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Arsenal 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

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.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Spurs 1-0 Arsenal: Four THFC Observations

1. Second Half Performances

I think any jury would agree that the first half was a fairly cagey affair. Not a million miles away from a game of chess I suppose, with one side nudging a pawn forward a step or two, and the other side dangling an experimental bishop to survey the battlefield. Their lot were denied a chance by a pretty rotten call from the linesman; our heroes fashioned one that was a mite too high for the forehead of Kane; and at half-time the thing could hardly have been described as a pyrotechnic spectacular.

When the cast reassembled for the second forty-five however, a completely different kettle of fish was produced. En masse, our heroes went up a couple of gears, took the lead and but for some pretty wayward work in the Finishing-Touch department would have delivered an absolute thrashing.

I wonder if you happen to notice a trend in recent weeks? Against Man Utd, our heroes went at it hammer and tongs in the second half, leaving United to simply wilt away and give up the thing completely at around the hour mark. Then against Liverpool last week, following a fairly mediocre stab at the first 45, we overwhelmed them in the second half, restoring parity and looking odds on to wrap up matters until that slightly madcap final five minutes. And then yesterday, another run-of-the-mill first half was followed in the second by the most one-sided 1-0 hammering you will see.

The gist of the thing is that Pochettino’s current vintage are capable of producing the dickens of a second half performance when necessary. The energy levels shoot off the scale, and three of the best in the country have been utterly unable to live with us.

One might well want to pause on the general back-slapping and cork-popping to ask some pretty salient questions, such as why it takes us 45 minutes to reach these levels (to which the answer might be that the opposition themselves are pretty stoked in the first halves of these tete-a-tetes, but run out of steam while our lot go into overdrive in the second halves); and why we aren’t evidencing our dominance with a whole hatful of goals each time.

But on the back of seven points from these three crunch games, through the use of pretty much identical personnel, it would be miserly in the extreme to wag admonitory fingers and complain about one thing and another.

2. Off-The-Ball Press

Having the privilege of observing yesterday’s narrative unfold in the presence of an Arsenal-supporting chum, I noted that at several points he lamented the manner in which his team surrendered possession.

Well he might have complained, but one need not scratch too far beneath the surface to identify a critical cog in the whole Cause-and-Effect narrative on this point. For as befell United and Liverpool in recent weeks, this was not a case of Arsenal randomly falling apart, but of Tottenham hounding them down until they broke.

That horrible lot kept ceding possession primarily because they were subjected to levels of harassment, press and general bother that in other walks of life would border on the uncouth, if not the downright illegal.

Our mob, from front to back, are fast mastering the art of winning back possession high up the pitch, with all the relentless tenacity of a team of rabid dogs, and then haring off into attack once more. It is jolly impressive stuff, and neatly complements the variety and gusto with which we attack when actually in possession.

3. Missed Chances

For all the off-ball press and on-ball creativity, one could not help after a while glance at what was unfolding on the pitch, and then at the scoreboard, and then back to the pitch, with rather a furrowed brow. Dominate a team thusly and we should dashed well have a hatful of goals to show for it. Instead, we squandered chances with all the carefree abandon of a couple of young lambs gambolling in a field without a care in the world.

In a sense it did not seem to matter, for in a second-half that was simply a procession of Tottenham near-things, another gilt-edged opportunity was always just around the corner and the players on both sides knew it. But in another sense, the suspicion started to nag that our heroes were missing the point of the whole spectacle if they kept bypassing one chance, shrugging their shoulders and eagerly bobbing up and down in anticipation of the next one. The logic, I began to suspect, was flawed. There was a simpler way to go about this.

Kane (twice), Lamela (twice), Dele, Son and Trippier all made rather a pickle of eminently presentable opportunities, on top of which Eriksen’s free-kick would have hit the top corner but for a timely paw from Cech.

And as has been well documented, we were jolly well nearly made to pay, which would have made the whole game seem like an act of the basest treachery. The moral of the story seems to be to score and score again, and then once more for luck, when the opportunities arise; but these young folk do like to do things their own way.

4. Dembele, Yet Again

After a collective effort like that, and particularly having just penned reams and reams about the team’s off-the-ball work en masse, it does seem rather a disservice to the majority to single out one or two for particular approval. I imagine the legal bods representing Messrs Kane and Eriksen, for example, might raise an eyebrow and have the headed notepaper at the ready on hearing that praise is being lavished elsewhere. Nevertheless, Mousa Dembele continues to deliver absolute tour de force performances.

