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Arsenal 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Off the Boil

No doubt about it, that performance stank like the rancid contents of last week’s lunch, left to its own devices in the AANP refrigerator. No man (bar the boy Davinson Sanchez) escapes censure. Despite having successfully negotiated the tests of Dortmund, Liverpool and Real blinking Madrid for goodness sake, by the oh so devastatingly subtle technique of sitting back and then countering like the dickens, the slightly more dubious ploy yesterday appeared to be to go into it toe to toe, and trust that good would triumph over evil.

All well and good, but the plan swiftly morphed into close-eyes-and-keep-fingers-crossed territory, which admittedly is often sufficient to overcome that incompetent rabble – but which yesterday missed the mark like a wild Sissoko swing at thin air.

This being their cup final they threw the kitchen sink at us, pressing us all over the pitch and capitalising upon the mistakes, dash it. Our heroes simply failed to muster sufficient nous, wiles or good old-fashioned gung-ho to make a spectacle of the thing. No excuses, that horrible lot bettered us tactically, and fought for the thing tooth and nail, while our strangely subdued heroes seemed a little perplexed that they did not simply roll over and invite us to tickle their tummies.

2. Alli Anonymous…

Another day, another fairly impotent showing from young Dele. No doubt some of the great thinkers of our age lock themselves away in secluded spots to ponder the mysteries of ethics, aesthetics and the specifics of Dele Alli in the Number 10 role.

To date this season he has chugged away to pretty minimal effect, his outputs primarily notable for unsuccessful dribbles, unsuccessful nutmegs and that toddler tantrum routine whereby he flings himself to the ground then flings his arms skywards, with a particularly grieved expression delicately etched all over his visage, while life just meanders on around him uninterrupted.

But the crux of the thing with this particular scamp is that on the rare occasions (this season) when the planets do align and he ticks his necessary boxes, the result tends to be a goal, which in a way makes the whole laboured fandango worthwhile.

Which obviously sounds marvellous, that being pretty much the nub of the whole exercise, but unless he chips in thusly, he essentially mooches around for the rest of the game like a deaf, blind mute. One might qualify yesterday as Exhibit A in all this, except that it sits alongside multiple other, similar Exhibits from this season. Something must be done.

3… While Son Sits It Out

Which leads seamlessly to the substitutes’ bench where young Sonny twiddles his thumbs. Given that Dele’s contributions seem to be fading from natural sight much like that picture of Marty McFly when things got rather hairy, one wonders whether he might be snaffled from view and sneakily replaced by Son, before anyone notices.

This sort of mild slap on the wrist might do Dele some good, while Son has rarely made it his business to let anyone down when called upon. More specifically, the energy and movement offered by Son would not just have been welcomed yesterday, it would have been clasped to the bosom in a fairly tender embrace, such was the remoteness that existed between defence and attack.

A better technical footballer Dele might be, but at present he neither avails himself sufficiently nor uses the ball with requisite shrewdness.

4. Midfield Protection

If one were to feistily counter that it is a little harsh to single out the boy Dele when barely anyone else sloshed themselves in glory then I would reply in similarly spirited manner, “Well, that is fine by me, and frankly I laud both your honesty and your eagle-eyed sense of observation.” One could not swing a cat without hitting a chap in lilywhite delivering a sub-par performance.

Kane in truth never looks sharp, simply by virtue of his paradoxically lumbering manner, but there seemed to be a consensus that he was decidedly unfit yesterday. Eriksen cut a strangely peripheral figure, as often running away from the action as demanding to hog the limelight and orchestrate the binge; and while Sissoko saw a fair amount of the ball, and applied himself with his usual eagerness, his ability to misplace short passes continues to eat away at my very soul.

On top of which, the absence of Toby meant that Dier was shunted back into central defence, and as a result the protection afforded to the defence was rather negligible throughout.

Where once Wanyama, or latterly Dier, patrolled the middle like nightclub bouncers with chips on their shoulders, yesterday the Arsenal mob were able to play all manner of little diagonals behind our full-backs, with their runners haring away into space like a team of young bucks exploring a great big spring meadow. The runs were neither prevented at source nor tracked during their lifespan, and it was little surprise to the nation’s soothsayers when one such sequence brought about a goal.

Neither Dembele nor Sissoko are the types of midfielder whose neuro-wirings are typically set to Protect and Defend, and we suffered for it yesterday.

5. The Curious Incident of Danny Rose

So not really an episode with which to regale the grandchildren in years to come, and as well as the limp showing on the pitch, there was also some rummy old business off it.

The exclusion of Danny Rose from the entire matchday squad was one of those that is pretty much guaranteed to raise an eyebrow or two amongst the baying masses, and Our Glorious Leader’s explanations did little to tighten the loose ends. The young blighter is not fit apparently, which makes fair enough grammatical and conceptual sense, but pause to examine the evidence and suddenly one heck of a mystery starts to simmer amongst the eagle-eyed.

