The most disappointing part about Arsenal’s loss to Tottenham, wasn’t Jose Mourinho’s smug celebrations or Hector Bellerin’s fifth foul throw of the season. It was how predictable the nature of defeat was writes Adam Walton.
Mikel Arteta, after the game, noted that based on overwhelming possession statistics, Arsenal deserved something from the game. Instead, Tottenham scored with a 30 yard wondergoal, and a counter attack when Arsenal were down to ten men. Spurs then didn’t have a shot for entirety of the second half.
Well, of course that’s how Tottenham won. That’s how everyone knew they were going to win. You just have to look at their past two meeting with Manchester City, their games against Chelsea and Manchester United, and Jose Mourinho’s entire career. Tottenham, as always, sat deep and narrow, pushed all Arsenal’s attacking play out wide and reduced chance creation to Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney slinging balls in for Toby Alderweireld to head away. They then waited for their chances, and let Kane and Son play like Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke reincarnated.
Why then, if the Tottenham game plan is obvious, were Arsenal not prepared, both tactically and mentally? Rob Holding showed Son onto his right foot for the first goal, while Arsenal’s midfield woefully overcommitted for the second. Surely if you’re playing against Tottenham, your primary focus should be on transitioning play and nullifying key individuals. Yet there seemed to be little idea of how to deal with Spurs’ counterattacks, and a general lack of concentration. If Tottenham are going to win, don’t make it easy for them!
Arsenal were also predictably stagnant. Their best chance fell to Aubameyang, a player devoid of confidence (and meaningful chances), who headed over the crossbar just after the second half restart. Besides this, there were a lot of “situations,” as Arteta calls them, where Arsenal were a risky pass or accurate delivery away from clear chances. In an attacking sense, Arsenal were again found severely lacking.
Arsenal players clearly lack confidence, both in themselves, and, more worryingly, in the system that Arteta has put in place. The choreographed attacking patterns that saw the Gunners win the FA Cup last season are now ineffective, and there seem to be few new ideas being implemented. Players are hesitant to receive the ball in between the lines, and few even have the confidence to try move the ball through the centre of the field. The result is the much quoted stat of Arsenal taking, on average, 58 passes to have a shot on goal.
Evidently, this is ineffective. Far worse, however, is that Arsenal’s football is now boring. The majority of the Gunners’ 69% possession consisted of Rob Holding and Granit Xhaka passing the ball to each other on the halfway line.
One could instead look to Leeds United’s swaggering football. The Yorkshire club fire passes through oppositions lines to midfielders who are confident enough to take the ball on the half-turn and progress play irrespective of pressure. This isn’t a comment on desirable results; Leeds currently sit one point and one place above Arsenal on the league table. It is clear, however, who is the better team to watch, and which style would give Arsenal fans more hope of a victory.
Arsenal were both complacent to Tottenham’s dangers, and uninspired in their own attacking play. However, Arteta also deserves time. The last thing an already fragmented and imbalanced Arsenal squad needs is a manager merry-go-round akin to post-Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United. He’s already shown his capacity to improve players, and it would be harsh to write him off in a season as unpredictable as this one. There are also solutions within the squad, particularly in the crop of British prospects that are making light work of Arsenal’s Europa League Group Stage.