What a devastating defeat that was.
It was so devastating because:
1. We had terrible luck during the game.
Spurs open the scoring with their first shot, which is by all accounts a freak goal. Danny Rose, making his Premier League debut, scored a fantastic volley from 30 yards out. Credit where credit is due, it was a brilliant strike but 99 times out of 100 that same shot would have flow right into Row Z.
And this was after 20 minutes of Arsenal completely dominating possession.We then shot ourselves in the foot by conceding a second straight after the break, but after, we still didn’t have the rub of the green. In the final 15 minutes, Robin Van Persie had a free-kick saved, an acrobatic shot saved and Sol Campbell had a header saved onto the crossbar.
Even at 2-0 down we had actually had enough chances to win the game but it was never going to be our day.
2. Tottenham had no ambition
Amazingly, a team aspiring to break into the Top Four defended so deep and in huge numbers we couldn’t get through. Credit to Tottenham, they defended well but they were so negative it was ridiculous. They were camped outside their 18 yard box for the vast majority of the game and had no intention of taking the game to us.
The freak opening goal was perfect for them and they defended in numbers.
3. Robin Van Persie returned
Why did Van Persie have to return now?
He played the final 20 minutes of the game and once he came on we looked completely different. We looked dangerous, clinical and like a completely different team. He almost scored twice, and setup the ball for Walcott from which Bendtner scored. And what made the performance even more impressive was that he looked so sharp despite the fact he’s been out of action for 5 months.
That just shows the world-class quality we’ve been missing. And watching him play so well was depressing. Why couldn’t he just have returned a couple of weeks earlier? Why did the footballing Gods have to injure him back in November? It was torture watching him back and knowing that ultimately his return can’t actually help determine our season.
If he didn’t get injured on International duty we’d be 5/6 points clear at the top of the league right now. And the thought of that almost brings me to tears.
4. In the end, the injuries cost us
The fact was that we had half a team missing. William Gallas, Thomas Vermaelen, Alexander Song, Cesc Fabregas, Andrei Arshavin and Robin Van Persie were out, albeit two of them managing 20 minute cameos. With all (or even half) of those players fully fit we would be a completely different outfit. Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and most of the other Premier League teams haven’t suffered as badly as we have this season.
But whether that’s down to poor management or bad luck is up for debate.
5. We had the majority of possession
We played well for most of the first half, but when we did actually get near the Tottenham penalty area we didn’t shoot. There were several times we had opportunities to pull the trigger but never did. Our build up play was good but we lacked that killer instinct - and that only arrived once Van Persie came on.
At times during the game, I was in awe of the quality of football being played but the frustrating thing was we didn’t make it count. Up until the 80th minute, Sol Campbell was our most dangerous attacking threat. I think that says it all.
But despite all that…
We can be proud of this team. Regular readers of this blog will probably think I am overly negative at times but it’s hard to be right now, even after a shattering defeat to the hands of Spurs. Every player (except Diaby) gave it 110% and put in a performance they can be proud of. And before the game against Tottenham, despite the massive injury list, the remaining squad have somehow kept us in the title race. That, without players like Gallas, Fabregas, Song, Van Persie and Arshavin is nothing short of a miracle.
And if you look at the positives, surely more luck in the injury department and our season would have been different. You just think about the number of points players of that calibre could have added to our total this season and surely it’s encouraging. How would Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool cope without Rooney, Drogba and Torres for 5 months? It would be hard to imagine that they would be in a better position than we are now.
But the summer is now a massive time in terms of our future. Does Arsene add strength and experience to our ranks or does he do what he’s always done and lose three players and bring in two. We seem to be rebuilding all the time - over the last few seasons we’ve lost Flamini, Hleb, Adebayor and Toure. Yes, you can argue that it was better to get rid but these were first team players, and if Arsene doesn’t want to use them in first team then surely they would make good squad players. Beyond are first choice starting eleven, we don’t really have the players who could fill in if one of the those players (i.e. Fabregas, Van Persie, Gallas, etc.) for any real length of time. We can maybe replace them for a game or two but not for several months. If football didn’t have injuries then we’d be competing for the major honours time and time again but unfortunately this sport isn’t like that.