Plumstead 1 Tottenham 1
Six draws and five wins in the league. Bit too much of one, not enough of the other. Elsewhere in the statosphere, we've had no goals from open play in something like eight hours with our only success coming from the penalty spot. The ball smacked straight down the middle every time. We've only conceded six and bagged a lowly fifteen.
Spurs persisting with showcasing minimalism with their football progression retaining a sense of the abstract. It's like standing in an art gallery staring at a piece you don't understand and pretending to appreciate it, scratching your chin and nodding your head knowingly. It's the Invincibles from bizarro world. We can't seem to win, we can't seem to lose and there's nothing super about it.
At the Emirates Stadium we got a glimpse of the not so distant past and telling clues that indicate our immediate future might finally start to take an upturn. Spurs are on the cusp of donning a cape and taking flight once more. The black canvas is about to be splashed with colour.
We witnessed a team, a unit of players rather than what we all probably feared; a continuation of our slump in form and perhaps a spanking, with our weaknesses compounded. All based on everyone's assumptions that the home team are currently 'on fire' and we're a barn full of hay waiting to be lit up.
It didn't go according to plan. Not what Mr Wenger expected. Mauricio Pochettino on the other hand would have been pleased with the application and execution of the formation and football. There was no plucky luck or desperate defending in terms of olden days misery when the gulf in class was tremendously embarrassing. In this encounter, Arsenal weren't quite up to scratch and Spurs rediscovered mettle and directness. It was a decent affair, evenly matched and entertaining for the neutrals mostly because neither side of North London ever truly enjoys the torture that is derby day.
It was a better result for us because of recent lacklustre turn-outs. We've never looked that fluid or capable of forcing change. We've been predicable. Sure, we drew this one too, but there was a lot of positives to claim.
That's not to say it was a total recall of everything we're capable of. There's life on Mars. Or rather in that other barren red wasteland of N7. That life was Spurs rising from their slumber, stretching themselves awake, with one or two imperfections still evident. There was very little to complain about (especially when compared to the 'mare that was the 0-1 at Wembley). If anything, I was disappointed we didn't win. Although them lot down the road might say the same.
Spurs have started to realign their individuality into a collective to bring back the missing synergy even with many key elements sidelined. Here's some observations, nothing ground breaking but still heartwarming.
Tactics and Ratings
We lined up with a 343 (3412 according to celebrity tacticians and average position heatmaps) with the occasional shifts that saw our wing-backs drop back to help the defence. The team, primed for counter attacking, was a brave selection considering we are still without Toby Alderweireld. The back three were makeshift with Eric Dier slotting in alongside Kevin Wimmer. Jan Vertonghen the most comfortable in the left sided role. It worked though. It worked really well.
In midfield Christian Eriksen started centrally and played off the right, interchanging (along with Son) to fill the gap in the middle when Kane drifted wide. It synced for counter, willing the hosts on and then breaking with pace. It was a teaser, a reminder of how well we can play if all players are available (even though some still are). We've had some rotten luck this season with injuries.
Lloris: Read the game, commanded and had little to do but was safe hands when called upon.
Rose: An absolute warrior, gets battered in every match and gives no f*cks. It's incredible to think back to how everyone thought he'd never make it. He's unfazed, fearless. I love this man so much.
Mousa: He produced 'you wont get the ball off me' form. He's pivotal. He anchors the rest of the team and gives us a nucleus to build from. His dribble through the middle for the penalty was everything we miss. Ball retention from deep, directness, dribbling...really simple fundamentals that we've lacked in abundance.
Vertonghen: Such a smooth operator, defended resolutely, cool as you like. Did give the ball away in the build up to their goal but more on that particular incident soon.
Wanyama: Victor is like a RPG video game character you've levelled up and is now maxed out on the toughness attribute. After Wilson Palacios and Sandro, we might have a midfield destroyer that excels beyond a season of wonderment.
Dier: It's been a tricky season for him, especially with Wanyama making the DM role his own. Eric has had to work around it. Nowhere near his imperious best but still highly dependable and the epitome of why I have complete faith in these players and the manager. Read this. Trust him, trust the team. We owe them that much considering the overhaul of just about everything football related since the Poch appointment. I won't stop banging this drum.
