Evening all. It’s not often I’m happy with a draw, but after watching an injury-ravaged and understandably fatigued Arsenal side come from a goal down to salvage a draw against Spurs earlier, today is one such occasion.
This fixture last year left me frustrated, disappointed and a bit annoyed despite the end result being identical, but today’s 1-1 result has me feeling proud more than anything else. Proud and encouraged. Proud that we found the resources to haul ourselves back into a game we were being dominated in, and encouraged because in years gone by, we’d have folded in similar circumstances.
With half our squad side-lined through injury, and in our seventh game in just 21 days, we were forced to rely on the same set of players we’ve used for most of the season, against a young, energetic opponent who came into the game undefeated in the league since the opening weekend of the campaign.
Yet after Arsenal fan Harry Kane had capitalized on Laurent Koscielny’s poor decision to step up and catch him offside by giving them the lead, and after they’d bossed a first half in which we, in effect, played with ten men, we somehow managed to keep the game alive, conjured an equaliser through the most unlikely of sources in substitute Kieran Gibbs and created enough chances for Olivier Giroud to be ruing not scoring a hat-trick by full-time.
Gary Neville, commentating on Sky, said Santi Cazorla was being ‘harassed’ by the Tottenham midfield which was why, in his opinion, the Spaniard was performing so badly in the first half. Yet any observers who don’t have a fetish for Nemanja Matic’s height and build, would have told you Cazorla was either carrying an injury or feeling unwell, because his participation in the opening period amounted to him being present on the pitch.
Other than that he was a spectator and not, contrary to what Neville said, because he was being dominated by Dele Alli (the new Jermaine Jenas, not the new Lionel Messi, so calm down Graeme Souness). As it turns out, Santi was feeling dizzy and subsequently removed at half-time to be replaced by Mathieu Flamini.
But it was another substitute who scored our equaliser, from yet another assist by Mesut Ozil. The German produced a pin-point pass from the right to the far post, where Gibbs gleefully bundled the ball past Hugo Lloris.
Afterwards, Arsene Wenger gave his take on the game:
It was a very intense game with complete commitment from both sides. We suffered in the first half because Cazorla was at 30 per cent of his potential, he was dizzy. I was sitting there thinking do I take him off or not? You never know, maybe it will get better. At half-time I took him off, and in the second half we had a bit better balance. The team have shown great mental resources, we refused to give up. Tottenham had a good moment at 1-0 in the second half, where they had one or two good chances in the game. In the end, it is a fair point for both sides.
A ‘fair point’ perhaps, especially when you consider Spurs’ superiority in the first half, but if Giroud didn’t produce a horror show in terms of his finishing, we would actually have won this match by a distance.
Our passing game, particularly once our distributor-in-chief, Cazorla, had been removed, was never going to be at it’s best and so we went more direct, sending in crosses, free-kicks and corners which Tottenham struggled to deal with. As a result, Giroud was presented with at least a couple of glorious openings but fluffed his lines like it was Monaco in the last 16 of the Champions League all over again.
The thing is though, were he not in the side, we don’t really have anyone else, even with everybody fit, who can cause anywhere near the same panic in opposition defences as Giroud does through his frame and physicality, and nobody who’d be in those positions to miss in the first place.
So he’s still a great option if we want to be more direct in my opinion, it’s just he’s prone to having days like today when he can’t finish to save his life and it’s unbelievably frustrating.
Here’s what the boss said of his striker after the match:
He (Giroud) is very angry. When you see players happy to miss chances you can worry. He is a real goalscorer, he did try. In the last two games, against Bayern and today he worked extremely hard and maybe he wanted too much to score in the end, and especially the opportunity he had in the six-yard box, but that can happen.
None of which you can argue with really. Anyway, we now have two weeks without a game, after which hopefully we’ll see some of injured players return to give us fresh impetus as we build up to the hectic Christmas period.
Of course there are important players like Francis Coquelin and Per Mertesacker who won’t be going away with their national sides so they should get a well-deserved and much-needed breather.