the afternoon encounter today, though, many believed Arsenal would end a streak of three draws and a loss in the past four league meetings, particularly as they were riding high while Tottenham was plagued by a series of injuries and fading form over the past month. After taking the lead before halftime on a fortuitous own goal from a stand-in Spurs defender, it looked like those predictions would come true. And yet, as is often the case with Arsenal, a mistake cost them dearly, as what appeared to be a completely unnecessary foul by Koscielny in the box allowed Harry Kane to equalize soon after halftime.
A few chances ensued for both sides, but it was a techy affair and the score ended 1-1. It was, as Wenger claimed afterwards, two points dropped, and means the Gunners have fallen all the way to fourth place, though only two points behind new leaders Liverpool. But in a tight race that appears to involve at least five teams, those two points could prove costly. Three thoughts on the game:
1. The Match by the Numbers:
Goals by Harry Kane in NLD – 5 (the record – 8)
Last time Arsenal Beat Spurs in the League – March 2014 (six league matches ago)
Number of 1-1 Draws Between the Sides at the Emirates in a Row: 3
First Half Possession for the Visitors: 59 percent
Full Game Possession for the Visitors: 54 percent
Shots for Arsenal (on target): 15 (2)
Shots for Spurs (on target): 10 (3)
Offsides by Arsenal: 7!
Corner Kicks: Arsenal 7 Spurs 2
Record of Arsenal with a Chance to Go Top: 0-2-0
2. Arsenal off Their Best: Arsenal seemed surprised when the Spurs started the game with three at the back, even as those watching the pregame knew this an hour before kickoff. Maybe someone should be watching just so they can inform the team? Wenger has been better with his tactical flexibility over the past few months, but seemed to leave his players unprepared for the shift, a point reinforced by Walcott, who said as much in the post-game interviews.
But this was but one of the problems for a somewhat flat Gunners side, who did look bright once they adjusted to the new formation – about 20 minutes in – before a largely uninspired second half. Sanchez had a rare off-game today, failing to find the space or deftness of pass to pose much of a problem for the compact Spurs defense. Walcott had an excellent shot just miss as it clanged off the post and Ozil missed an open net with a tough volley. Neither did much else throughout their time on the pitch. Xhaka and Coquelin were off with their passing as well, Bellerin and Monreal had difficulty getting in quality crosses and the three subs – Giroud, Ramsey and Ox – didn’t do much better in their shorter spells on the pitch.
It is one game and still a point, but the Gunners need to up their intensity in matches of this stature and find ways to motivate one another when their game turns flat. Wenger cannot be blamed for this loss, though, as he put out a team capable of winning and then brought on the three offensive-minded reinforcements with plenty of time to make an impact. Their failure to do so is the reason for the dropped two points.
3. Cazorla Absence Continues to Sting: the continued absence of Santi Cazorla was felt acutely by the home side, while Spurs benefitted from the return of Harry Kane soon after half time. While the Arsenal defense continued to shine but for the Koscielny mistake, they were less fluid offensively, a problem during the vast majority of his layoff with injury. The movement from back to front just doesn’t have the cutting edge with some combination of Xhaka, Coquelin and Elneny at the back and it showed in this game, with many counters sniffed out by the Spurs or disrupted by too much meandering about.
Cazorla is the fulcrum from defense to offense, incredibly consistent with his ability to pick out the pass that sends the speedy players around his alight. In his absence, there is a sense that some players are trying too hard to find the perfect pass, overshooting their targets, getting caught up in possession or waiting a beat too long with their through balls, as exemplified by the seven offsides.
Arsenal have been able to paper over these shortcomings against lesser opponents, but it caught up with them today and they will have to address this concern if they are to stay near the top of a very crowded table. They have the international break to recover and then a key matchup with a United side that finally looked decent in their 3-1 win today.