Spurs match reports

Arsenal 2-2 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

(With apologies for silence last week and brevity this – AANP is still ringing a bell and yelling ‘Unclean’)

1. Ange-Ball Until the First Goal

Our Glorious Leader had promised that he – and by extension we – would not abandon his principles, so I suppose I ought not to have been surprised to see our lot stroke the thing around our own penalty area right from the off, a good half dozen Woolwich chumps in pursuit at every turn, all as if this were the most natural way in the world to approach the Away leg of a North London shootout.

It was all perfectly terrifying of course. Vicario and chums seemed to approach the job as if they had just got together to sip cocktails at a pool in Vegas. Good for them I suppose, the laid-back approach apparently likely to add years to one’s life – but had I been anywhere near the vicinity I’d have been inclined to vault the advertising hoardings, leap onto the pitch and grab one of two of them by the shoulders, to give them a good shake and bellow in their ears that their own net was only a couple of metres behind them dash it, they seemingly laid-back about this detail to the point of being completely oblivious to it.

Indeed, even when young Maddison received the ball on his own penalty spot, put in a solid dawdle and promptly had his pocket pilfered, the general reaction seemed to be at best philosophical. Such things happen, seemingly the gist amongst those in lilywhite. Nothing about which to worry.

Which is precisely the point of Ange-ball, when you think of it. Our Shot-Caller-In-Chief has been adamant throughout that our heroes are actively encouraged to embrace their inner Maddison and swan around on their own penalty spot, dipping shoulders and escaping a press, because sooner or later the harvest will be rich. And if it’s all too much for the delicate constitution of such as AANP, who does indeed make good on that long-held promise and keel over while watching our lot, never to unkeel, well then that can simply be marked down as ‘Collateral Damage’.

But the manner of the thing in that opening half hour was rummy, to say the least. It was pretty gripping viewing, for sure, so no concerns on that count. The Woolwich press, particularly in that opening half hour, was, as expected, pretty intense stuff, and although those in lilywhite tasked with navigating the priceless orb from our goal to theirs fairly regularly evaded this press, one did not have to be an expert in the field to detect that this was not a straightforward routine.

So few complaints there; on the contrary, I raised a glass and murmured a salute, for there trod braver souls than mine.  But what made the whiskers bristle a bit was that our heroes seemed convinced that if they could triangle their way to approximately 30 yards from Vicario’s goal, then it was job done and Ange would be along with his treats.

Of genuine inclination to slap on a backpack and go exploring the Woolwich half of the pitch there seemed to be few signs. Easier said than done of course, the other lot hardly likely to step aside and usher us through. But nevertheless, once the initial press had been craftily eluded and the confines of the centre circle hove into view, urgency seeped from our play.

Mercifully – and slightly oddly – the sands shifted like the dickens once we fell behind.

2. Ange-Ball After the Opening Goal

Actually, the sand-shifting probably occurred after Maddison’s own-area faux-pas, but thereafter, there was finally a spot of Ange-Ball as intended by its maker, viz. crossing the halfway line and approaching the opposition goal.

Senor Porro was responsible for the dinky little release from inside his own half that set events in motion for the Brennan Johnson shot that was clawed off the line; while Maddison was at the controls when it came to setting Kulusevski free down the right in the rather long-winded build-up to our equaliser. The common feature here being that in both instances our heroes did not approach halfway brimful of ideas and then rather lose enthusiasm as countdown neared zero, but instead lived by the sword and went adventuring into the unknown.

As such, I had our lot down as fair value for the draw by half-time, and every bit as likely to win it by full-time. Which might not sound like much, for a Sunday afternoon’s efforts, but in the grand scheme of things is a bit of a doozy. For our lot to go to that place, bounders and hoodlums baying at us from every corner, trail twice and not just stick around for the ride but actually gain the upper hand and mooch off a tad disappointed not to have won – all in the historical context of countless capitulations  at the first sign of trouble – was telling indeed.

If AANP allowed himself a private chunter or two at the curious absence of swashbuckling elan in the opening 30 or so, there was plenty about the remainder to sate the appetite. In particular, the eye was irresistibly drawn towards the glorious move near the end, no doubt described by the experts as ‘ping-ping-ping’, and requiring only a better final ball from, of all people, the absolute master of final balls – Pedro Porro – in order to allow Sonny a tap-in for his hat-trick.