Eriksen: Rekindled spark with his passing, dictating our offensive push. There's a stat that states he's got a 0% conversion rate from 33 shots. When we got back into the game post-pen, he had one particular effort saved that could have been a golden moment had he scored. A late free kick missed everyone and hit the post. We need a lot more goals from midfield. We need him chipping in with far more consistent productivity. Spurs, for now, are finely tuned and having particular players in the team help the ones around them. Eriksen has to lead creatively much like Mousa does with his marauding.
Walker: Subbed off due to injury in the second half. Him and Rose are ridiculously important to how we play (especially in this 343 set up). Hopefully it's just a knock. Found plenty of space in-game but also kept the back-line on their toes when Arsenal attacked his flank when he vacated for offensive intentions. The formation still robust enough to cope.
Wimmer: OG offside controversy aside, he proved more than capable deputising. The header he stuck past Lloris was the perfect illustration of the letter of the law and how translation is context heavy and ultimately flawed. The Arsenal players in offside positions were not interfering with play. The definition of interfering is that Wimmer would have to react differently to how he defends the ball because of the potential influence the players in red could have. So here the officials have deemed that Wimmer is 'alone' in making the decision to head it and that the Arsenal lot standing offside could not possibly have an impact on his decision.
How exactly is Wimmer meant to know whether they're offside or not? Does he just leave the ball and ignore it? He has to react. He reacts because of the opposition players in the box. It's not like they were in a position where it was impossible to influence. Their presence obviously influenced Wimmer. Which begs the question - when will a defender not header the ball away? He's always going to attempt something unless he's certain the ball is going out. But there you go. If the FA want to cement casual football supporters from ever being able to comprehend the offside rule, they're doing a good job of it.
Son: High end work rate and graft. Dug deep, didn't go missing. Chased every opportunity to run into space and give players options. He should have pummelled through Cech (Son took his eye off the ball and possibly didn't expect it). Cech wears a helmet so it's an open invitation that should have been taken. He was replaced by Winks late on.
Kane: He's back. Rejoice. He's not 100% (we know and understand this) but his passing was on point and our structure has more strength with him leading the frontline. His movement encourages others to change tempo. He had a beautiful glancing header from an Eriksen cross go wide. Took his penalty with confidence, although as already mentioned, always a risk straight down the middle. Of course, it does again highlight the dependency we have on him if he's the only forward we possess that helps our team lineup with definition rather than sagging muscles.
Janssen: Defended well when subbed on for Kane, when the home side applied pressure (GKN could have provided an alternative on the break, with his speed and tired legs of the opposing defence). He should have done better with the volley opportunity but he's still not showing enough striker characteristics in making it all about himself and demanding the team supports him rather than the other way round. He's still trying to claim an identity within the side.
The team showed emotion and passion. What you expect in a North London clash and what we've come to expect in most games up until recently. The game was end to end, yet still compact in midfield and possession. For both sides, it was missing a moment of genius. Spurs with the upper hand with ball retention and passing completion, which probably doesn't happen often against them lot.
We were organised and focused. Disciplined and more importantly, effective with our passages of play. There's was a bit of a buzz and a sting about us again. Basically all the traits that gave us momentum last season. The basics. The stuff we've not been tidy with recently thanks to the lack of selection balance and alternate styles. We have depth but let's be honest, we had difficulties before players dropped off injured. We've not been at full pelt and it's a natural target to aim for. We need a purple patch to refuel our confidence and swagger.
It was important we were motivated and had shape. Key for me (sorry, repeating myself now) was Kane's movement. Poch and the decision to go three at the back proved a masterstroke in giving the players a refresh. We reacted well to the final fifteen minutes of the first half (which wasn't great) and then bossed it for most of the second before they got back into it towards the end.
As for the home side, a touch over-hyped as per usual. Bottled it (considering their form and the plaudits, you'd have expected them to smell blood). Their fans are the most dispassionate fanbase around. You know this. They know it too. They suck the energy out of each other, you almost have to remind yourself they're playing in their own patch. Coquelin getting steamrolled by Wimmer was also a brilliant highlight, more so for the fish out of water impression as he flopped on the turf in desperation for pity.
