A day to forget

While I’m a firm believer that a cannon will always be better than a chicken dancing on a basketball, yesterday was a sad case of the chickens coming home to roost.

With Man City’s European ban overturned – the least surprising news we’ve had all year – it now means our chances of European football are virtually non-existent. In all honesty, it would be a blessing to dodge the Europa League altogether and get back to basics domestically, because as we saw yesterday, said basics are still a major problem.

It’s part of the reason that Mourinho always seems to get the better of us, as much as it pains me to say. Having never lost a home game against us, it would be fair to say he’s got us figured out because the kinds of problems with the current team aren’t new. Yesterday was an all-too-familiar formula of bus parking, catastrophic mistakes, late goals and set piece problems.

We can at least take solace in not having that man at the helm, because I wouldn’t want to watch that shit* on a weekly basis.

*(lowercase “s” – I also wouldn’t want to watch Spurs more than twice a year)

The Match

A predictable lineup may have played into the hands of Mourinho’s defensive scheming but I don’t think we can place any blame on Arteta given the cards in his hand. Yesterday was a damning reminder that form is temporary -not that it’s ever factored into North London derbies anyway. While it lacked the usual kind of bite, I was never under the impression it would be an easy game despite the contrasting forms of the two teams.

I feared the worst in the opening minutes, with Arsenal still firmly rooted in the starting blocks, blissfully unaware of Lucas Moura and Harry Kane combining. If not for Martinez, it would have been a painful start, but he was quick off the mark and taller still to deny Kane.

Lacazette announcing himself was something else. We know he likes a goal against Spurs but this was something else. Even in slow motion, it looked unstoppable and I’m sure he, along with the rest of the team thought it would be a platform to build on and play our own game. That would be far too easy, though and Sead Kolasinac had other ideas.

We know he’s devoid of any real technical ability, we know he’s one dimensional in his passing. He can charge past people and mindlessly fire balls into the box, as he so often did under Emery. Under Arteta, the only reason his job still exists is because he’s left footed. That is all I can surmise as to reasons why he’s still played – and preferred – over other players with technical ability that isn’t equivalent to a Pascal Cygan or an Oleg Luzhny. He’s known for making clumsy challenges and while he carries out some of his defensive responsibilities well (interceptions and surprisingly good in the air for his size), someone so one-dimensional can only do so much.

Kolasinac Passing Map vs Tottenham

There was a pass he made in the Leicester match which made me just laugh. It was a simple pass, only a few yards away from him, on his left foot and he just hit it straight into the legs of a Leicester player. The passing map doesn’t paint him any better, and it was this kind of mind-numbing repetitiveness that made me dread watching “Emeryball”. This is clearly a squad-building issue but I would argue that some of the blame also lies at Arteta’s feet. Saka has obviously been heavily involved lately, but other options at left back have worked in the past and while we hadn’t yet been punished by Kolasinac’s ability, it was only a matter of time. I dread to think what Liverpool will do if he remains there on Wednesday, but I’d much rather see AMN be given a chance there.

To concede such a goal was a kick in the teeth for fans and players alike, and I don’t think anyone expected such an immediate rebuttal. Momentum is everything in football and it was snuffed in an instant.

“That team plays really well and the ball goes and goes and goes and the quality of the ball possession is good, but they don’t score. No points. They asked the FIFA committee if they can win like this but they’re told it’s not possible.”

Mourinho on possession

It pains me to quote the man. I loathe him and his stupid, smug punchable face. I wish Wenger would have flattened him like he wanted to all of those years ago – and he deserved it after the comments he made. While the context doesn’t relate to Arsenal, there’s something to be learned here and it’s something we’ve seen all season.

Now, I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realise it was this bad. With the exception of Özil – who’s hardly played and isn’t going to – that is barren. It’s not helped by the fact that 4 of those players are 24 and under and haven’t quite learned their trade yet but as far as I’m concerned, it’s been the glaring omission from this season. I say all of this because ultimately, it was what cost us again. It was another game we controlled and another game where points were lost because of unforced errors and an inability to kill games. You kill games by creating meaningful goal-scoring opportunities while dominating possession and we just don’t seem capable of that.

On this occasion, I also think Arteta got things wrong tactically. The changes didn’t come soon enough and they had an air of reactivity rather than proactivity, which was so often the case with Emery as well. Bringing on 3 players after you go behind just doesn’t feel right and we’d been crying out for change long before that. Of all the players to bring off in the 70th minute, I was also surprised to see Pépé make way. Although he started poorly, he grew into the game and was our most consistently threatening outlet. After the mistake, something more ambitious like bringing Tierney back into left centre back and giving Saka free reign at left wing back would’ve injected some more life into the game rather than swapping one outlet for another.

The worst part of the game though, by a country mile.. was how quickly we reverted to a state of panic-stricken hysteria as the match and our domestic ambitions cascaded away after Spurs took the lead.

Mustafi, minutes before, had attempted a bicycle kick. That was on target. That’s in the upper echelons of confidence even for forwards, let alone one Shkodran Mustafi. The goal goes in and suddenly he’s acting like he’s had a lobotomy. From a sports science and psychology point of view, I’m sure he’s a fascinating test subject but that is the last thing you want in a team. I’ve loved seeing him become accepted by the fanbase again and I think it’s commendable that he’s managed to show people what he can do, but a team of our calibre isn’t the right fit. The Premier League is steeped in pressure, both on and off the pitch and some people just aren’t cut out for it. I’d hoped this renewed sanity he’d found under Arteta would be his Arsenal swan-song and a way to convince other clubs to spend actual money on him. That may still be possible but I think at this point, you have to cut your losses. If not for Martinez and the width of the post, we would have gifted Kane yet another derby goal.

Mustafi wasn’t the only one guilty of this hysteria by the way, he was just the most guilty. The team still has mentality issues and for some, it can’t be trained out of them. When the transfer window opens, everyone in the procurement department has their work cut out and for me, it can’t come soon enough now.

We have Liverpool on Wednesday.. can’t wait for joyous occasion.

Until then.

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