Following last week’s s debacle the first priority this weekend undoubtedly was to win this game, one way or another, and our heroes duly took this as literally as they could, defining ‘one way or another’ as ‘being arguably second best, at home to the division’s bottom club’. The Top Four basically put their feet to the accelerator and sped away last weekend, but rebounding from the Old Trafford nightmare with a victory was still vital, in the interests of not letting the season fizzle out, so our lot deserve a degree of credit for stumbling through this one.
The Back Four
For the second consecutive week we conceded thrice, which is a pretty fair reflection of how indecisive and ill-organised the back-four are. There was little on show to correct the suspicion that, like most of the young folk these days, Dier and Vertonghen generally communicate by text rather than the spoken word, because rather than assuming responsibility with a blood-curdling roar before thrashing the ball to safety, these two prefer to shuffle to the back of the queue as inconspicuously as possible. To their right, young Master Walker at least clambered a step up from last week’s horror show, but still did enough to reassure us that his bouts of mental negligence remain a defining feature of his play.
Jamaica’s Danny Rose continues his season-long transition from AANP Groan Inducer-In-Chief to Vaguely Acceptable Full-Back. The enthusiastic chunkster still has a good marathon and a half to run before he becomes a fully-fledged connoisseur of the art of left-backery, and ‘tis a generally safe bet that he will be caught badly out of position at least once per half, but these days there is a lot more in the credit column than a year or two ago. The perseverance that earned our penalty summed up much that is good in his game – bundles of energy, a willingness to attack and an curious ability to end every involvement in the action by flying through the air in a ball of flailing limbs. He makes a last-ditch tackle – and is sent hurtling through the air in doing so. He scores against Chelsea – and is sent hurtling through the air in doing so. And in winning the penalty, whilst not as spectacular as his regular trips into the atmosphere, he did at least tumble around in a mess of bouncing limbs.
Paulinho’s Surprise Turn
As the Portuguese-speakers of North London are no doubt aware, ‘Paulinho’ translates in English as ‘Broken Clock’, and like his namesake, the chap appears to stumble upon the right way of things every now and then. Thus it transpired that in a most un-Paulinhoesque turn of events his introduction improved matters a notch or two, as Townsend and his peripheral flicks were replaced, and in a more central role Paulinho largely took the bull by the horns, giving us a bit more presence in midfield, and fashioning a couple of chances – one of which resulted in the fourth goal. It made for rather unnerving viewing in truth, but normal sideways and backwards service will presumably be resumed in his next outing. A pat on the back goes his way nevertheless.
The Chadli Mystery Continues
Far more underwhelming was Master Chadli. He makes for an enigmatic presence, does Chadli, generally not contributing a great deal to proceedings bar bluster and anti-climax – and yet, at least in the early part of the season, he seemed to chip in with a dose of goals so healthy one simply could not help but wave him along into the starting line-up. Alas, in the worst attempt at alchemy ever recorded, everything he touched on Saturday turned into a fairly shambolic mess. Dribbles were unsuccessful, fouls were conceded, he was rightly booked for bringing a dive so bad it brought simulation into disrepute, and he shanked two open-goal efforts high into the N17 sky. ‘Twas a day that made one yearn for three Christian Eriksens.
Still, it is pleasing indeed that even on a fairly sub-standard day we did enough, particularly in attack, for three points. As has often been the case this season Eriksen looked a class above, and Kane somehow continued to tuck away goals with a regularity that defies science, but the rest of the attacking quartet lacked somewhat in the key areas of ‘cut’ and ‘thrust’. More tweaking and fiddling will be required in the summer no doubt, but more often than not we trundle off at full-time having taken another small positive step – quite the blessing in a season of transition.