Considering the pre-match nerves, I was alright with how it played out.
We missed the tenacity of Dele Alli and Erik Lamela. They could have provided a cutting edge especially in the second half. There was so much space in between their defence and midfield area, they'd have thrived. Especially with Eriksen being in one of those moods to ping and pass. We just lacked that something between the directness of Dembele and the cross-field pass or through-ball on the counter. A bit of inventiveness in and around the box, a bit of ghosting between players. Lamela would have also been important to the creative interchanging with Eriksen, aside from his biting urgency. Alli would have just loved getting stuck in, winding players up and playing off Kane.
My attitude with everything (the season so far), is that if you're going to be pessimistic after a poor performance because the evidence shows we're poor then surely after a good performance, we'll pick up and march onward and upwards? If you're only as good a your last game then we're not too shabby. Stick this draw on top of the others and it doesn't look great but in context of the occasion it was very promising and an indication that Spurs can still produce positive play.
Those stats at the start of this article still don't make pleasant reading so goals from open play and three points will truly mark a return to form. Our players do have the balls to get the show back on the road. We're four points off the top but with goal difference lagging. Winning our next couple of games will now be paramount towards making the non-believers find faith.
Then again, the squad has to take a few punches to mature further. Just not too many body blows. We don't want to suffer a technical knock-out or endure the prolonged agony of being out-boxed and way behind on points. Remaining contenders means the learning curve keeps us within touching distance, much like the last campaign. There's obviously a limit to how long we spend on this journey of self-discovery. Our rivals all appear to be enjoying themselves. For now at least.
We've been tested many times since Pochettino revolutionised Spurs. We can't expect the tests to just end and for us not to be persistently challenged. We are not complete, we are not the finished article. This is hardly insight. The work never stops and having that mentality means the potential for complacency is dealt with accordingly.
I've often ranted about how supporters deal with adversity. A week or so back one or two were subtly implying they were fed up with our Argentine guvnor. I'll always default to the same reaction when pressed with this particular mindset. The team ethic is strong willed and supremely determined compared to anything we've ever known as supporters (at least in the past twenty years and some). Giving up after six games that haven't gone are way as if it's drenched in finality with nowhere else to go is self-loathing to the point of parody.
I get it, we're Tottenham and we're cursed. We love a bit of self-deprecation. We always find a way to botch it up or we have demented luck with other teams that are blessed with too much of the good type. That culture of comfort that owned us once upon a time was dismantled then burnt in a bonfire of rebirth. It's easier for the players to accept and harder for us to forget. Rather than detach and lay blame and get angry, stand side by side with the team and f**k everything that isn't Tottenham Hotspur. Hashtag Punditry.
Still, I'm happy if some are willing to give up as long as it's not the players. They're the ones that lead by example and if the results are good then the negativity vanishes because everyone is too busy smiling.
My desire? To feel how we all felt last season when we realised Spurs we're not going to let go of the chase. That rush, the adrenaline, the pressure of every game...loved it. Life at the top. Need that every season. I just can't be entitled to expect it. The results have to be deserved.
The mentality is the glue. Fans displayed it with the noise made on their visit to the swamp on Sunday. The players equalled it. Arsenal have failed to beat Pochettino's Tottenham five times in succession in the league. Would be nice if we beat them more often though.
We haven't been playing well and yet (repeat mode activated) it will take a single game to flip everything around. The NLD would have been great for it. It wasn't to be. Damn the international breaks. I'm back to hating on the fact our players keep getting selected for England. Hopefully Dele isn't long term (even though Poch was vague with stating 'weeks'). Hopefully he's been sidelined with exaggeration to protect him from national duty and the real twist is he's back for the next game at the Lane.
Spurs haven't got started yet. To put it into perspective, we could have won two of our last four games and been top - even with all the struggling and erratic lack of 'end product' form.
West Ham at home, then Chelsea (with Monaco in the Champions League in-between).
Triple threat. Time for redemption.