If the common denominators across these three distinguished results has been our second half performances, the man at the hub of those second halves has been Dembele.

I suppose in this age of shiny statistics the casual passer-by might poke his head in and wonder what the fuss is about, because the old sport rarely scores or sets up goals. But by golly he makes the world a brighter place, and manages to make the hurly-burly of crunch Top Six games look about as serene and effortless a breeze as simply floating down a river in a paddle-boat with a newspaper over one’s head.

You know the drill – power, control, and a unique ability to retain possession even when baying hordes pursue him at every turn. Injuries never seem far away, poor chap, but when he is in this sort of form he simply purrs, which rather makes me purr, and after a while all there is is Dembele gliding away from people and a heck of a lot of purring.

Whether he will be in any shape to dust himself down and go again on Tuesday in Turin is debatable, but his absence on that stage would be a shame, both aesthetically and in terms of the nuts and bolts of winning the game. We shall see.

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

Arsenal 1-1 Spurs: Four Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Three at the Back

Arched eyebrows all round at kick-off, as the meanest defence of all 92 clubs in England swivelled from its traditional back-four to a terrifically trendy and fashionable three-man troupe. Eagle-eyed as ever, AANP was onto it like a flash, and did the only logical thing there is to do in such radical times – I made a list of Pros and Cons.

Pros: In the absence of Toby in midweek, all common sense made a dash for the nearest exit, and the entire back-four took to playing like a team of mechanical wind-up toys that were left to cart around in any direction they pleased, with ball control and retention purely optional. Life could not go on in that Toby-less state, particularly against hot opposition, so the change to a back-three gave a rather meaty extra layer of protection.

Cons: Granted. Not much of a Con there really, what?

Pros: Moreover, every time one of the back-three stepped forward into midfield, the Arsenal mob looked like they had been hit across the money-maker with a sledgehammer. ‘Discombobulated’ does not quite do it – they simply could not comprehend what was happening.

Cons: Until about the 20 minute mark, when they worked it out and started piling into us.

Pros: You speak sooth. However, the use of a back-three also allowed our full-backs to fulfil lifelong ambitions, and bomb forward like bona fide wing-backs. It was a switch they embraced like a caterpillars discovering wings on their back of all dashed things, and fluttering off with all manner of gaiety. At one point Kyle Walker even went on a crossfield dribble that ended up in the inside left position.

Cons: The opposition got wind of this, and ended up going 2 vs 1 down the wings when they attacked. Admittedly it might have been the role of Wanyama to help out in such circumstances, but the point remains – with the wing-backs bombing on, we were a tad vulnerable down the flanks.

And so on. One gets the gist – there were positives, negatives and all manner of things in between, but mercifully the whole gambit did not backfire, and off we toodled with a fairly hard-earned point.

2. Dembele’s Attacking Ability

After Dembele’s slightly rummy cameo on Wednesday night, I am not afraid to admit that I gave the chin and its elegant whiskers quite the concerned rub. Mercifully today, lions can once again lie with lambs, and sickly orphans smile through their tears, because the young behemoth is clearly back on track and inflicting damage once more, and the world seems that much righter.

It has been a rarely sighted beast this season so far, but the combination of downright elegant slaloming with mind-boggling upper body strength was enough to make even the most hardened old bean purr in appreciation. I am all for zipping the ball hither, thither and yonder in an effort to move things from A (back at base) to B (somewhere in the region of the final third), but all that pretty passing can be neatly sidestepped when a ball-carrier of the ilk of Dembele gets it into his head that by golly, if he just charges forward like a man possessed – albeit bearing an almightily languid gait – then no force on heaven or earth stands much chance of dispossessing him. As if by magic, Dembele has the unique capacity to single-handedly shift the action thirty yards forward and have the opposition back-pedalling and panicking as if their lives depend on it.

And lo, as a passing archangel might have commented, when Dembele was possessed with the idea of the Forward Surge all the way into the opposition area, the result was as gratifying as one might expect. An errant opposition leg here, a referee’s toot there – and we had ourselves a penalty.

All of which does beg the question of why the blighter does not do exactly that each time he touches the ball? Or at least once per game. Instead of haggling over an extra million in transfer fees here and there, could Daniel Levy not write into Dembele’s contract that each game he plays he is legally obliged to carry the ball into the opposition area, at least once per half?