In short, both in the mentality – in approaching a dashed intimidating atmosphere, giving the chest a good puff and somehow emerging as the Alpha – and in quality of play throughout, our lot were as impressive as I suspect we’d all hoped, but few amongst us would genuinely have believed us capable of being. As first acid tests go, it was ripping stuff.

3. The First Goal

Plenty went on about which to lose track of time and excitedly chew the ear off a long-suffering loved one, but I was particularly taken by the precision involved in our first goal. As ever, step forward Master Maddison for a rosette, whispered compliment from a dignitary and pointless bunch of flowers to wave at the crowd, for his were the critical touches of precision.

Spinning Saka to such an extent that the young bean seemed briefly to slip out of existence was a strong start. But then as the ball raced off towards the by-line, providing little opportunity for our man to pause proceedings and summon the great minds for a conflab, Maddison was forced to roll up his sleeves and start earning those millions. And earn them he did. The AANP eyes aren’t what they used to be, but I’m pretty sure there were 3 Woolwich sorts polluting the atmosphere around Sonny at what might be deemed the point of impact. A quick spot of maths told me that that left not more than half a smidge of space to hit in order for the outcome to be anything other than a bit of a washout.

All of which is to say that the odds were stacked so heavily against Maddison that they rather threatened to topple upon him and bury him alive. Those whispered compliments and pointless flowers ought therefore really to be top of the range stuff, because to say that Maddison picked a needle from a haystick – at full stretch, at full pelt and with some red-clad fiend lumbering into view – would be to understate the thing.

At which point, one might suggest that Sonny had little to do in order to earn his accolades and make his little hand-camera-square thing. ‘Pop Ball In Net’ would have about covered the instructions.

Again, however, this final part of the operation was a tad more nuanced. As alluded to earlier, one could hardly suggest that when Son crept into view the coast was clear. The coast was crowded, and in fact fast becoming something of a claustrophobe’s nightmare, with bodies advancing upon the poor lad like vultures getting right down to it for their daily spot of carcass.

Throw in a goalkeeper who had only minutes earlier demonstrated a penchant for the elastic, and the equation upped a few notches in difficulty.

It is therefore to Sonny’s immense credit that he put into effect just about the only type of contact that would win the day. The computer in his head, no doubt whirring like the dickens, told him that a first-time poke, using the pace of the ball and placed as far as physically possible from Raya was required; and Sonny’s left peg rather stylishly did all of the above.

There is of course a further volume or two to be penned on this one. Destiny deciding that they could brandish all the early yellow cards in the world at him but he’d be dashed if such nonsense would prevent him from dedicating his evening to keeping under wraps one of the world’s premier right wingers. The entire back-four exchanging some furtive nods and seeing to it that not a single, clear second half chance would be ceded. Bissouma gliding effortlessly this way and that, no matter the geography or number of chasing foes. Vicario making saves that, while of the standard one would expect, might still have brought a concerned frown to the map of a previous custodian or two – whilst also proving his value as the final ball-playing option with his feet.

On this occasion however, there will be no further elaboration. AANP is off for several species of medication, and with hopes unreasonably high about what damage we might inflict upon Liverpool.

Spurs match reports

Burnley 2-5 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

UPDATE 24/9/23: A little note of apology for the absence of thoughts on Sheff Utd and the NLD – unfortunately my immune system flung open its doors and forgot to say when. A little under the weather. Hopefully back for Liverpool!

1. Son Up Top

(With apologies for tardiness. Was off gallivanting this weekend, don’t you know.)

The decision to give Richarlison a quiet bump off onto the sidelines and begin with Sonny up top certainly got the tongues wagging like nobody’s business. Never mind that Richarlison  was diagnosed with that peskiest and most prevalent of injuries (“a knock”) – around the campfire the conclusion was fairly firmly established: Richarlison had been dropped, paying the price for that alarming surge of ineptitude in front of goal.

Now much like a troublesome female juvenile in a nursery rhyme, when good Richarlison is rollicking, and when bad he’s something of a wash-out. And given that he’s spent the first few weeks of the season mooching about the place like a surly teenager, one can only imagine the sort of company he must be now, having seen his replacement dink and ping his way to a pretty effortless hat-trick.

