Photo: Getty Images
Sometimes, it's just not your day.
I should probably level-set before I continue. A lot of people out there are losing their minds about this result, given that it's the NLD and that is where their residual irrational hatred lives. Me? I guess being a Yank (so the local hatreds never took with me) and dating back to the early-90s (meaning that Manchester United were always THE enemy) means that the NLD - while a game I always want Arsenal to win - doesn't elicit the same visceral reactions in me that it does for many other Gooners. So, I am able to look at this far more philosophically than most.
Here's the thing - I don't think we played that badly. Gooners are currently frothing at the mouth on social media about a perceived lack of effort, about perceived poor performances, and (this one is just fucking bonkers) a perceived poor showing from David Ospina.
It's just not true.
There are a couple of uncomfortable truths that we as Gooners are going to have to learn to live with. John alluded to it in Preview by Numbers, but this is not your older brother's Spurs. They are a legitimately good side with plenty of quality from back to front. The NLD is no longer a walkover, and will not be for some time to come. Were there to be a combined North London XI, they have three guys - Hugo Lloris, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane - that get into the starting lineup without question.
The other uncomfortable truth is that, sometimes, there is nothing you can actively blame for a loss other than a bit of luck and a moment or two of quality. Losing a football match does not automatically render a starting XI selection incorrect. A team can play relatively well and still lose, which is always possible in a low-scoring sport.
Further, the tactics were not wrong. It is more than a little disingenuous to slate Arsene Wenger for playing defensively in a tough away fixture, what, 2.4 seconds after praising him to the heavens for doing the same thing at Manchester City? Sure, our nearest and dearest had 60%+ possession and 23 shots, but other than their two goals, where was the actual danger?
I'll reiterate: For the vast majority of this game, we let a highly-motivated opponent playing at home huff and puff around to very little effect. Again, what's the issue here?
The one thing I will concede is that we often got trapped deep in our own end for long spells after we took the lead. By the way, let's discuss that one for a second. All of those slating Mesut Ozil after that performance, go hang your head in shame. Danny Welbeck started the move down the right, and he excellently crossed into Olivier Giroud in the middle. Giroud deflected it out left to Ozil, who was played onside by one of their defenders. His one-touch volley was exquisite, leaving Lloris no chance in the Spurs net.
Anyway, while we were often trapped deep, a good portion of that has to be down to the way our opponents played. They attacked with purpose, hunted in packs, and generally played a strong pressing game that our guys had trouble dealing with at times.
Still, most of their shots went harmlessly wide or over the bar. When they were on target, such as Ryan Mason's long-range tracer in the 30th minute, the excellent David Ospina was there to parry away. I've read some criticism of his performance in the immediate aftermath, and I'm here to tell you as a goalkeeper that it is all (ALL) absolutely ridiculous. Frankly, Ospina was the only thing keeping us in the game at times, especially in the second half. If you think he should have caught all of those, allow me to inform you as to how little you know about my chosen position.
That said, there were some of our guys that were a bit off on the day. Aaron Ramsey continues to be an excellent player who is suffering through a protracted indifferent spell. Santi Cazorla, be it fatigue or otherwise, wasn't his usual effervescent self. Giroud, the assist aside, contributed little in a match where we could have used more from the target striker position, especially in terms of holding the ball up.
On the other hand, besides Ospina, there were a few excellent performances. Hector Bellerin was arguably our best player, as he continues to stake a serious claim on the right-back position. Francis Coquelin was excellent in the center of the park, and Danny Welbeck showed some flashes (though was a serious red card danger for most of the second half as well).
But, like I said, matches like this are often decided in a series of two or three moments over the course of the 90 minutes. Their first goal, for instance, was a perfect example. Off a corner kick, Moussa Dembele's flick-on at the near post was going to curl into the net before Ospina brilliantly fisted it away. It was a fantastic save, and it deserved better than its aftermath. Had Kane been standing literally anywhere else, someone clears that away and at worst we get a point. Instead, he was there to tap it in.
Meanwhile, up the other end, Welbeck made himself a yard and curled a beauty towards the Spurs goal, the ball seemingly destined for the top corner. But, there was Lloris, leaping well up into the air to claw it away to safety. Bloody hell, that was a great save.
But, there it is. Small differences. A fortuitous bounce one way, a worldie save the other. Oh, and Giroud really should have scored in the 74th when presented with a free header off of Ozil's cross. I'm a huge fan of the guy but I do wish he had more serious competition.
Their winner, when it came, was a bit of a sucker punch. There was nothing in the overall run of play that screamed out that they were going to find that goal - as I keep saying, it was a moment of brilliance out of nothing. Nabil Bentaleb's cross was like any of the countless others that they had throughout the match. It wasn't that poorly-defended, either. Laurent Koscielny was in attendance, and didn't make it easy on Kane. The guy just managed to fight him off, and somehow looped an unstoppable header into the far corner.
Sometimes, a guy just beats you. It happens.
The fact of the matter is that we lost the derby, and that sucks. Of COURSE it sucks. But, let's take a second and breathe here. Their run-in is a lot harder than ours is. They are not that far away from having to muck around in the knockout rounds of the UEFA Cup on Thursday nights, and this version of their team is good enough where they'll probably stick around in it for a while. Alexis Sanchez will be back soon, and we still have enough weapons where should see off most of the lesser teams.
We lost, it blows, but it's not the end of the world. We'll see who is where, come May.
The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:
Ospina 9, Monreal 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Bellerin 8, Ramsey 5, Coquelin 8 (Akpom N/A), Welbeck 7 (Walcott 7), Cazorla 6 (Rosicky 6), Ozil 7, Giroud 5
Man of the Match: As I said last season, this won't always be an Arsenal player. We got rid of one Spurs nemesis when Gareth Bale got sold off to Real Madrid, but it looks like Harry Kane has taken up that mantle. We'll get you next time, fucker.
Sean Swift is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner, goalkeeper extraordinaire, and all-around bon vivant (...and now, a reading from the gospel according to Shane McGowan...). You can follow him on Twitter @thefallen29 if you are so inclined, though I check it pretty much never.