1. One Point Dropped Or Two Gained?
What with one thing and another in recent weeks, I think I capture the mood of the general lilywhite populace when I suggest that prior to kick-off we would have toddled off happily enough with a point under our belts from this one.
Form, behind-the-scenes tomfoolery and the fact that the South London Goons traditionally raise their level a couple of notches for this fixture suggested that the planets were doing anything but aligning in our favour, and after last week’s debacle a draw at the Emirates would have seemed to represent a solid haul.
Fast forward to approximately the 45th minute however, and the general aims and goals in life had undergone some pretty severe recalibrating. A two-goal lead, with the ref itching to put the whistle to his lips and give it halfway toot, was the stuff of which loftier aspirations were made. Nobody expected it would be easy, and I suspect every right-minded lilywhite foresaw some sort of counter-punching, but victory was definitely featuring pretty prominently on the Expected Outcomes list.
But then shimmy forward another half hour or so, and with parity having been restored, and momentum shuffling back towards the red corner, if anything it looked like we were clinging on rather.
Until the final five or ten minutes, in which the game oddly opened up as if we were back on the playground and someone had yelled out “Next goal wins”.
All of which leaves the denizens of AANP Towers still scratching heads and trying to decide whether this was one point gained or two dropped. Better, perhaps, to avoid the question altogether, and adopt the mantra “This was no calamity”.
2. The Davison Sanchez Experiment
Love him though we do, I am inclined occasionally to tilt the head at Our Glorious Leader and wonder what on earth he has been drinking, or smoking, or maybe which cult has got hold of him and drilled into him nonsense of the highest order. By and large, when it comes to football management he knows his apples from his oranges as well as the best of them, but every now and then he cannot resist veering wildly off-piste to try some new-fangled innovation. Sonny at left wing-back in a Cup Semi-Final was pretty calamitous; Foyth at right-back was moderately successful.
Yesterday’s square-pegging of Davison Sanchez into a right-back-shaped hole struck me as one that missed the mark pretty spectacularly. Not an unmitigated disaster, as Sanchez made occasional useful interceptions, and certainly knows a thing or two about the art of defending in general.
But from the off, and at various points throughout, he was caught out of position or beaten too easily. Maybe in time he will learn the trade, but I don’t mind going public with the view that I rather hope the experiment is abandoned altogether. (I did actually wonder, when the teams were announced, whether Toby might shuffle over to the right, given that he has international experience in the position, but that’s a debate for another time.)
3. Danny Rose’s Carelessness
Furthermore, as well as being as uncomfortable as one would expect in his new, ill-fitting full-back’s costume, Sanchez also littered his performance, particularly in the first half, with a fairly hefty array of misplaced passes and concession of possession.
In this aspect he was not the sole culprit, for over on the other flank, Danny Rose was similarly careless with the ball at his feet, which seems rather at odds with the entire point of the game when you think about it.
Rose’s tenacity (which seems a handy euphemism for a chap who stalks around like the angriest man in North London, upending any opponent who dares get in his way) is a generally useful asset, and has allowed him to amass plenty in the Credit column over the years, but in recent weeks he seems to have overlooked some of the basics of his trade.
In our last couple of games he has been at fault for letting men drift into goalscoring positions unattended – a charge that could be laid at his door for the second goal yesterday – but it was the concession of possession in the lead-up to the first goal that really gnawed. With the clock ticking down to half-time, the importance of protecting our two-goal lead really ought not to have been lost on the fellow, but instead, and not for the first time, he saw fit to try nutmegging an opponent within spitting distance of his own penalty area, and approximately ten seconds or so later the ball was in the net and the complexion of the game had undergone some significant editing.
4. Our Counter-Attacking
I suppose one has come to expect it of this, the most all-action-no-plot fixture in the calendar, but throughout the spectacle one did get the sense that every time either team went on the attack they looked like they would score.
At the start of the first half and for much of the second, Arsenal had plenty of possession and bundled their way a little too close to our goal for comfort.
Mercifully however, our counter-attacking set-up looked as if it had been rehearsed for weeks with precisely this game in mind, and every time we crossed halfway the eyes lit up, as we seemed but one well-timed pass away from being in on goal.
Son was the principle outlet, and our opponents never really got to grips with the threat he posed in that inside-left sort of position. It was quite a shame, if understandable enough, that he ended up dropping deeper and deeper during the second half, as this essentially did Arsenal’s job for them by nullifying his counter-attacking threat.
Credit also to the three other members of the counter-attacking quartet, particularly in the first half, because within a couple of shakes of a lamb’s tail, and via some neat one-touch passing, we repeatedly opened up the Arsenal back-line. Kane dabbled in some lovely little link-up play; Eriksen seemed to be in his element dinking passes over the back of the defence and into space; and Lamela did plenty of off-the-ball running to create space for others – generally being ignored by his teammates but engaging the attentions of opposing defenders, which was arguably the point of the exercise.
Just a shame we only had the two goals to show for it, and that the threat dwindled in the second half (until the dying stages) because this felt like the first time this season that our attackers really clicked.
5. Penalty Appeals and Going to Ground
I’m generally not a fan of complaining about the referee, the AANP stance on such matters being very much along the lines of “Just accept the decision and get on with things, there’s a good boy.” And yesterday is no exception – no complaints about the decisions.
That said, given that there is a bit of chatter about the late shout for a penalty – Arsenal chappie vs Kane – I thought I made wade in with my tuppence worth.
As mentioned, no complaint about the decision not to award it – but similarly I’d have thought it fair if a penalty had been awarded. The gist of it is the notion of defenders giving the referee the option to make a call. The Arsenal chappie appeared to put his arms up towards the back of Kane, and while it arguably wasn’t enough to send a grown man sprawling, it does rather diminish the case for the defence. Don’t want to concede a penalty? Then don’t stick your hands into someone’s back in the area. (In the interests of equality, I thought the same of Sissoko’s handball in the CL Final – wasn’t particularly thrilled with the call, but if his arm hadn’t been raised the ref would not have had a decision to make; ditto Lamela’s wrestling of someone a couple of weeks ago – there could have been no complaints if that were called up, so just don’t give the referee the option.)
Kane does seem to deploy the tactic of going to ground if he feels contact, which seems understandable enough. Going to ground when no contact is made would be bare-faced cheating; going to ground once he feels contact seems to me to ask a question of the defender as to why he made contact.
Goodness knows I’ve chastised our own defenders often enough, on these very pages, for conceding soft penalties by making contact in the box, rather than abusing the game’s arbiter for awarding a soft one. My principle remains, whether for or against my own team – don’t give the referee the option.
Food for thought – and dispute, no doubt – but on a merrier note, few things gladden my heart like seeing Kane strike a penalty. Not into the corners, but into the side of the net, which I think qualifies as geometrically unstoppable, even before one considers the ferocity with which he lashes the thing. That coupled with his lovely effort that came back off the post does give the impression of a goalscorer at the peak of his powers.