The peculiarity in all this is that aside from his three goals, Sonny can hardly be said to have got up to a great deal during his little afternoon jolly at the weekend. Not a criticism in the slightest, to be clear, for as long as he’s knocking away hat-tricks he can spend the rest of the game grabbing a spot of shut-eye down by the corner flag as far as AANP is concerned. The point is more that Sonny’s while principal role was to crack away the goals, and crack away the goals he did, beyond that it’s difficult to rack up much in the way of his inputs.

He certainly hared away with all the energy and enthusiasm of a puppy chasing a stick when it came to closing down the poor old Burnley goalkeeper, which is actually a pretty critical part of the whole Ange-ball operation; but if anyone were donning the spectacles and keeping close track of the moments when he dropped deep or brought others into play or whatnot, they’d have been in for a disappointment.

And as such, poor old Richarlison’s sour expression would not have sweetened one jot. “Pfft”, one can well imagine him snorting, when being regaled with tales of Sonny’s heroics. And if invited to elaborate, no doubt the unfortunate young bean would have muttered something along the lines that bounding after a goalkeeper is pretty much the art that he (Richarlison) has mastered above any other, so far this season. It’s become his signature move, over the last four weeks (well, that and tripping over his own feet when in sight of goal).

Of course, the critical difference between the pair is that Richarlison spent three games looking like he’s been specifically programmed to do anything but score goals, finding ever more elaborate means of stuffing up opportunities as they fall to him. Sonny, by contrast, breezed about the place on Saturday looking the sort of young slab who has been hitting the bottom corner every time he touches the ball.

For a lad who hadn’t scored in a good half a dozen games, he took his first goal with a remarkable breeziness. A dinked chip, of all things! If he had put his head down and thumped the thing home, or carefully picked out a bottom corner, I’m sure we’d still have serenaded the loveable young charlie all the way back to North London – but to dink-chip the thing really made you stop what you were doing and mutter an admiring, “What ho!” Quite where that level of confidence sprouted from is anyone’s guess, but one cannot in month of Sundays imagine Richarlison tucking away his chances with such care-free nonchalance.

And there’s the rub, what? As long as Richarlison is labouring away up top with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and Son is sending goalkeepers and defenders flying before dreamily flicking the ball over them and into the net, then the forward-line conundrum is actually devastatingly straightforward, and not in the least controversial. Sonny’s dead-eyed accuracy (easy to dismiss his second and third, but both were as emphatic as they come) complements the rest of the Ange-ball apparatus perfectly. If Richarlison can discover such alchemy I’m sure he’ll be welcomed back into the fold pretty readily, but it would be a pretty rummy sort of prune who adjusted the starting XI to reinstate Richarlison up-top after this weekend’s activity, and Big Ange certainly doesn’t seem the sort.

2. Manor Solomon

The other critical element in the whole ‘Richarlison Demotion’ episode was the introduction into the plot of young Manor Solomon, the musical chairs setup dictating that he took up Son’s station on the left, while Son, as discussed dashed around at the apex.

I’ve been a little taken aback to find opinions of the fine young fellow hovering around the “Unconvinced” sort of marker. Thought young Solomon beavered away pretty effectively myself, but it just goes to prove that old gag about Chap A’s meat and Chap B’s poison.

I suppose if judging Solomon by the very highest standards (and why wouldn’t we?) then one might argue that his outputs were in the ‘Solid but Unspectacular’ category. He had his moments, and set up two goals, which is not to be sniffed at (just ask Richarlison); all of which was useful, but I suppose some might argue that he did all of the above without necessarily giving the impression of being the pre-eminent performer in the whole spectacular.

And frankly, if this were indeed the criticism to be levelled at Solomon, I’d mark it down as mightily harsh. In his first meaningful start for the club I thought he did a spiffing job of things. He looked pretty dashed lively every time the ball was rolled his way – and not a ‘Lucas Moura’ brand of lively either, that involves bowing the head, setting off on a dribble, losing all sense of direction and falling over at the end of some obscure cul-de-sac. Rather, I thought that his eyes generally lit up and he wasted little time in taking on whichever foe was shoved his way, often with a goodish level of success.

