Spurs lose 1-1
NLD, score draw.
This game isn't just the most important on the fixture list (home and away) it's also the most uncomfortable experience when having to endure it on television. Personally, I'm better suited to be there and taste the intensity than to watch the sanitised live stream with all the patronising punditry with every conceivable angle covered. Spitting bile towards anything wearing a red and white scarf within touching distance is far more cathartic than almost punching your HD screen or throwing your iPad across the room.
It's made worse because you feel isolated and disconnected. At least I do, always have. Even in defeat I'd rather be inside the stadium than on a sofa. It's far easier to get distracted by screaming obscenities and then post-match process the game on the journey home. In some weird unexplainable way it's like I can somehow influence the result if I'm in the ground. The only real advantage of staying indoors is easy access to a working toilet. Still, it's hardly an option for myself and others what with loyalty point obstacles, cost of entry and the minor fact that I gave up my season ticket for the quiet life.
Considering all of the above, even sat indoors, the North London derby eclipses any other given game for heart skipping drama. With every touch there's the potential for my heart to sink so low I have to delve deep into the bowels of the devil to pull it out.
I'll be honest, for 70 or so minutes even with us bossing the tempo, I couldn't shake off that ominous feeling that somehow Arsenal would get lucky and find a way back into the game. A case of second goal syndrome from us, failing to find that killer touch to box the game up and label it a three point haul. Towards the end we lost some of that superlative energy whilst they discovered their own thanks to Arsene Wenger's Plan B (hoof it into the box in desperation). Our 1-0 lead through Harry Kane was fully deserved for the way we contained the enemy and controlled the game. The 1-1 was us being punished for not punishing them.
Plenty was made of 'tiredness' in the post-match. Not sure why as both clubs had three games in a week; 3 in 9 for them, 3 in 7 for us. My point being, neither can really use it as a valid excuse. Spurs soaked up the early swift Arsenal pressure and in-turn made encouraging in-roads when countering, thanks to relentless pressing and confident, strong possession. The whole discomfort with this clash is the fear of losing. You never want to lose a NLD. For the majority of it not even a draw looked likely...for them.
Mousa Dembele and Man of the Match (TV Hype Machine in full effect) Dele Alli owned the centre. Alli, even at his tender age, was the personification of box to box endeavour. Tracking and winning the ball, laying it forward with assured awareness. Raw and naive and yet in no way scared of matching up to more experienced players (mistakes and all). Shades of Bentaleb. Hoping England doesn't break him.
Dembele was equally measured, marauding with intent - and with no indecisiveness - covering ground and protecting us in deep positions with direct bursts towards goal. He's had success as part of the three man spearhead in recent games but played a pivotal part in making sure we broke up play and limited Arsenal's involvement (ignoring the occasional foul and misplaced ball) by always seeking to be positive with movement. No sideways shifts of pace.
Eric Dier was not a stand-out performer but was hardly fazed by the occasion, not that Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin offered much in the way of competition. A man mountain of a footballer that has taken responsibility and has gone well beyond the expected levels of expectancy that we're now looking to see how much better he can get with his central role. At one point this (early) season I believed he was an interim solution. Less busy than usual but like everyone else, invested in the importance of the game. Cazorla was subbed for dizziness. Wenger saying they were unlucky for having someone play like s**t and begging for substitution.
Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela we're constantly mobile, the latter a poster-boy for the Mauricio Pochettino template - biting at ankles, hassling, keeping the ball in motion. The former driving us into the final third. Eriksen with a second half effort that looped wide thanks to a deflection always looked to make something happen for a team-mate or himself. Livewires.
Spurs were disciplined and professional. Arsenal had injuries and missed key players, but you can sit here all day and dispute the semantics of squad depth. Arguably we only have one recognisable striker and a bunch of youth players deputising (if you wanted to be colourful with your perspective).
Everyone worked so hard off the ball and on it. It's what we expect and it's becoming a habit. I was quietly impressed with us, not wanting to tempt fate into a mocking back-slap, which got dished out regardless when they equalised. This was - for a long time - a masterclass in how Pochettino wants us to play against top quality opposition. It was almost DVD worthy. Almost.
In amongst the tangible evidence of development and growing maturity, we let it slip. Not because of the brilliant (all season long) Kyle Walker not fully getting ahead of Gibbs or even Hugo Lloris falling back into the goal but mostly thanks to not scoring that all important 'match winning' second.