For Master Rose played near enough 90 minutes against both Palace a fortnight ago and Germany last week, and while one does not want to work the chap into the ground so soon after his return from the desert island on which he had been stranded during injury, the whole business has a decidedly unnatural whiff to it.

His ill-chosen words during the summer might well have made him persona non grata chez Pochettino, but if that were the case then why the devil was he back in the fold in recent weeks? All terrifically mysterious, but one imagines that the blighter is unlikely to live happily ever after at N17. A rather unhappy footnote to a deeply unsatisfying weekend.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Spurs 1-0 Palace: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Ongoing Labours Vs Defensive Types

If there were a dawn chorus this morning the last folk you will want to ask for a blow-by-blow account of it will be the eleven who began for us, because when the sun peaked and the midday kick-off loomed, our heroes were still emerging from the mists of sleep. And in truth there they stayed throughout the first half. Now while I am not one to knock the benefits of nature’s sweet restorer, the thought did strike me that this approach did not really contribute anything towards the principle aim of the exercise.

However, like many of the choice fairytales of our age, the thing can be deemed a success by virtue of having ended well, and no doubt come the May harvest few in lilywhite will care a hang for how three November points against Palace were ground out.

Nevertheless I don’t mind admitting that watching the troupe make such dashed hard work of things – and indeed flirt a little too publicly with the notion of conceding the opener – gives the whole coronary network a going-over that is far more robust than could possibly be desired on a Sunday lunchtime, not to mention adding a handful more grey hairs to the clan.

The sages who know such things have not been slow to unpick the rationale behind this effortless switch between vanquishers of Real and labourers against Palace. Physical exhaustion has been identified, the injuries have been noted, and the dreadfully modern concept of “emotional tiredness” has also been lobbed into the ring, which strikes me as utter rot, but there you go.

Whatever balderdash is identified, the fact remains that every time a struggling team pull up at our shores and sit back in numbers, our lot labour like the dickens to break them down. My personal solution would be to give the ball to Eriksen, position Son/Alli/Whomever five yards from him, and let the pair one-two their way through the minefield like ballerinas, but smarter minds than mine are presumably applying the grey matter to this issue.

2. Gazzaniga Earns His Corn

While the loss of Lloris was greeted with dismayed groans throughout the land as might be expected, I must admit to feeling decidedly more sanguine about the news of Vorm’s absence, greeting it with the sort of carefree shrug one reserves for a moderate weather forecast. The chap has rarely blown my skirt up, saving some, conceding as many, and generally rolling through life with the air of one who might in another universe be Swansea’s first choice.

Step forward Paolo Gazzaniga then, a man who in name at least has taken a few sensible steps towards winning favour with the patrons of N17. The early signs may not have been massively encouraging, as he wasted little time in emerging from his line to deliver a massive flap at thin air, landing a meaty punch upon the head of an opponent in the process – which might, on another day and under stricter supervision, have had a calamitous outcome.

Things improved no end thereafter however, with a couple of saves of the full-stretch, aesthetically agreeable variety, as well as one or two well-judged decisions to rush from his line and scoop up the bits and bobs.
Hardly a challenge to Lloris’ supremacy, but nice to know that there is some competition for the rank of First Reserve.

3. Dier in the Back Three

In the land of the blind and so on and so forth, so with most of his other chums generally employed in scratching their heads and sucking their thumbs, Eric Dier was able to enjoy a rare day in the sun.

The young nib’s lack of pace generally makes him persona non grata as a centre-back, particularly within a traditional back-four. Such a sin is generally more forgivable within a back-three, but the whole critique was rendered fairly redundant by Dier suddently finding within himself the gift of a clean pair of heels and nifty turn of pace. Where it came from one knows not, although presumably the whole thing was aided by the rather stinging criticism meted out in his direction last week when he rocked on his heels during the slow-motion car-crash that was the United goal.

Whatever the mechanics of it, what ended up on the plate was an Eric Dier in pretty formidable mood. Zaha was an obvious threat, but Dier did a sterling job of proving himself not as green as he is cabbage-looking, shackling the scamp, notably on several occasions through the medium of the no-holds-barred sliding tackle. The absence of Alderweireld had had the potential to get right in amongst our lot and gnaw away from the inside, like those unpleasant microbes one occasionally hears about, but Dier’s no-nonsense of the rear entrance did much to soften the blow.

4. Aurier’s Buffoonery

Honestly, this chap and his predilection for the ghastly, what? While the wealth of pinged hamstrings and strained muscles tumbling from every nook and cranny rather hammers home the point that our heroes have been flogging themselves to the bone and therefore dashed well deserve a little squad rotation, and the omission of Trippier can therefore be logically sequenced, I would personally twing my own hamstring and strain every muscle in my body if it meant that Serge Aurier were kept well away from affairs on the lawn.

