Title Dream Ends With A Whimper
Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 1 Arsenal
1 – 0 Rose (9)
2 – 0 Bale (47)
2 – 1 Bendtner (85)
The title dream for another season ended last night at White Hart Lane, mathematically still possible but realistically it is over. Substantial possession, better statistical analysis count for nothing if the end product is not there, a point emphasised by Arsene as the first half failing. A night of bitter consolation, Robin van Persie’s return to the season showing what might have been had the Dutchman not been injured in a meaningless international friendly.
As one key player displayed his skills, the defensive qualities of Thomas Vermaelen are going to be sorely missed, his withdrawal leaves Wenger with the pairing of Campbell and Silvestre for the remaining matches this season. We know that Arsenal suffer more injuries than others; we also suffer more injuries to key players than anyone else.
It was a match that turned almost from kick-off. Sol Campbell almost silenced the neanderthals before the second minute had passed, his kneed effort from an early corner stopped on the line. Within eight minutes, it was an opportunity gone that Arsenal would regret. Almunia punched a corner and a good distance was achieved but the ball fell relatively central on the pitch. Rose’s shot was described by Arsene as ‘one in a million’ and it flew into the net.
It is a bittersweet goal to analyse, testing the line between admiration and criticism. Rose showed good technique to volley and promptly contributed nothing for the remainder of the first half, substituted at half time. If you are going to make one contribution in a match, make it telling.
Almunia was at fault on two counts; electing to punch in the first place, he arrived ahead of any other player and was not under such pressure that the cross could not be caught and secondly, his recovery to get back in position was not as quick as it should have been. Whilst the unexpected nature of the shot would have taken him by surprise, anticipation is key goalkeeping attribute and the unexpected should be expected.
The remainder of the half was played largely at Arsenal’s control yet clear opportunities were not plentiful. In fact beyond a Bendtner header midway through the first forty-five minutes, I am struggling to remember a clear chance which was created. This was the fundamental problem with last night’s performance; a lot of endeavour without the incisive passing required. The absence of Cesc was crucial last night, the Spaniard’s guile sorely missed.
Spurs doubled their advantage with the second half barely under way, the goal a comedy of defending errors. Bale was allowed to stroll unchecked across the Arsenal penalty area, received the pass and duly scored. It is hard to know where to begin with the errors. Silvestre failed to keep tabs on Bale, Clichy looking across the line should have reacted quicker when he saw Bale unmarked. The offside trap failed to be sprung because Sagna failed to keep in line with the other defenders. Who is at fault? All of them.
Walcott’s introduction for Sagna saw Eboue drop to right back. It is hard to say if Walcott was solely the catalyst for the increased threat or whether it was more urgency in the performance, required to retrieve the deficit. Within minutes, Walcott found Bendtner whose shot went across the goal unchecked.
van Persie’s introduction with twenty minutes go was definitely a catalyst for more purposeful attacking. Gomes has been a much-maligned goalkeeper; last night he chose to have the final quarter of his life. Twice he denied van Persie, a volley and freekick. Campbell saw a header turned onto the bar by the goalkeeper whilst Rosicky beat him only to see his shot miss the the far post.
The goal finally came. van Persie fed Walcott on the right and his cross was met by Bendtner, slotting home into an empty net. Yet the equaliser would not come, van Persie forced another save from Gomes but Tottenham held out.
Overall, it was a game that Arsenal did not deserve to lose but for an hour or so, they created precious few chances and can scarcely claim with any validity, that they deserved the win that was needed. The title challenge is over in all but name. Chelsea will win the title this season, a silver lining I suppose is that it stops Manchester United winning four in a row.
Of more concern is where Arsenal go from here. Back to winning ways at Wigan is the immediate requirement. Second place is the obvious target, it would be a tangible improvement on last season. The Mancunian derby this weekend offers the chance to leapfrog United should they lose.
Post match, Arsene commented:
I would not like to go into any individual criticism tonight. We lost a game we couldn’t afford to lose in the title race and that shows that we are not mature enough because if you want to win the League, this kind of game you cannot lose.
It is apparent that he was disappointed with some performances but his options are limited. There is a strong case for giving Bartley his Premier League debut on Sunday or perhaps moving Sagna into the centre of the defence alongside Campbell. Silvestre will probably not be at the club next season and we need to start planning for the coming seasons, ensuring that our fifth choice centre back is going to have at least some experience. van Persie will no doubt be on the bench and I fail to see any rationale in rushing him back, only to have his hamstring or something tweak through playing too soon.
The disappointment of the evening is blurring the edges of some performances. Campbell, Clichy and Sagna defended well last night, the second goal aside for the latter duo. Bendtner, I thought, worked hard and got his deserved reward with a goal. van Persie adds the cutting edge to the attack and with him supporting – or a player of his ilk – Bendtner will score a substantial number of goals in a season.
Rosicky prompted well but has a tendency to follow Alex Hleb at times and look for a pass when perhaps taking the chance to shoot might provide reward. Confidence is a major factor in football. Flitting in and out of the side perhaps affects this but as with his performance in the Camp Nou, that little bit extra is required from an experienced international.
Nasri and Diaby were equally disappointing; neither took the game by the scruff of the neck as they had to in Cesc’s absence. Both are capable of far better performances than last night and both need to become more consistent.
It was a shattering evening. Chelsea might lose at Tottenham this weekend and they might lose at Liverpool but to expect them to do so by sufficient margins to enable the goal difference gap to be overcome is a step too far as it is hard to see how they will drop points at home to Stoke and Wigan.