Saturday, February 7, 2015

Derby disappointment but hopefully not a disaster

After the win at Manchester City and a good run of form, even without Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal were in a good place going into the North London derby. Annoyingly, the Gunners never really got going and lost 2-1, meaning the fight for the top four is very much on.
Tottenham harried Arsenal and were much improved on the lacklustre team that showed up at the Emirates earlier in the season. For the most part, Arsenal kept a decent defensive structure without letting Tottenham in behind the back four. But the biggest problem was that Arsenal couldn’t relieve the pressure by keeping the ball when Tottenham attacks broke down.
Santi Cazorla was instrumental in the win at City, but he couldn’t retain the ball as well as he did on that day. Aaron Ramsey showed a lot of endeavour, but was careless in possession.
There wasn’t much of a surprise about the starting line-up, with the exception of Danny Welbeck coming in for Theo Walcott, and it was working for Arsene Wenger when Welbeck made a telling contribution to the opening goal. His surge past Danny Rose set up Olivier Giroud, before the ball broke to Ozil for a quality first-time finish.
But Arsenal sat back a bit too much having opened the scoring, inviting the pressure from Tottenham. It didn’t need the Gunners to be gung-ho or irresponsible going forward, but there needed to be more attacking intent to try and push Tottenham back a bit. In key areas, Arsenal’s link-up play wasn’t quite coming off, with Giroud, Ozil and Welbeck all guilty of losing possession approaching the final third.
In the second half, these problems were exacerbated when Tottenham upped the intensity. Having settled into the defensive mind set when 1-0 up, Arsenal couldn’t change the tone and ended up being under a period of sustained pressure. David Ospina had his busiest game since coming into the team, and conceded his first Premier League goal when the pressure built up too much and Kane scored.
After that, Arsenal couldn’t create a proper opening as the fluency that was so evident last week against Villa just wasn’t there at White Hart Lane. As a different option to drive the team and be the inspiration for the front line when harrying Tottenham early in possession, Arsenal did miss Alexis Sanchez. There should still have been enough quality in the line-up to still get the job done, but the Chilean would undoubtedly have made a difference.
The winning goal for Tottenham was a good cross and a good header, but avoidable from an Arsenal point of view. My main frustrating with it was the lack of effort to close down the cross. With five minutes to go, you’ve got to bust a gut to at least put the man under pressure. Instead, Bentaleb was able to measure the ball into Kane to score.
It was incredibly frustrating that Arsenal couldn’t turn it on for the derby having been so good in the last few weeks. There were exceptions (I thought Nacho Monreal put in an excellent shift), but the intensity wasn’t quite there from Arsenal, and that’s inexcusable in the derby.
The defeat means Tottenham are a point ahead of Arsenal in the table, and leaves the Gunners behind Southampton and Manchester United in the top four fight. With the games coming up, Arsenal can write the defeat off as a blip, meaning the season shouldn’t spiral because of losing at White Hart Lane. There are quality players still to return, and Arsenal have the know-how to overhaul Tottenham in the table. The defensive shape was pretty good again, it was just the intensity and passing accuracy that was missing, which is something that can be easily rectified. That bit of optimism doesn’t ease the immediate pain of derby defeat though.