3. Kane and Janssen.

Marvellous to see Kane back, and biffing around like he knew what the job entailed. That first half header was almost glorious; he rather missed out on the winning lottery ticket in both the first half (Son cross) and second half (sliding in at close range); but by and large the chap seemed to know his apples from pears, and everyone around him seemed far happier with life knowing that he was up there and making a fist of things.

Then Janssen entered the fray, and we rather started to settle for a point. I suspect the entire lilywhite population of Christendom absolutely wills the chap to get it right, but things simply do not work out for him. The sensational volley hit his standing leg; the cheeky nudge was pulled up as a foul; and while his earnestness and endeavour deserve firm handshakes, this is most decidedly not yet his time. Next week, maybe but not right now.

4. Son & Eriksen – Too Polite By Half

It would be remiss to describe the Pochettino vintage as a soft-touch, and that squidgy underbelly so cherished by Spurs teams of yore is more or less a thing of history – but by golly one or two of our heroes need toughening up.

Son has racked up goodwill by the sackload in recent weeks, and well deserved it is too. But the Pavlovian response I mutter each time his name is mentioned is “Too dashed lightweight”. Not a fan of a chappie who smiles when he has just made a mistake on the football pitch either, but that is a chunter for another day.

But heavens above, pulling out of a 50-50 challenge with a goalkeeper who is approximately eight miles outside his area, and with the net beckoning invitingly behind him like some sultry temptress of the night – it was too much.  All manner of invective thundered from the AANP lips, the air turned purple and a passing thunderstorm backed away in terror. Give that man a damn good thrashing, because that was game, set and match, right there – and he jumped out of the challenge like a neutered puppy. Dashed sickening to witness.

(I find Eriksen a rather soft sort of bean as well, hence the sub-heading).

All told however, that was a hard-earned and decent point. Admittedly this run of seventy-six consecutive draws is becoming a mite tedious, but in this instance, and with several key figures out injured (plus one comedy figure suspended) it can be officially marked down as “Satisfying Enough”, and positives duly drawn.

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

Spurs 2-2 Arsenal: Five Dashed Frustrated Lilywhite Observations

1. A Dampish Squib

I suspect I was not the only one who, as matters progressed yesterday, found myself murmuring “Not so good, not so good.” The opening salvos were dished out well enough, and the ten-minute spell after the red card obviously had us all leaping from our seats like men possessed. Those shimmers aside however, this was decidedly not one that will have us gathering the grandchildren around the knee in decades to come.

The hows and whys of this particular dampish squib will require a fair amount of head-scratching and chin-stroking from our glorious leader. As mentioned, our heroes appeared to have the basics right in the opening few moments – facing the right way, stringing the passes along, slapping a few long-range efforts towards the chap in goal – but none of it was of the ilk to blow up anyone’s skirt. For all the scurrying and scuttling, we just weren’t getting anywhere.

And then before you knew it, we were one-down, it was the second half, and the concept of bludgeoning our way back into the game seemed to be the last thing on anyone’s minds. The brow furrowed.

Mercifully, that horrible lot from down the road had included in their ranks The Village Idiot, and his suitably dim-witted departure was more or less the equivalent of politely opening the door, waving us through, taking our coats from our shoulders and offering a glass of champagne. We could not have been ushered back into the game more agreeably, and at 2-1 with 20 minutes to go against ten men the thing really ought to have been beyond question.

But it wasn’t, and we didn’t, and so on and so forth. Consensus seems to have landed somewhere between ‘Fatigue’ and ‘Nerves’, which is fair enough on both counts. But nevertheless. This was not just supposed to be a toe-to-toe, tentative jabbing sort of affair. This was supposed to be the one in which we ripped Arsenal limb from limb and laughed manically at their bloodied torsos, then marched on irresistibly towards Leicester.

2. Luck

Moreover, I can fairly decidedly mark a big black cross across the phrase “Rotten Luck”, because if anything the gods of these things more or less nodded more in our direction. The goal-line technology moment could broadly be classified as a mite unfortunate, given that around eight ninths of the ball were behind the line, but rules is rules and the incident was little more than a footnote.

Instead, one might fairly validly point out that if the chappie had not got his red card we would probably have continued huffing and puffing all night to no avail. The advantage bestowed was certainly not one of our making.

