Sp*rs 3-3 Arsenal: another draw means curtains for the title

Morning all. 3-3 draw, down in to 3rd, I think we need to look at the game first and what it means after.

The game

We couldn’t have had a better start. Before the game had settled into any kind of pattern we went 1-0 up. Diaby won the ball well in midfield, gave it to Song who found Cesc first time. The captain kept it, cut inside the Sp*rs player and threaded a great ball through for Theo who took it on and finished beautifully to make it 1-0.

There is a an old cliché which says you’re at your most vulnerable just after you’ve scored and it proved true last night. Just a couple of minutes after our goal Sp*rs were level. Corluka found van der Vaart’s run from midfield. Diaby reacted but just too late, the Dutchman’s finish with his right foot crept in just inside the near post. Maybe Szczesny got his angles wrong, slightly, but it was precision stuff to make it 1-1.

Sp*rs then proved the vulnerable ones as after a spell of decent Arsenal possession we took the lead again. The ball came to Nasri about 25 yards out, dead centre, and for once we decided to have a go. Gomes was probably unsighted and the shot flew in down the middle of the goal.

There was some to and fro then. We had chances with van Persie and Walcott, whose shot crept inches wide. At the other end we gave them a sight of goal a bit too often for my liking. Modric shot at Szczesny, which was routine. Song gave the ball away in midfield which ended up with Pavlyuchenko’s shot deflected out for a corner – from which Gallas had a header which went wide.

We went further ahead five minutes before half-time. Sagna’s cross from the right caught Gallas out. He didn’t know whether to head it or kick it and ended up chesting it to nowhere in particular. Theo got it, lofted it beautifully to van Persie who just had Gomes to beat with the header but the keeper made the save. Robin made no mistake from the rebound and smashed it into the roof of the net to make it 3-1.

Once again though, the old cliché struck and Sp*rs closed the gap. After brave keeping by SZCZ left Gareth Bale in a heap for the second time, Spurs had a throw on our left. It was chucked in, not cleared well enough and Huddlestone’s first time shot was very well executed, you have to say. The keeper didn’t even move as it flew into the bottom corner. Instead of going in 3-1 up, and then settling down into the second half, the lead was just one.

We started the second half poorly. Song and Djourou picking up bookings for fouls on Modric. A van der Vaart free kick went over, and the same player, who was offside when the ball was played through, forced a good save from Szczesny. From the subsequent corners/crosses, the young keeper showed presence and determination to punch the ball clear. And while Sp*rs got away with the aforementioned offside I think we can rue the decision to put the flag up for van Persie a little while later.

Cesc’s first time ball found Robin well onside, he took it on and smashed it goalwards. It was helped in by a Gomes flap but not for the first time this season the linesman cost us a goal. At 4-2 there would have been some breathing space, at least. We had other chances, Gomes saved from Cesc, Theo was clean through but delayed his shot and they got back to close the chance off. On the live blog I suggested we probably needed one more goal. And then came the penalty.

Lennon got in behind Sagna, the ball from midfield was excellent, Szczesny came, didn’t get the ball, got some of the man and as always in that situation the player went down and the ref gave the penalty. I don’t think we can have any complaints about it at all, Chamakh, for example, won a couple of these (at least) this season. Maybe it was a touch rash from the keeper but he’d been strong and decisive earlier in the game (when flattening Bale) and, I suppose, felt he could get there. Van der Vaart stepped up and made it 3-3.

Any further criticism of Szczesny is completely unwarranted though as he kept us in the game. Off the top of my head I remember three great saves. One just after the goal with his trailing leg, one from a Crouch header from just a few yards out, and another from Sandro which, I’m quite sure, he stopped with his scrotum. It was blasted in, went between his legs and then just stopped. As folk pointed out on Twitter, balls of steel. For me, penalty aside, he had an excellent game.

We found ourselves somewhat under the cosh as the game reached its finale. The introductions of Bendtner and Arshavin did little and when we did have a sight of goal it was Cesc who tried to cap an excellent performance with the winning goal. Gomes and a little bit of inaccuracy his foils. So, in the end a draw, Chelsea’s win moves them into second, and for us the slim hopes of the title are probably gone.

Cesc applauds the away fans at White Hart Lane

In terms of the performance I can’t fault the effort, the spirit or the fact they finished stronger. A weekend off compared to our 100 mins against Liverpool meant they had more in the tank in the final stages but you just can’t help think what might have been, or indeed, with a 3-1 lead away from home, what should have been.

What does it mean?

Last night was our 5th draw in our last 6 Premier League matches. We’ve taken 8 points from our last 18. We might very well be on a 16 game unbeaten run in the league, which is impressive in itself, but 8 of those games have been draws. I don’t think it’s reasonable in any way to expect all of those 16 to be wins but you look at some of the games where we’ve dropped points from winning positions and think about where we would be with those points.

Afterwards Arsene said:

I didn’t see any fail in our attitude, in our determination, in our quality. We just dropped physically in the second half.

No issues with that from me.

Our mental strength is outstanding. We have faced criticism but this team deserves much more.

Here’s where I have an issue. A team with outstanding mental strength would not let a two goal lead slip. A team that lets a two goal lead slip (for the second time this season against that lot) does not deserve more. Saying you deserve more smacks of self-entitlement. We weren’t hard done by in any way last night. We got what we deserved. Yes, we worked hard, and as I said I have no issue with our effort, but we’re a soft touch and you can see that the team lacks any kind of confidence that they can keep out the opposition.

As much as the Carling Cup damaged the spirit, shipping that four goal lead against Newcastle has left us shell-shocked. Regardless of how far ahead we are it looks as if the players believe it’s never enough. And generally it isn’t. And at this level of football the opposition have enough quality and experience to exploit that. If you go at them Arsenal will buckle. Blackpool nearly proved that last weekend and so it was again last night. Our keeper may have given away a penalty but in the 10-15 minutes afterwards he saved us a point as Sp*rs created really excellent chances to win the game. Real clear cut chances.

A genuine question for you: How far ahead would we have to be for you to feel comfortable with a lead? Scoring three away from home, being two goals ahead, that should be enough to take the points, but at the moment this Arsenal side lacks the ability to command games. It only takes a second for full on panic to set in and for us to disintegrate. That’s not outstanding mental strength. Not for me anyway.

Arsene wasn’t giving up on the title and as long as it’s mathematically on that’s fine by me. The reality is that United, should they beat Everton at the weekend, will be nine points clear of us by the time we face Bolton on Sunday. With just five games left to play they’d have to well and truly Arsenal themselves to let us back in it, and then you have to consider the presence of Chelsea too.

It’s a familiar feeling this, reminiscent of 07-08 when we were five points clear at the top of the league, and a series of draws put paid to our title chances. Back then there were other factors, Eduardo’s injury plus injuries to Flamini and Sagna, pivotal players, but there was also the sense that when the pressure was on we just couldn’t find the reserves needed to scrap out the wins required.

Three years on and history has repeated itself. There are no traumas to blame this time, no big injuries, no real lack of experience (as we’ve been here before), no extenuating circumstances.

Only our mental strength.

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