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Despite the fact that our nearest and dearest scored first and held the lead for a relatively long time in the second half, this result borders on the preposterous. Arsenal absolutely monstered Tottenham from first minute to last, and played well enough where on most days, the haul at the end would have been all three points.
Then again, I'd argue that the manager's tactics and team selection contributed in large part to the fact that it was only one (Drew touched on a lot of what I would have said here - go ahead and read his piece from yesterday, mark me down for "what he said", and take that as our starting point).
The defense picked itself, of course, as did most of the attackers. The utterly bizarre news from the opening teamsheet though was that Alexis Sanchez was left on the bench. Apparently, Arsene himself didn't have much of an explanation for it in the post-match inquest. Well, that's good. Nice to know that there's a serious plan behind the major decisions that he makes. Sigh. Instead, Jack Wilshere was shoehorned in along with Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Here's the thing - I don't know what Wilshere does, really. It's not that he's a bad player - far from it, in fact. I just don't get how the pieces are supposed to fit together here (Again, Drew covered this already in the link above).
So, while the team did not perform badly at all in the first half, many of our moves broke down because there was no coherent flow or gameplan to what we were doing. At times, the winger or fullback would get in a cross, and there was no one in the area to receive. Other times, two or three players would all be in the same space, making it easy for the Scum to keep their defensive shape and repel the attack.
That said, a quick word about the referee, Michael Oliver. He was surely overawed by the occasion, and his correspondingly erratic performance led to a small village's worth of yellow cards for not that much in particular. It's a derby match, for fuck's sake. On top of that, how is it that the challenges that injured Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey were not yellow card offenses, but any time we breathed on one of their guys, it was? What an absolute prize nimrod this man is.
Anyway, the two injuries meant that Mathieu Flamini came in as a like-for-like with Arteta, and Santi Cazorla replaced Rambo. The little Spaniard did OK, but how was Alexis not the first man off the bench there from an attacking perspective? Again, I find myself baffled by the manager's thought processes.
That took us to halftime, the sum total of serious chances being one good stop from Hugo Lloris on Oxlade-Chamberlain. Danny Welbeck was a phantom up top, visible to the naked eye but completely incorporeal to the flow of events. The match was screaming out for Alexis' directness and energy, but there he was, on the bench.
Still, we looked a little better after the restart, Lloris again saving well when Ozil got some space in the area. But, the visitors continued to defend well - Younes Kaboul in particular had a good game as did the debutant Ryan Mason - and found themselves in the lead in the 56th minute thanks to an indefensible cock-up in midfield. A free kick from Christen Eriksen was easily handled by Wojciech Szczesny, but as we moved up the field, Flamini was guilty of dallying on the ball. Somehow, our snarly, tough defensive midfielder was inexcusably muscled off the ball by the frail sprite that is Eriksen. Our fullbacks were caught out high up the field, Erik Lamela played in Nacer Chadli, and the Belgian coolly finished past the stranded Szczesny.
As so very Arsenal a goal as that was to concede, we almost pegged them back immediately. All throughout this time, I was confident that we weren't going to lose - all the signs were there. In fact, the sheer number of panicked yellow cards that Scum players took after their goal should tell you something. Also, the fact that we were running at defenders and shooting from distance occasionally were both good signs to me. Anyway, we got a quick free kick in their end, and Per Mertesacker got a strong header to it. Somehow, Lloris got down in a flash with a strong hand to sweep it off the goal line. I hate to admit it, but for me that's the save of the season so far. Many people just don't know how good that was.
The hour mark came soon after, and with it two substitutions that changed the match. Inexplicably, Mauricio Pochettino withdrew Eriksen, who to that point had arguably been their best player by some distance. Conversely, Arsene yanked the ineffectual Wilshere and belatedly introduced Alexis to the proceedings.
Now, we were getting somewhere.
Arsenal immediately looked that much more threatening, the Chilean bringing another gear that we hadn't shown previously. He had a few naff touches as he worked the rust off, but soon we were bearing down on the Tottenham goal in waves. Callum Chambers, of all people, so nearly found the equalizer with a ferocious half-volley from outside the area. He struck it so sweetly, and Lloris was beaten all ends up. Sadly, it whistled agonizingly just over the crossbar.
You always felt the goal was coming though, and sure enough we only had to wait a minute longer for it to arrive. Sanchez was the starting point of the move, as he played in Cazorla. The Spaniard fired the ball into the area towards Welbeck, who managed to connect with nothing but air. It proved to be a stellar dummy though, leaving the Ox unmarked in the back post to lash an unstoppable shot over Lloris and into the roof of the net.
Just after the goal, there was a stretch of a few minutes where I honestly thought we'd go on to win it. The men in red poured forward with renewed intensity, but to their credit the Scum backline held up long enough to take the sting out of the game. Arsenal soon ran out of ideas, and the match limped to its denouement despite there being five minutes of additional time at the end.
Side note, while I think of it. We had 15 corner kicks in this match. FIF-FUCKING-TEEN. Not once, on any of them, did we ever seriously threaten to score. It's a gaping hole in our offensive game. It strikes me that if we scored 5-6 more goals a season on set pieces like this, it could potentially make a massive difference in terms of turning 0 points into 1, or 1 into 3.
That said, I don't think the sky is falling here. There were definite signs of improvement in our overall attacking play, even if the end product wasn't always there. Despite that, we still win this game comfortably had Lloris not played out of his skin. While I frankly think that Chelsea is going to absolutely maul us at the Bridge next weekend, overall I think we're progressing to the point where if we can go 5 seconds without someone else being injured, we should be comfortable in our annual chase for the Arsene Wenger Memorial 4th-Place Trophy.
If that sounds like I'm writing off our title chances, it's only because I am. I don't think we have a prayer of winning the title as long as Wenger is still the manager, so I've resolved myself to enjoying the positives where and when I can and letting the rest of it roll off my back. It's definitely taken a lot of stress out of my life, that's for sure.
The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:
Szczesny 7, Gibbs 6, Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 7, Chambers 7, Arteta 7 (Flamini 5), Wilshere 6 (Sanchez 7), Ozil 7, Ramsey 7 (Cazorla 7), Welbeck 6
Man of the Match: It's true that Koscielny was an absolute boss in central defense, and the Ox of course scored the goal. But, if we're being honest...really, really honest...the Scum lose this match handily were it not for the heroics of Hugo Lloris. I may get slaughtered for this and that's fine, but some his saves were otherworldly today.