He set up Son for two goals, popped a few shots away, pinged a few threatening passes across the area and looked as likely to skin his man as not each time he opted for a dribble. Admittedly, the general sense was of someone of a Bergwijn or Gil sort of level, the sort of imp who can dizzy an opposing defender on a good day, but who may well infuriate a bit on other occasions – but as mentioned, for a first stab at the role it was decent enough. Truth be told, he struck me as being every bit as effective – if not more so – as Sonny had been in the previous three games.

3. Udogie

The disinterested observer might not have registered, and Gary Neville would presumably have described his efforts as Championship-standard or some similar rot, but with his each passing interaction I became increasingly taken with young Signor Udogie.

As alluded to above, if you one were the sort watching proceedings in the way AANP watches a game of cricket – glass charged, conversation flowing, typically not more than three-quarters of an eye on the match itself – one might feasibly have taken in the match in its entirety without even noticing Udogie on the pitch. For here was a chap who operated, if not exactly by stealth, then certainly in fairly unobtrusive fashion.

If the ball needed to be won, down in his little patch on the south-western corner, he simply put his head down and went about doing exactly that, with minimum fuss or fanfare. Similarly, if a pretty incisive pass needed executing, or even a tight corner needed wriggling out of, Udogie seemed always to be one step ahead. The more one noticed it, the more impressive it became.

And the gold stars rack up even more freely when one considers that young Udogie has been fulfilling a role that presumably is a tad foreign to him, what with inverting and popping into central midfield areas one moment, and then sprinting off in a diagonal towards the left wing the next, in order to fulfil his precise role within Ange-ball.

Maddison understandably attracts the headlines, and Son toddled off with the match-ball, but in terms of scuttling around behind the scenes making sure that everything was perfectly in place for the principals to hog the limelight, few can compare with the boy Destiny.

4. Maddison, and the Scenario One Dares Not Contemplate

So after a slightly gormless opening five minutes, our heroes rolled out yet another pretty breathtaking demonstration of Ange-Ball at its finest. All concerned spluttered out their superlatives at Pedro Porro’s pass for our fifth, but to me this detracted from the preceding 14 consecutive passes, which brought about the goal. Few passages of play this season will better sum up the quality of the fare currently being peddled by the soon-to-be-crowned Premier League winners 23/24.

At its heart once more was the marvellous young Maddison, and rarely has a lilywhite looked to be enjoying the nine-to-five quite so much as this fellow. His goal could not have been struck more perfectly, flying off to its destination like a missile, and boasting, when viewed from one particularly becoming angle, the joyous quality of starting outside the post before curling just sufficiently to wind its way back inside. A rarely-spotted specimen, and one that certainly prompts some pretty excited nattering amongst the regulars.

So all is rosy in the N17 garden, and we would be well advised simply to drink it in and enjoy the moment. Nevertheless, at that point in the evening in which one realises with horror that the whiskey bottle has run dry, I did find myself contemplating a more severe scenario, in which young Master Maddison, for whatever reason, might happen to become incapacitated; and here, the thought experiment took a pretty jarring turn.

For this chap really is the heartbeat of the operation. Bissouma is an absolute diamond; the VDV-Romero axis is surely destined for greatness; but Maddison really makes the thing tick. Should some ill fate befall him, I’m sure Our Glorious Leader would shrug it off in that philosophical and ever-so-slightly intimidating manner of his – but a certain unspeakable trouble would most definitely be afoot.

As it happens, I thought Lo Celso looked a pretty shiny sort of object during pre-season, all well-spotted passes and intelligent positions – but Maddison has swiftly elevated himself to the level of the indispensable. Put in the most vulgar terms, Lo Celso would have to play out of his skin to replicate the chap’s efforts.

Truth be told, the concern can be repeated for a couple of other positions. As mentioned, the central defence pairing looks ever more impressive; but remove one of VDV or Romero for a few weeks, and replace with Davinson Sanchez, and I suspect we’ll be squirming in our seats. See also Messrs Udogie, Bissouma and so on. The main cast is breathtaking; the first reserves, decidedly less so.

But fie upon such dreary supposition – it may never happen, and if the gods smile upon us (which will be necessary in order to confirm the Title in May) it never will. Going into an international break, when have we ever enjoyed life this much? The football is scintillating, the results are excellent and one simply doesn’t want the matches to end.