They had chances in the latter stages but we got ourselves into some delicious positions long before. Is it a case of further refinement required? Luck? Again, hindsight and dubious 'what if' discussions could have you analyse theoretical scenarios where Son Heung Min was 100% fit and might have started the game or Lamela wasn't subbed and our shape wasn't lost. The games narrative wasn't really about the players that could have played a bigger part or the players we might have signed. It was about not taking the chances we created. A familiar trait.
We didn't score a second and so it was inevitable (ominous) that they would poke it home in what was a gut wrenching 'I knew it was going to happen but I was hoping this was one of the rare occasions where it didn't happen' moment. It almost taints everything that came before it. You could lose your **** over it and proclaim it was two points dropped. Nothing wrong in that even though few expected us to go there and dominate (control) as we did. This isn't old Spurs and we don't do on field selfies. The players, I'm certain of it, went off the pitch engulfed in disappointed and dejection for not holding on or scoring a second. Arsenal escaped. We let them dig a tunnel.
In the grand scheme of things, especially with how November reads on the fixture list, we are still marching. 11 games unbeaten. The search for a fully fledged identity is beginning to shine through as we adapt and learn with each passing game. That isn't wishy washy apologetic fluff - go back and work your way through each game and you'll see that Spurs have worked hard to iron out the glitches. This is a tight, physical team. No ego, one unit.
Others around us are peaking, some are struggling and we're improving. We have sparked but haven't fully ignited. Tag me a happy clapper for focusing on how much stronger we can get than worrying about never being able to do enough to bury the opposition. Credit to Pochettino here for his coaching and man-management. Poster-boy Lamela the shining example of reinvention and the desire to succeed and impress his coach.
I hate the fact we failed to hang on and win. It would have been joyful. I love the fact that I love these players. We've got a long way to go. That extra push, that change of gear that's required to finish sides off is the reason for the draws when our effort is deserving of the win. It's a good problem to have. There are other areas that will also need attention.
Some of our defending can be inviting. We've struggled a few times this season against teams that use width. Deadball positioning can also be nervy. Again, you can point towards our defensive record and disagree but much like missing an opportunity in front of goal can be defining, losing your marker at the back can be game equally changing.
In a recent write up I said how Hugo hasn't had to sweep a lot this season. Maybe he's got too comfortable with the Toby and Jan partnership ahead of him. Shouty Lloris can do with a commanding comeback and aid with organisation and apply some pressure from within our own ranks on the back four so they retain alertness at all times. If you're a keeper or centre-back, attack the ball to defend the goal. We are looking solid but sometimes responsibility has to be far more transparent between the five at the back.
Danny Rose's pass to Kane was superb, lovely vision, split them apart. Harry is in full prep mode for next seasons 'third season syndrome'. Shout out to the supporting role for the goal thanks to Arsenal's pathetic attempt at the offside trap.
The Giroud/Vertonghen spat was embarrassing for both. Love how Jan really winds up opposition players, although the less said when it backfires. Didn't realise he grabbed Giroud's balls. Handy.
Lloris saving low from Campbell was that the first proper save he was forced into making. Think that came early in the second half. Speaks volumes about our first half display.
Giroud's header onto the woodwork and then another just wide were questionable defensive moments. Rode our luck a little with slack marking and needless free kicks given away.
Eriksen into Kane and then dragging his shot wide was one of many missed opportunities. Loved how after Arsenal stuck the pressure on us we once more soaked it up (with ample luck) and then turned the screws on them again. This particular second half patch was where we could have killed them off.
Cech saving from Toby might have been that moment we craved for, either side of him, but the header was too straight.
Gibbs scoring with what was his second touch is oh so typical. "I couldn't shake off that ominous feeling that somehow Arsenal would get lucky and find a way back into the game" - it was telegraphed. Wasn't quite a hoof (it was a decent ball into the danger area) and you can nitpick the manner in which we attempted to clear it in the build up, but it was still opportunistic. Cheap. They'll say they kept on knocking until the door opened. Think it was already ajar.
Maybe the gruelling schedule finally caught up with us in the end. It still all comes down to fine margins, it's after-all a game of inches. A fantasist could apply pragmatism and flirt with the suggestion we could have three or more by the time they got one back. In terms of tactical application this was a win for Pochettino, proving he can instruct and manage his players to fight and command a game of real intensity. Think of those inches and think of the accolades had we held on or scored that second. Performance-wise the only thing that was missing was getting the job done and dusted and in this instance it comes down to those near misses.
I'm always grateful not to lose to them, it's the only time I'm borderline religious and believe there might be a God. I processed the game by making a cuppa. Not quite as soothing as listening to home fans leave the ground wondering how they managed to survive.
Only three games left this month and hopefully at the end of it we'll be able to politely ask November to go get its shinebox.