The chap is a liability, as any jury in the land would unanimously agree. For a start, all the willpower – and sage counsel from his betters and elders – in the world seemingly cannot prevent him from hurling himself feet first at the nearest foe, with little regard for the likely success of the operation. The chap just wants to fling himself through the air feet first, consequences be damned. Having restrained himself for a good half hour yesterday he could restrain himself no longer and shortly before half-time performed the usual brainless lunge, and was jolly lucky to do in front of a particularly benevolent referee, who generously kept his cards hidden from sight.

Then as the second half ticked agonisingly by, and we sought to break the deadlock, the blighter dashed well opened the back door and ushered through Palace’s speediest and most menacing threats, with appallingly misplaced six-yard sideways passes. Heavens above, remove the chap from the premises and hack his limbs apart. At least ensure that the next hamstring or muscle pinged or strained is his.

5. Squad Depth

On the bright side, yesterday again provided some evidence that the shelves are healthily stocked at HQ when it comes to squad depth. It was not so long ago that the absence of all of Messrs Lloris, Alderweireld, Wanyama and Alli – not to mention Lamela, plus a less than entirely chipper Dembele – would have been greeted with mass protests, clenched fists of fury, doleful wailing in the streets or some combination of the above.

Now however, Our Glorious Leader simply peers over his shoulder and gives knowing nods in the directions of Gazzaniga, Sissoko, Winks and Son. My spectacular distaste for Aurier I have mentioned, but should a piano happen to fall upon his head we have Walker-Peters to deputise for Trippier. Rose and Davies can slug it out on the left. Llorente may not exactly be a blur of limbs, but he can give Kane a rest for fifteen minutes, and has a deft touch about him. The arrival of Sanchez and versatility of Dier provides ample cover at centre-back, with Foyth waiting in the wings – and so on and so forth. One gets the gist.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid: Seven Lilywhite Observations

1. Bright Moments From Dele

Young Dele has been smothered in fuss for around two years without a pause for breath, so naturally the young fish is today being feted as the second coming, after one scrappy poke, a heavily deflected second and an open goal miss.

A curious specimen this chap, because his performances frequently feature errors strewn about the place like confetti, alongside the glimpses of match-winning élan. Dives, attempted nutmegs and a bizarre tendency to channel his inner Moussa Sissoko and overrun the ball have generally been in evidence this season, and a selection of the above again made themselves known in the opening minutes last night, prompting me to raise an eyebrow or two.

But lo, when the planets align the young imp becomes something of a force of nature. His timing of runs, slap bang into the meat of an opponent’s soft underbelly could not have been more effective if he were waving an axe and yelling “Ho!”. Whether as a supporting act to Kane (arriving those critical few moments later and when defenders are already preoccupied), or as a temporary central striker(when the leading man had gone snuffling away down the flanks) Dele got his numbers right yesterday.

It certainly helped that Real adopted the Shrug-And-Scatter art of defending, but our man had his green cross code down to a t, knowing almost instinctively when to stop and when to pelt it forward.

On top of which, he made a far better fist of life as a midfielder than he has done to date this season. As mentioned, the dribbles have rarely struck oil in 2017/18, but yesterday his twinkling little toes were deployed to cracking effect, notably in the build-up to the third goal.

2. The Other Side of Kane’s Game

So we can all take a deep breath and get used to another nine months or so of press hysteria about Dele leading us to World Cup glory, but in the meantime there was a slightly more subtle demonstration of things great and good from Harry Kane.

Not one of those days on which he rams home his ability to flick through the A-to-Z of goalscoring and score literally every type of goal invented, instead this was a game in which he beavered away for the cause, like one of those unsung heroes in a black and white war epic on a Sunday afternoon.

The harassment to win that early throw-in that led to our opener – and the presence of mind to keep the metronome clicking away by taking the aforementioned throw-in swiftly – were early indications that he would scrap away for everything, because you never quite know.

Then when haring away, to have the awareness and skill to pick out Eriksen with a pass weighted to perfection, again suggested that this was a man who knew when to stick, when to twist and when to do the honourable thing by his chums.

Moreover, I quite enjoyed the fact that when high balls were lobbed into his general vicinity, opposing defenders simply bounced off his ample frame, possession was retained and an air of brute-like superiority was established.

3. Trippier Bosses Things

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Our Glorious Leader likes to alternate his wing-backs pretty much every game, but I dashed well wish that Aurier would be tucked away at the back of the cupboard and forgotten about until the next spring clean. Not that I wish ill upon the chap, but whereas he has the letters L-I-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y stamped across the back of his shirt, Trippier busily does everything required of him by contract, then goes back and pointedly exceeds each one of his duties, as if curious to ascertain precisely how devastatingly effective one single right wing-back can be on a field with 21 others.