On top of which, young Master Dier did rather well to keep his head down and wander off into the crowds when caught red-handed, on CCTV and in front of a global audience of near enough a billion. Admittedly one or two others also appeared to escape second bookings – but the gist of the thing was that our luck was decidedly in. And still, we talked our way out of a victory.

3. Lloris

Perhaps symbolic of how oddly uncooked they all looked was the performance of Monsieur Lloris. By and large one of the finer purveyors of such things, he pootled along sensibly enough yesterday until given his first significant piece of work – at which point he managed no more than to flap a soggy hand at the source of trouble, and the ball skidded and scuttled its way through almost apologetically.

On a related note, both yesterday and against West Ham, Lloris’ general attitude towards any backpasses nudged his way was to tapdance around the thing and invite all manner of trouble, which does no end of mischief to the constitution of those watching. It is absolutely beyond me why the chap cannot perform absolutely flawlessly for every single minute of every single occasion he plays for us.

4. Bright Spots

A tradition here at AANP Towers in the late hours of a weekend is to pour a glass of bourbon and muse on the standout lilywhite performances of the weekend, but this evening the task is by no means straightforward. The whole thing was oddly lacking in ripsnort, and as a result, of standout performers there are few.

Dembele certainly rolled around the pitch with the languid air of a man fully aware that he is a couple of levels ahead of the rest, but otherwise there were slim pickings. Rose was a self-contained conundrum, pounding forward enough to cause opposition concern, but invariably slapping his crosses against the nearest defender. The back-four dealt with the move which led to Arse’s second with all the alacrity of an elite group of napping elephants, and further up the pitch the whizz and bang of weeks gone by was a little lacking. It was no disaster, but all a mite underwhelming, given building the pre-match crescendo.

5. Kane goal

A dashed shame that Kane’s goal will be lost within the detail, because that was arguably the best of his lot so far. It reminded one of a cocky young sailor stepping ashore and sweeping the nearest young maiden off her feet – and the place duly erupted as if they had witnessed a North London derby winner of the highest order. Oh that the rest of them had read the script, but one must take the rough with the smooth.

A most peculiar barrel of eggs then, with its highs and lows standing shoulder to shoulder, but the nub of things is that chasing this Title has become a darned sight harder. On to the next one.

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

Spurs 2-1 Arsenal: Pochettino Nails It

This must go down as one of the great lilywhite derby performances of recent years. Admittedly l’Arse contributed massively to their own downfall, with a most peculiar gameplan involving minimal aggressive intent, but let that not detract from a fantastic, relentless attacking barrage from our lilywhite heroes.

Unsung Heroes

Particular homage is due to the full-backs, who while far from flawless, could barely be restrained from bombing forward to add much-needed width to proceedings. I many not be alone in suspecting that young Master Walker has returned from injury boasting just three lungs, rather than the four of yesteryear, for he certainly comes across as a couple of yards slower, but both he and Rose tore into the wide open spaces behind the Arse back-four with gay old abandon.

Mason and Bentaleb similarly picked the right note from the off. At times, in their fledgling careers the pair have seemed rather too determined to fight the good fight some five yards in front of the back four, with the switch flicked firmly towards “Safety First, Dagnabbit”, but today, whilst never abandoning the bread-and-butter of things, they could be occasionally sighted tiptoeing their way deep into enemy territory, and fastening their shooting boots accordingly – never more so than the peach of a cross from Bentaleb that created our glorious winner.

The Attacking Mob

Further yet up the pitch was the most massively left-footed attacking triumvirate since Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe decided to get down and party with Clayton Blackmore, in the short-shorted era of yesteryear. Messrs Eriksen and, in particular, Dembele and Lamela seem drawn to their left feet like moths to a flame. Such is life, and there was enough about the supporting cast to prevent  from everyone simply toppling over  to the left, but the introduction of Chadli could not come soon enough.

Dembele’s Right Peg

Dembele looks a man reborn since being lifted from his two-year stupor by virtue of being shunted about ten yards further forward. Now, when he loses interest and opts to shove the balls sidewards, with the suspicious air of a moody teen about to smoke something naughty, he shoves the ball sidewards in a threatening area of the pitch, into the path of a Rose or Walker arriving at full pelt. Admittedly that right foot remains strictly for balance only, but the chap’s renaissance as an attacking force is more than welcome.

