Sunday, 11 February 2018

EPL 5 : Tottenham 1 - 0 Arsenal

I actually watched this game.

I'm not sure what people are on about. That game was exciting in both halves. Although I didn't really like watching the second half.

I think this game is probably a classic example of "home team" advantage. While I'm not sure how many of the record attendance were home fans, obviously there were a lot.

The general theory is that teams which press a lot run out of steam towards the end. Tottenham did not. I think this can be attributed to the energising support and belief of the home support.

Alternative explanations for the sustained and unopposed press include:

  • the half time talk (it was a very even game in the first half and suddenly, woosh).
  • the timing of the substitutions helping recharge in exactly the right places.
  • they really didn't have to do as much as usual... Arsenal had absolutely no solutions to the press.
  • poor passing from Mkhitaryan and poor passing/focus by Iwobi and Lacazette when they came on making the press look better than it was.
The press was so good that Spurs could easily have absolutely thumped Arsenal. I'm not sure if 5-0 would be enough goals. It was absurd. But some people on the BBC live feed were saying this game was evidence that Cech was past it. Maybe he is, but this game didn't show that.

So, Spurs were playing very, very well. But what was going on with Arsenal? Were they awful?

Arsenal were plagued by offsides. Two of those were dubious. I think maybe the linesmen were over-correcting for Aubameyang having been offside for his goal against Everton because Lamela was offside but allowed to run at goal... and the non-Aubameyang offsides were offsidey. My commentators thought that Lacazette's headspace was wrong, but his very obvious offside absolutely broke up one of the few moments where Arsenal managed to get by the pressing. It should be considered disastrous. Giving the ball away was the problem created by Sanchez running no-where. Players being offside is the same thing, just done differently.

I've already mentioned that Mkhitaryan and Iwobi may have been making the press look better than it was. In the first half there were a couple of great opportunities where Dortmund would probably have gone on and done something. The problem was Mkihitaryan's passes went out. And when he was replaced by Iwobi, it seemed that Wenger had managed to substitute in two players who weren't quite up to speed. Now, I like Welbeck so that may come into it, but maybe he should have come on in the double sub instead of either Iwobi or Lacazette.

But let's be real here... the reason this game was a Spurs victory (vs draw) was also the same reason why this game wasn't a complete thumping. Missed chances and good goalkeeping.

Wilshere's saved shot was a thing of beauty by Lloris. Only save he had to make, I think. But right at the end?! Lacazette should have scored. Whether that was the standing/volley shot (echoing Son's miss at the other end) or the run (echoing Lamela's miss at the other end, but that chance was worse) one of those should have gone in. I'm not sure, but squaring the ball may have been an option as well... although perhaps the other guy (Aubameyang?) was a bit far away.

Another way of looking at this game is as a classic example of why Giroud scored so many goals as a substitute. Arsenal aren't as fit as Spurs (or even Liverpool) so pressing isn't something that can work for them. And if a press does get through their defensive efforts (as in the second half), really all Arsenal can do is throw on some more versions of the same speedy striker archetype. When Giroud was around, you could lump the ball up and then bring it into the middle. You could try and put it on Giroud's head (which Arsenal weren't that great at even though Giroud puts headers away like nobody's business) or you could rely on Giroud to create short sharp exchanges to put someone else in. Plan B today was Plan A, except this time on the wings rather than through the middle. And it only worked right at the end when suddenly Arsenal were getting through the press.

As a final thought... poor Hector Bellerin. Did nothing wrong and seemed to be one of the best players on the pitch. But he's probably going to get pilloried for having managed a quality performance in the face of constant pressure on his side. And, yes, the goal did come from his side but it didn't fall on Bellerin's head.

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