The result was that while memories of Aurier flying in feet first hovered in the air, Trippier got down to brass tacks and delivered an absolute masterclass in spying a downed opponent and applying his foot to said opponent’s neck. As solid as dutifully required when defending, Trippier delivered a tour de force going forward, which on a night of counter-attacking frolics was precisely what the doctor ordered.

The first time volleyed deliveries across the penalty area ought really to belong in a museum, and even though he had a bucket of luck tipped all over him in being adjudged onside for the opening goal, here at AANP Towers we were too busy drooling over the technique to care a hang. Fingers are firmly crossed that Pochettino finds a sneaky way to ensure that Aurier is employed against the small-fry, and Trippier gets the nod for every crunch game.

4. Eriksen Makes Hay

A couple of weeks ago I lamented, if that’s the word I want, that our magnificent Dane forgot to take his magnificence with him when he travelled to the Bernabeu, and delivered about as anaemic as a an earthworm having a particularly pallid time of things.

It was very much consigned to the annals yesterday, however, as the bizarre tactics of Real allowed Eriksen to have an absolute blast, like a teenager whose parents have vacated the premises for the weekend and allowed him to run wild.

Given that Modric had bested him at the Bernabeu, there was something particularly poetic – and downright hilarious – about seeing the Croat desperately try, and fail, to prevent Eriksen poking in our third. It was a goal that did as much credit to the Dane’s indefatigability as to his technique, those little legs going like the clappers to carry him just about the full length of the pitch at breakneck pace.

5. The Defence Just About Holds Firm

An air of mystery still surrounds the absence of Davinson Sanchez from proceedings at the weekend, the blighter having done little wrong in previous excursions, but normality was restored to her throne last night, and as it happens Davinson and chums as one made a pretty solid fist of things.

It would be rather glossing over things a tad too enthusiastically to suggest that the defence were in supreme control throughout, their 90 minutes unsullied by the weight of duty, because while the balance of play seemed to be firmly lilywhite, there were a number of close calls in front of – or indeed level with – Monsieur Hugo, which had the heart leaping out of the chest, beyond the throat and embedding itself within the mouth.

Nevertheless, by hook, crook or by one Real attacker slamming the ball against another but a yard from the goal-line, our heroes just about kept the visitors at bay, which in the final analysis was joly well deserved both ways.
The loss of Alderweireld will have to be classified as collateral damage, sustained within the great swathe of fixtures that currently envelops, but the international break might help to the various sinews and muscles to return to former glories.

Alderweireld’s unscheduled exit meant a nifty shuttling of Dier into the back three, and the young mass of muscle did a sterling job. The whole troupe did likwiese in fact, with Vertonghen picking a few moments to provide Ronaldo with a delicate welcome back to these shores, and Sanchez showing a little more guile on the ball than in recent weeks.

6. Winks Assisting Assists

Naturally enough, a celebratory AANP Towers would not be the same without a few splashes of the good stuff in honour of current flavour of the month, Harry Winks. Rather like a poor lamb diving headfirst into his GCSEs, it has been one gruelling test after another for Master Winks in recent weeks, and the engine just about ran out of juice in the second half.

The chap does seem fond of an errant pass or two, but by and large he fought the good fight, and it was marvellous to see that instinct for a useful forward pass bearing fruit, not once but twice. In setting up the first girl he pinged the ball wide to Trippier, when easier, less risky options abounded. Then for the third goal, it would be easy to overlook that from within his own area, rather than blast the thing into orbit, he picked out Dele, who skinned his man, fed Kane, and Eriksen was in.

Few folk care too much about the man who assists the assist, but five years on I still remember fondly that when we beat Milan at the San Siro, the man who set Aaron Lennon away on halfway, to assist Crouch, was one Luka Modric. Whisper it, but Winks may have something similar about him.

7. This Game’s Sissoko Moment

Naturally enough, a celebratory AANP Towers would not be the same without a few splashes of the good stuff to calm the nerves following the latest Sissoko farce. A couple of weeks ago it was his errant last-minute pass when we counter-attacked 4 vs 1. At the weekend it was his shot vertically into the air after De Gea fumbled.

Yesterday it was his wild air shot when the ball was gently rolled into his path, a napkin attached around his neck and gleaming cutlery placed in his hands. I realise that Winks did the same, but Winks then redeemed himself by dribbling through half the Real defence, as well as setting in motion two goals. Sissoko decidedly did not.

One can only assume that Sissoko plays like Pele in training, because there is little other reason for him to be so heavily involved in things.

Sissoko’s guff mattered not in the end, for this was right up there with the very best in our history. The upward trajectory continues, and players, and particularly the manager, deserve all the acclaim going spare.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

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