Sometimes in football you witness games where logic goes out the window and all hell breaks lose. Liverpool’s 5-4 win over Alaves in the UEFA Cup immediately comes to mind as does last year’s ridiculous 4-2 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League.
Last night’s 4-4 draw with Tottenham was one of those games.
Before I pick through the bones of an indescribably frustrating result for Arsenal I just want to say what a pleasure it was to witness a game like this. This was a game which represents why football is such an amazing game and why I – and so many other people around the world – love it so much. Both sides gave it their all and tried to play attacking football while avoiding the play-acting and pettiness which is so prominent in the modern game. Poor result aside, this was a reminder of what a great game football is and it was a privilege to witness.
Dreamy romanticism aside now and the result begs Arsenal fans to ask the question: what exactly went wrong? Well in my opinion, three things. One, Manuel Almunia had a poor game. Two, Rottenham well and truly had their shooting boots on. Three, our team’s mentality was hopelessly wrong in the last 15 minutes.
First up, Almunia. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more sorry for a goalkeeper than I felt for Almunia last night but the simple fact is that he had a poor game. I can accept him being lobbed by a shot as audacious as David Bentley’s opener. I can accept him spilling the shot which lead to Tottenham’s second goal. But to have both of those moments happen in the same game was really tough to deal with.
The sad thing is that there will be plenty of people calling for Almunia’s head after this match. Proudly, I won’t be one of them. Goalkeepers will always spill a couple of shots each season, it’s part and parcel of the position, and to spill a shot at 3-1 up is a lot better than doing the same thing at 0-0. Almunia has been great in these last two seasons and although his performance has hurt us tonight, I still feel he deserves the fans’ respect and support. After all, he was not at fault for the final two goals and it’s certainly not his fault we eventually drew the game.
Secondly it has to be said – and it’s something that I think a lot of pundits and bloggers will overlook – that Tottenham’s long-range shooting in this match was superb. All four of their goals were scored as a result of long-range shots and much as it’s hard to accept it, well-hit shots from long range are impossibly hard to defend. As a defender and a manager you’ll always be happier seeing a side taking shots from 30 yards out then having chances in the shots. The problem was that in this game those shots from 30 yards were deadly.
Moving onto the team’s mentality in the final 15 minutes now and I have to make it clear that I believe this was the main reason Arsenal did not beat Tottenham. The words ‘naive’, ‘panicky’ and ‘misguided’ immediately jump to mind. Why on earth the player’s attacked with such verve at 4-2 and even 4-3 is beyond me. We have the individual ability in players like Adebayor, Nasri and Fabregas to attack with verve without committing everyone forward, yet we continued to do so. I know we were only a whisker away from slotting a fifth on a number of occasions, especially in the last minute or two but the simple fact is that if the Arsenal boys had chosen to play a little dirty, to play keep-ball then we would have won.
Rather disappointly, the mentality of the players to keep attacking when it was clear it was not the right thing to do was shared by Arsene Wenger after the match. In his own words:
“I believe we were too cautious, we wanted to keep the ball in a negative way instead of scoring goals number five and six. We were not going forward with enough purpose and that is why we were punished. At 4-2 they had given up but then we let them back into the game. Then at 4-3 they have nothing to lose. We have lost the ball in the middle and we had two opportunities to score goal number five but we lost the ball.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for romantic football. I would hate to see our team sit on one or two-goal leads with 30 minutes left on the clock when it is smarter to continue attacking. But 4-2 or even 4-3 up with only a couple of minutes to go was not the time to keep searching for a fifth or sixth. It was the time for a cool head to take the ball to the corner and waste time, to pass sideways instead of looking for a killer through ball, to give away a yellow-card for timewasting instead of rushing back into formation.
These players – and indeed the manager – are all old enough to know when is the right time to play great football and when is the right time to dig out a win and they made a huge, huge mistake today. As such, they absolutely MUST learn from this game or quite simply they will not be celebrating any great successes at the end of this season.
And that’s all there is to say really. A bitterly disappointing result after a thrilling 85-minute performance from the lads. Unfortunately though, a game lasts 90 minutes and if the manager and the team can’t wake up to the fact that they sometimes need to compromise their beautiful football then it’s going to be a very, very frustrating season.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, although I can imagine they’re not going to be pretty.
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