As for Lamela – one is happy enough to sweep his shortcomings under the rug of general victory-induced bonhomie, but the fact remains that for a man more talented than just about anyone else on the pitch he does peddle a unique line in simply giving the dashed thing away every time he touches it.

God Bless Harry Kane

But let us not dwell on the more dubious minutiae – there will be plenty of time to wail and gnash teeth on other days. This was a day to celebrate the unlikely glory of Harry Kane, who despite maintaining (for about six consecutive months) the appearance of a man about to lose control of the ball, his own limbs and all semblance of physics, continues to tear up all before him – with left foot, right foot, from close range, long range or with his head.

Bravo Pochettino

As much as anything else however, this was a triumph for the grand fromage. The all-action, energetic approach; the pressing high up the pitch; and the very deployment of over-enthusiastic pups like Mason, Kane and Bentaleb paid absolutely glorious dividends today. Absolutely marvellous stuff.

Musings on Arsenal 1-1 Spurs

A quiet triumph for our glorious leader, this one. Coming on the back of the wretched Sunderland draw, and wretcheder West Brom defeat, the polite coughs around Pochettino had been increasing in volume all week, but credit to the man. The air around Finsbury Park presumably still resounds to the irate warbling of Wenger, who took a deep breath at the full-time whistle yesterday and has not stopped grumbling since, but this was a dashed hard-earned point for our lot.

This was not the time for coruscating interplay, merry quip and flashing badinage. This was not a time for Chiriches, and his Dali-esque take on the art of defending. Evidently not a fan of early 90s brat pack western Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory, Pochettino sagaciously eschewed the notion of our heroes getting shot to death one after another in the quest for bravura headlines, and instead stuck to the markedly less glamorous – but infinitely more sensible – project entitled ‘Work Your Cotton Socks Off, Stick to the Plan And Take Home A Point’.

Kaboul and Vertonghen had the right idea, neither toddling off more than six paces from the other, and all around them in lilywhite were faces etched with concentration. Rose and Naughton in particular can puff their chests today, for rarely have two young beans attracted such opprobrium over their careers as this pair from yours truly – but they jolly well filled the unforgiving minutes with distance run yesterday.

Lloris

The shiniest gold star however, without doubt goes to our trusty guardian of the net. Amidst all the hours of debate surrounding his frightfully modern role of sweeper ‘keeper, one sometimes forgets about young Lloris’ du pain et du beurre, but when push came to shove and the shots flew in yesterday he dashed well had every angle covered, beaten only by the elaborate full-body-wrap-around dummy thrown by the wretched Welbeck. Rather excitingly, one second half save even had the gods of goal-line technology awoken from their slumbers, which presumably had Jonathan Pearce’s brain melting out of his ears.

A Mild Regret

Not wanting to sound ungrateful about things, but given that throughout the entire game we only managed to touch the ball about seven times, it was mildly annoying that we made rather a pickle of two or three jolly presentable counter-attack opportunities, in the first half in particular. We did eventually get the final ball right – Lamela hitting the bullseye with his assist for Chadli – but one or two more of those in the first half and we might have had a two- or even three-goal lead to spurn. Ah well, live and learn, what?

A Glimpse of the Future

If our general game-plan was one of locking ourselves in a bunker and waiting for the ongoing alien invasion to pass overhead, the longer-term Pochettino approach was at least given a brief and stirring cameo when we took the lead. Much hot air has been expelled about the whole business of ‘pressing high up the pitch’, but with Adebayor ambling around with all the energy of doleful sloth this fabled approach has been as rare as a two-headed rabbit so far this season, so it was jolly heartening to see our heroes snaffle the ball just 30 yards from the opposition goal yesterday, and proceed to cross t’s and dot i’s until the net was rippling.

And to round things of, a round of applause to the unfeasibly young arbiter of proceedings, who did a cracking job of preventing a full-scale riot by cautioning Chadli for his irresponsible and over-the-top goal celebration. Goodness knows, the very fabric of society would have come crashing down around us if that fine bastion of the rulebook had not waved yellow in Chadli’s face. The relief in the corridors of power today has been palpable.

