Sunday, December 10, 2023

Arsenal 2-2 Sp*rs: Sloppy Gunners gift them a point

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For most of the first half, I thought Arsenal were by far the better side in yesterday’s derby. The performance wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was good enough to be on top, and to be ahead.

The goal came in the 26th minute when Bukayo Saka cut inside thanks to two defenders not picking him up, and his shot was clumsily thwacked into his own net by Cristian Romero. Officially an own goal, but I thought we were good value for the lead. We’d had chances: Saka creating for the lively Gabriel Jesus at the back post, but the keeper made a decent stop. Then a mistake allowed Eddie Nketiah in behind, his near post effort was saved – Fabio Vieira wanted a cut back but watching replays I don’t think it was really on.

Then, a sliding doors moment in this game. Jesus robbed Maddison just inside their box but went for power rather than placement, and fired his shot over the bar. It should have been 2-0, and after that we lost our way a bit. It’s impossible to know for certain, but I wonder sometimes about how moments like that can affect a team. That knowledge you should have been more comfortable makes you uncomfortable all of a sudden, and from there Sp*rs got back into it. Maybe it works both ways, they knew what a let off that was and it sparked them into life a bit.

David Raya had to make an incredible save to deny Brennan Johnson, there were shades of David Seaman v Sheffield United in the cup all those years ago. Then we didn’t do enough to stop a cross from their right, Raya palmed it into danger then made a good save from the subsequent shot. Declan Rice headed away, but Bukayo Saka let Maddison run off him too easily, and Son got between three Arsenal players to poke the ball in off the far post for 1-1. Not quite a catalogue of errors, but things we should have done better.

In the cold light of day, that is the story of our game yesterday. Players who are capable of much better not being at the level we needed them to be. Passes going astray, individual mistakes, simple things like your centre-forward needing to just get control of the ball when it comes into him, almost everybody was below par yesterday. Martin Odegaard, a player I love, worked hard as usual but completed just 19 passes and his overall pass completion was at 68% – just nowhere near his usual level.

We weren’t helped by the loss of Declan Rice at the break due to discomfort in his back, and Mikel Arteta described the decision to take Fabio Vieira off as tactical. I wonder if changing two-thirds of your midfield at half-time was wise, even if one of those changes was enforced.

Nevertheless, we were ahead early in the second period when Romero clearly handled the ball. It look a lengthy VAR consultation for the penalty to be given, but to me it looked obvious. My rule of thumb about penalties is how I’d feel if it happened in our box and had it been Saliba or Gabriel, I’d have no complaints if it were given. Sometimes these handball decisions are hard to understand, but this was one was obvious – despite football’s greatest irritant, Gary Neville, claiming it was harsh on TV. It’s annoying to have to mention him again, but every week we’re inflicted to his nonsense. It’s like audible nits, aural crabs, but there’s no cream or special comb to get rid of it.

When they equalised immediately afterwards, he went off about how Arsenal celebrated Saka’s excellent penalty too much, as if that had anything to do with it. The reality is that it was a terrible, unforced mistake from our most experienced player. Jorginho dallied and was caught on the ball by Maddison. With Gabriel out of his defensive position because he was expecting the Italian to just keep possession or make a simple pass, Son was through to roll the ball beyond Raya. 2-2.

It was a horrible error and we looked shaky afterwards. Son shot into the side netting, and one excellent defensive intervention from Gabriel prevented what would have likely been a tap-in for his hat-trick. We were open at the back without really doing too much up the other end. Havertz fired a shot over, we had some corners, but that was about it. There was a huge roar when 10 minutes of injury time went up, but there was to be no magic moment – and as much as I love those, we really need to be managing games better so we’re not dependent on late, late drama.

I don’t think the subs aside from the half-time changes helped much. I can only assume that they are managing Jesus’ minutes, because I’d have much preferred to see him stay on ahead of Eddie who had a very poor game. I know you can’t do everything in one window, but if this manager is as ruthless as everyone says he is, centre-forward has to be top of the list next time around. If you can replace one very good goalkeeper with another one of more or less the same level, then you should be willing to do the same with a striker who is, with all due respect to him, upgradeable. I was also glad to see Son go off, Maddison I understood because he’d hurt his knee, but I don’t know if that was great management from Ange Postecoglou.

In the end, this is a game we finished without Rice, and with no Gabriel Martinelli, Leandro Trossard, or Thomas Partey – key individuals. Which isn’t to make excuses, but the strength of our bench which was notable just a couple of weeks ago helped us win the United game. Now, a few injuries have had an impact, and we’ll be sweating about those in the days ahead.

Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:

We are very disappointed not to win the three points that’s for sure, especially when you go twice in front in the game and you have the opportunity win it, and especially the moment we conceded the goals. We had control of the game, that we could’ve scored at 2-0 with a situation with Gabby, then you concede a goal and you have to bounce back and we did. We scored the goal and it’s a shame within a minute you concede the other one.

I think that affected the team emotionally quite a lot. We lacked some composure on the ball to get more passes to get in the final third and it became a little bit of a transitional game. That’s a risky one to play against them and then we pushed in the last 15, 20, we push, we push, we push, but we lacked probably the quality in the final pass, as well to get the most of it and win the game.

Ultimately, I think we were the masters of our own downfall yesterday. Both their goals were easily avoidable, and despite the fact we didn’t play anywhere near as well as we can, I think the visitors will be more than happy with the point. These individual errors tend to happen more often at home too, which is strange. It’s not as if there is anything other than huge support for this team, so I don’t really understand it, but it’s not something the manager can ignore either. He has to find a way to cut that nonsense out, because it costs you points.

So, all in all a disappointing day, one from which we’ll have more regrets than anything else, and there’s plenty to work on ahead of Bournemouth on Saturday. Not to mention a midweek EFL Cup game which is going to give Arteta some team selection headaches given the injuries and the schedule. More on that later in the week.

Right, I’ll leave it there for now. James is away on holidays, so Andrew Allen will be joining me for the Arsecast Extra this morning. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @AAllenSport and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

For now, have a good one.

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