Spurs beat Arsenal 1-1
In the build up to the North London Derby I was concerned. Mainly based around the fact that we've struggled to attain cohesive shape in this fledgling stage of Mauricio Pochettino's tenure. And after the debacle at the Lane against WBA I allowed the pessimism to cloud my anticipation, fully expecting a difficult evening defending deep and capitulating. Football is thankfully grand with its surprises. It doesn't always play out how you expect it to, even though we have on so many occasions followed the same old tired script when visiting the Emirates.
This time, it was different. Sensible. Unspectacular for both teams.
Arsene Wenger claims his side dropped two points. An interesting observation considering it was Spurs that took the lead. For all the possession Arsenal had, they didn't use it effectively. Almost Tottenhamesque in application with no bullish end product for all their tippy-tappy passing. Wenger was more than likely citing his own pre-match expectations, but his side have hardly excelled either, at least not to the level they aspire to.
Their second half pressure after Nacer Chadli scored was always going to end with an equaliser as we got pushed back and dithered once or twice when a good hefty clearance would have sufficed. If you're going to let the ropes hold you up, then expect the occasional uppercut to get through.
However, at 1-0, I started to believe we might get more out of the game. That's a good positive feeling if you think back to how I felt before kick-off. At 1-0 we could have reacted, took the game to them. Instead they increased their own tempo and threw that telling punch after a messy flurry of jabs.
Hand on heart, it's difficult to watch a North London derby and either enjoy it as a spectacle or truly immerse myself in the analytical aspects of the game. I get sucked into a nervous hellmouth that is predominantly made of prayers and closed eyes, wishing and hoping that no matter what happens - we don't lose. We didn't.
In the first half we lacked composure in the final third. Chadli's scoffed shot or his back-heeled pass perfect examples. Emmanuel Adebayor had efforts on goal in what was a numb performance from him. His touch floating between the plains of non-existence and the twilight zone.
There remains a disconnection with our movement and decision making. Still. But signs that we are improving. No individual burst of electric pace, but we countered admirably. That final ball, just not good enough. Not clean enough.
At the other end Hugo Lloris was alert to the endeavours of Arsenal, although they were more preoccupied with losing players to injury (Arteta in the first half, Ramsey and Wilshere in the second).
We allowed them the ball and countered when the opportunity presented itself. A game plan from Mauricio Pochettino. A risk that for the most part paid off. There might have lacked a blood and thunder ethic, but arguably had we allowed emotions to engulf discipline, Arsenal could have found more space to attack. There was calculated, deliberate structure from Pochettino. The acceptance of the harsh reality that we could not attempt to be too brave. The onus was on the hosts and we contained them with a resilient display in what was a tense game.
Younes Kaboul was once more a rock, a captain and leader, with a rare partnering alongside Jan Vertonghen. Our two best centre-backs on form and yet both unaccustomed to each others strengths thanks to the routined absence of Kaboul. Ryan Mason, our veteran youth player on his league début, tidy on the ball, considering the locality of the game. Kudos to both player and coach for selection and maturity.
Danny Rose, focused, looked up at the tens of millions of pounds worth of talent heading towards him and just shrugged and accepted the responsibility. Etienne Capoue, strong as the midfield centre-point, never looking to surrender.
In the second half, they came out with more zest but first blood was ours.
Christian Eriksen working hard to hassle and win the ball, finding Erik Lamela who assisted (for the sixth time this season) Nacer Chadli (fourth goal) for a sweet right footed finish. Delirium. Love the fact that Chadli loved scoring it.
Lamela continues to bed in but persistently over sleeps. In many ways I still blame the incoherency with the triangle of forwards behind our main striker. This is not deflection or rationalising. Forget last season, forget his price tag. Purely from the perspective of him as a player there is no question that he has to show more. His work rate, I can not criticise. Whether it's a reflection of how desperate we are, he's been our best link to sparking up the attack.
Erik has to find a way to nurture a little more aggression and decisiveness. By aggression I'm referring to concentrated effort with the ball at his feet. His pass to Chadli was perfect., punishing. That triangle has to be more involved in and around the penalty area more. Lamela himself just needs to lash one in, have a moment or a game where he owns it. Like he did against QPR but against a better team in a more pressured occasion.
Back to the 1-0 and the beauty of the goal. Poch screaming at his players to get stuck in and the first time we press high up the pitch, we win back possession and create and finish. The tactic for this game was to soak up and counter and perhaps if this was a more refined team we might have been able to apply the same measured push again. Sadly, Arsenal and their zest had us on the back foot.
Aaron Lennon came on to dig deep and defend with a further outlet to counter. Eriksen the player subbed off. It's still tricky to review his performance and his general input so far this season. In this game Christian had to play much deeper and if you're only looking at the areas further up the field of play you might under appreciate his involvement. Still, it's those areas towards the opposing penalty area that are key for us to witness some creativity in. That aforementioned disconnection will have to involve Pochettino working towards a far more balance and equipped midfield to support that extra freedom required for Eriksen to blossom.
Make a sacrifice with patience in mind much like some of our players are having to do positionally.
Hugo Lloris miraculous save from Per Mertesacker's header was my second favourite moment (in third place was Mason kicking Wilshere) behind Chadli telling the home supporters to be quiet and politely pondering their lack of noise. A yellow card supposedly for incitement or lack of respect for the gesture. Consistency my only question. Gerrard got away with a similar celebration at Anfield against Everton.
Their equaliser was untidy. A comical Danny Welbeck air-shot turning out to be the perfect dummy for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The defending in the build up was equally slap-stick. Remember, this is the flurry of punches and the uppercut analogy from earlier. We really should have stuck out our guard and pushed them back. If only Lamela had smashed the ball into the heavens. He was distraught, head in hands, at 1-1. Then again, had he smashed it away, the alternate universe created might have still seen us concede. Best we don't dwell too much on this.
It was a nervous finish. Unforced errors, tired legs. Wenger accusing Spurs of time wasting. Surely if he wishes to lay the blame he should look towards his own deficient system that requires any given opposing side to give up and roll the red carpet out to truly work.
Nabil Bentaleb came on for Chadli and Dier replaced the injured Rose (and swapped positions with Naughton). In the end, a solid point. A learning curve. Some much need pride restored with the team as a collective, reacting well not just to Pochettino but also to the fans and importantly themselves.
Character, fight, heart. It's great to see us associated with some spirit again. The only spirit in recent weeks has been the stuff I've been downing
Neither teams were in great form on the night. But then neither have been great, aside from pockets of aplomb here and there. Both have their own unanswered questions to over-come, but under Pochettino we might finally begin to see a rebirth. We have to wait a little longer to understand if the squad assembled by the previous tenures (heavily influenced by Daniel Levy and Franco Baldini) is good enough to play the high intensity pressing game that the Argentine is no doubt working towards.
The pressure on Arsenal is far greater as their expectancy is to compete with the juggernauts of City and Chelsea. Our objective is to not lose too much ground on any of them - a task that would not have been frowned upon a couple of seasons ago but appears to be monumental currently.