So the North London Derby (TM), has been and gone, and Arsenal have suffered another defeat in unfortunate circumstances, and have suffered another freak injury to a key player (Keeping Bacary Sagna out until at least late January). The sun is shining in record breaking fashion all across London, but it continues to be a thunderstorm at Arsenal….
The game itself was evenly matched for the most part, with Tottenham’s extra cutting edge and skill on the counter attack was pitted against Arsenal’s superior control of the midfield and intricate passing. Despite the protestations of Glenn Hoddle, Van Der Vaart’s expertly taken goal against the run of play at the end of the first half has been proven to be handball by everyone else who has commented on it. Dion Dublin on MOTD2 summed it very succinctly by pointing out that the basic laws of physics dictate that the ball travelling across a surface cannot drop perfectly downwards following contact with that surface, unless said contact is augmented by some force from the opposing direction. Or words to that effect. As numerous people have pointed out, technically VDV should have received a second yellow for celebrating in the crowd. I suppose they are right, but its a stupid bloody rule. As Wenger said after the game, perhaps deliberate hand-ball was the more bookable offence.
In the second half, Arsenal completely dominated for 10 minutes either side of the equaliser, fantastically worked by Song stepping up from the back. His concentration goes at times, but for me he is a fantastic footballer, and vital to Arsenal. After that, Arsenal sat back a bit and Sandro replaced VDV to give spurs more bite in midfield. Then for me came the turning point – the freak injury to Bacary Sagna. What would have just been an awkward heavy fall on most grounds became a broken fibula thanks to the crap bit off the edge of the pitch at the ever poxy White Hart Lane. Most grounds have that area as solid, so Sagna would not have got his foot caught in that way. Not only did Spurs build up a head of steam attacking whilst Arsenal tried to bring a sub on, but more importantly, Sagna, although slow to react on VDV’s ‘goal’ had kept Bale in his pocket, thus nullifying Tottenham’s main threat. Poor Carl Jenkinson immediately came on in terrified mode, and Spurs triple loaded that side of the pitch, sensing blood. Although their winner was a jammy hit and hope that swerved at the last second from the impressive Kyle Walker, the move started down the left. Tottenham then very sensibly brought on 2 defensive players in quick succession, while the unfit Gervinho (who narrowly missed a sitter in the first half) was replaced by the lazy genius Arshavin. In fairness, Tottenham were very good once they went 2-1 up, and Arsenal were poor, lacking in invention, conviction and confidence.
After the game, Clive Allen, a minor coach at Spurs, had a big hissy fit. Re-interpreting Daily Mail reporting with a less xenophobic twist is always fun, so going in the opposite direction:
“Famous win-nothing striker and now Spurs ‘development’ coach Clive Allen described Wenger as being ‘two-bob’ after the frenchman declined to shake his hand while the now suprisingly portly and red-faced ex-poacher goaded him very loudly. Allen has a history of trying to force confrontations with members of the Arsenal coaching staff, and successfully managed to draw some attention on himself following the narrow and hard-fought victory of his colleagues.”
Quite why so many old school football people in this country feel they have the right to enforce handshakes from people they dislike and give grief too (but only when it suits them, obviously), is beyond me. Particularly when they then bleat about the lack of handshake action to anyone that will listen. Someone should tell Allen that in Italy or South America, his behaviour would have got him a punch in the face. That said, there does seem to be something about Wenger’s unique blend of gallic myopia, superior education and prior success that makes small time managers and coaches from poxy teams gloat violently in his face when they win. I’m no great fan of Alex Ferguson but even when they spat vitriol at each other in press conferences, the brilliant red-nosed scotsman never stooped that low. I also enjoyed the bleating of Redknapp about Arsenal fans singing nasty songs about Adebayor – given that most of these songs were invented by Spurs fans when he used to play for Arsenal, which he chose not to comment on then. I’m not saying i don’t massively dislike some of these songs myself, just pointing out the Future England Manager (TM)’s complete hypocrisy.
For Arsenal fans, these are worrying times, with half the team injured, another 4 or 5 still just settling in, and with key players like Van Persie, Song and Walcott all having contracts running down. I think 4th is the highest possible hope, but with so many injuries, that seems unlikely, an outcome that would put the club into full rebuilding mode. There are some positives as always in the performances of younger players, like Coquelin yesterday, but as has been pointed out by many, good young players without a strong senior core tend to flounder, as we have seen at Arsenal in recent years. Needless to say, the Arsenal supporting elements of the internet continue to go into meltdown, and the slightly more positive sorts like myself are very much swimming against the tide of supporter opinion.
There is a very large and increasingly vocal percentage who feel the manager has taken the club as far as he can, and his cautiousness in the transfer market has cost the club its seat at the top table. Given this result comes 2 days after the new owner finally spoke and said that Wenger has “a job for life”, I can see a major confrontation between the fans and the absentee landlord if results don’t significantly improve. Extra pressure has been added today, by Ancellotti saying that he’d be happy to manage Arsenal, and Lee Dixon saying on the BBC that Arsenal will struggle to make the top 8.
I’m more sympathetic to Wenger, and believe that many problems come from the timing of trying to rebuild almost a complete team with very little spending money due to the new stadium (and its very comfy seats!), when suddenly the Oligarch’s transformed the financial landscape and made the previously poorly run Chelsea and Man City global superpowers, as well as significant investment from less spectacular rich owners at Liverpool, Spurs and across Europe. The massive injury crisis that cost the excellent 2007/08 squad from winning the league at the last (the team never recovered from Eduardo’s broken leg on top of major injuries to RVP, Rosicky and Hleb when all were in the best form of their careers) has never fully been recovered from, and the club hasn’t had a solid squad since. It is also no coincidence in my mind that the team has never been as convincing since the club abandoned 4-4-2 to worship at the alter of the genius of Cesc Fabregas. I think given the make-up of the squad we are stuck with 4-2-3-1 for a while yet, but the younger players for me point to return to 442…I hope!
In other games, Bolton’s early season malaise continues, as Lampard answered some critics by proving his ability to bounce back from criticism also matches his professionalism, and last season Bolton loanee Daniel Sturridge was respectful enough to not celebrate in front of the Bolton Fans after tearing them a new one. Fulham’s complete inability to score suddenly vanished as they put 6 past a shell-shocked QPR, and I’m very pleased to see ex Palace legend and secret gooner Andy Johnson back in the goals after a dreadful 2 years with injuries.
Predictably Luis Suarez was involved in more controversy, when the Cheating Uruguayan Scumbag (TM), helped to encourage the ever inept Martin Atkinson to send off Jack Rodwell for a fair tackle as Everton’s fortune goes the same way as the gunners. A good description of the Liverpool striker from the usually rubbish www.goal.com;
“From a Machiavellian viewpoint he’s brilliant at what he does, but football, to MTW at least, shouldn’t be about opportunistic cynicism, it should be about skill, which Suarez has in abundance, and it’s a shame that he continuously acts like a toerag who’d probably throw his own mother under a train if it earned him a penalty or got an opponent in the referee’s book.”