Arsene Wenger made the changes to his team yesterday that had felt overdue. Mohamed Elneny coming into partner Francis Coquelin in midfield with Aaron Ramsey ostensibly starting from the right, but tucking in a lot to form a kind of midfield trio. With Danny Welbeck’s pace and running up front, it felt better, if not quite the answer to all our problems.
Ultimately this is a team pretty shorn of confidence and belief, and that’s apparent in the way we play football now. The ball feels scary at times. We don’t really control long swathes of matches the way we used to, and we live a bit dangerously at the back.
David Ospina, in for Cech, made a fantastic save before the half hour, and Sp*rs had certainly more sights of goal than we did. Francis Coquelin picked up a yellow card, for deliberate handball after he was caught dawdling on the ball in midfield – another part of our general footballing malaise, players spending too long in possession. Part of that is because too often there’s not enough movement around them, but still. The casualness is too often costly.
They had been the better team, but in the 39th minute we were ahead. Arsenal worked the ball down the left, and Welbeck fed Bellerin in the box. His ball found Ramsey and the improvised flicked finish was absolutely superb. We know he likes a backheel, and often they don’t work out, but we can’t have any complaints about that one.
We took the lead into the break, and what we had to do was stay solid and not hand them any momentum. Which is why Coquelin’s second yellow was so frustrating. He’d been warned at half-time, but rather than just see Kane down the line he slid in, allowed the England man to ‘draw the foul’ or, to put it another way ‘leap over him without being touched’, and the referee had no other option than to show him a second yellow.
Much like the Diego Costa one against Chelsea, there was no contact other than that made by Kane on Coquelin, but Coquelin’s naivete there meant that Kane could take the dive and the outcome was obvious to everyone. Just stay on your feet and it doesn’t happen. It’s 100% on Coquelin, and he knew it too.
To say it changed the course of the game is obvious. Despite another fine Ospina save, with goal line technology showing how close it came to going over (helps if you’re not actually standing behind the line, Dave), they cranked up the pressure and when the ball fell to Alderweireld from a corner he cracked in the equaliser. The second came just 2 minutes later.
Mertesacker really should have just put the ball out, Gibbs played Alli onside and when found Kane, there wasn’t enough pressure on him, allowing him to curl a shot into the far corner of the net. From 1-0 up and in decent shape, we were 2-1 down, having conceded in quick succession, and I genuinely feared we might end up on the wrong end of a horrible scoreline.
Desire, guts, character, leadership, all those things about Arsenal have been questioned – and rightly so – over the last little while. So, when we see some of that, whether it’s better late than never or not, they deserve some props for it. Arsene Wenger brought off Elneny, and put on Olivier Giroud. We needed a goal, but with 10 men and both ‘holding’ midfielders off, it was certainly a brave substitution.
It worked though, Mertesacker intercepted, Ramsey found Bellerin down the right with a smart pass, he played the ball behind the Sp*rs defence and got his second assist of the day as Alexis finished to make it 2-2. His first goal in the Premier League since October 17th, when he scored in a 3-0 win over Watford. He celebrated like a man who had just had a weight taken off his shoulders, and let’s hope that’s the case.
Moments later, the referee chose not to give Dier what looked to be a very obvious second yellow for a foul on Giroud, but then that seems to be the way it works for us this season. We don’t tend to get away with very much at all, but the consistency in the decision making doesn’t feel like a two-way street. Hey-ho.
Alexis had a free kick saved by Lloris, Gabriel almost sliced a clearance into his own net, I thought there was a handball in the area by a Sp*rs player but the referee waved play on, and there was a chance for Ramsey to get the winner but he was denied by a fantastic tackle, in fairness.
Afterwards, Arsene Wenger said:
We showed good attitude and character and I’m happy and proud of our performance and attitude. We refused to lose the game. We have as well big regrets because I could not see how 11 against 11 could have dropped points today. We made a mistake at 1-0 when it was 11 against 11 but even though we had a shock loss and it went to 2-1, we refused to lose the game. We always looked dangerous going forward.
And on the red card, for which Coquelin has since apologised:
He made a mistake and he knows he made a big mistake. At half time we warned him as well and it was a mistake. He wanted to do well and mistimed his tackle and got sent off. He has to quickly learn from that because at a top level it is full commitment and 100 per cent in all the duels in a controlled way. He got a yellow card because he made a mistake to go down on the tackle.
That’s four red cards in the league this season, and this is the only game we’ve actually got something from when a man down. It was daft from Coquelin, no question about it, and while he does have to learn, he should know better already.
It does go back to something I mention on this blog fairly regularly though: our appetite for self-destruction. It’s just so costly, and yesterday – while you can’t say with any certainty how it might have panned out at 11 v 11 – we’d certainly have had more chance of winning the game. Especially against a Sp*rs side that could well be feeling the pressure. 1 point from 6 now for them, Leicester continue their march onwards, and this crazy season probably has another twist or two before we hit May.
So, negatives in that red card, and the way we conceded, but positives in that even with 10 men we looked dangerous at times. There was some actual threat to our attacking play. The midfield looked better and I thought Elneny slotted in quite well. I’d like to see the manager continue with this system, and with Welbeck up top who really gave us something different.
He might have been a little more decisive on a couple of occasions, but overall the way he ran the channels, and worked space in behind them was really good to see. Let him have a run in the team up there and see what he can do.
As for what the draw means, well, it’s a point away from home in a derby, and perhaps being able to come back from the difficult position we put ourselves in will restore some confidence. You’d like to think so anyway.
The week ahead is an odd one. Coquelin will serve his one game ban on Tuesday when we face Hull in the FA Cup, and what happens in that game will determine our weekend. It’ll either be another cup game, against Watford, or Premier League against West Brom.
Right, have yourselves a good Sunday. More from me, with an Arsecast Extra etc, tomorrow. Until then.