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

l’Arse 2-0 Spurs: The Seedier Side of 4-4-2

Plus ça change and all that, what? The 4-4-2 business will win us more games than it loses, particularly given the Sherwood mantra that bonus points will be awarded for whizzing the ball from back to front as rapidly as humanly possible, a most edifying change from the sidewards sidewards catchy monkey snooze-fest under the previous incumbent. However, yesterday – and, one imagines, against most of the slicker teams in the country – we were simply outmanoeuvred in midfield. Like a broken clock shouting ‘Bingo!’ twice a day, Andy Townsend stumbled upon an unfortunate truth yesterday when he mused that l’Arse were taking better care of the ball, and that, coupled with their numerical advantage in midfield, rather did for us.

The Three Stooges

It is never too encouraging to see Curly, Larry and Moe line up across the back-four, and while the defensive line is not quite so high these days, blind panic still broke out with disturbing regularity at the back. Walcott’s pace had poor old Daws and Chiriches scuttling around doing their very best decapitated poultry impressions, and as they spun around in little circles and bumped into each other they could not have been more convincing if adorned with blood-spattered feathers. Were one to use the ‘”Who would buy them?” test of a player’s ability, it is difficult to imagine any top-half team pausing to stroke the chin and count the pennies.

There is at least some consolation in the fact that these are our third and fourth choice centre-backs (one hopes), but the news is worse out on the left. The excruciating little tizz into which young Master Rose imploded can probably be shrugged off as the sort of occasional mistake that befalls even the best of us, but the regularity with which he cedes possession jolly well makes me grind my teeth, and not in the good way mind.

Young Walker tends to attract opprobrium on a regular basis, and admittedly yesterday, having done the hard work of racing back to catch Rosicky, it was a little odd that he opted not to intervene any further in matters to prevent the goal. However, I tend to exonerate the chap on the grounds that few men in Christendom seem to take things quite so seriously and passionately as he. Oh that all our lilywhite heroes cared as much about winning their individual battles throughout the 90.

The Unfortunate Lot of a Midfielder in a 4-4-2

The midfield beavered away, bless them, but that whole thing was rather a mismatch. Adebayor’s commendable exertions in dropping deep were not really enough to fight the fires, and when l’Arse got their groove on and started pinging the ball in neat little triangles one imagines there were a few embarrassed looks amongst Bentaleb and chums. On the bright side, when in possession and merrily bursting out on the counter our heroes look about one smart pass away from a one-on-one every time, with Eriksen and Lennon evidently being given all sorts of encouragement to bust a gut in search of goals. Eriksen in particular looks like he has a nice picture of things in his head. The execution still tends to be a little off-key, but one gets the impression that in time he will be quite the play-maker.

Whether Sherwood sticks with this approach for our trickier away-day assignments will make for interesting viewing in the coming months. The 4-4-2 gamble of losing the possession game but having excess numbers on the counter worked a treat vs Man Utd, but had us panting and wheezing a tad yesterday, and ultimately our glorious leader will probably be judged on results in those biggest of big games.

Spurs 2-1 Arsenal: Still Smug

Whereas the pre-match optimism in this corner of the interweb had been based on the fact that our forward line knows a few more trade secrets than that other lot, and were therefore likelier to get the best of the half-dozen goals that seemed likely, winning a game of this magnitude on the strength of a superior defence did have me sipping the celebratory late-night bourbon in a rather thoughtful manner.

Truth be told, that first half may have been a triumph for scrumptiously-weighted passes into the path of onrushing lilywhite midfield types, but it was something of a disaster for the dubious art of high-line defending. Vertonghen stuck out a limb in timely manner on a couple of occasions in that first half, but the high line hardly looked watertight, for willing though they are, neither the Belgian nor Dawson are really blessed with the most searing bursts of pace. Still, l’Arse did not have the sense to play the right pass when opportunity presented itself in the first half, and in the second the whole business of high defensive lines was largely negated by our lot dropping deeper (albeit presumably by accident rather than design), the aforementioned centre-backs repelling everything with all the gusto of a couple of heroes from a big-budget Hollywood battle epic. Nerve-wracking it most certainly was, but barely a clear chance was actually fashioned at our goal.

One ought not to muse on proceedings without pausing to toast the two goals, for hilariously inept though the defending was, the passes from Sigurdsson and (oddly enough) Parker were enough to merit that a small gold star be ironed onto the sleeve of their shirts next time they take to the pitch. Amidst all the hullaballoo there has also been a tendency to overlook the quality of the two finishes, which is really just not cricket. Identical chances, taken in very different but equally expert styles – someone in a smartly-fitting suit ought to tap his glass and say a few words of tribute amidst a cloud of cigar smoke.

Elsewhere on the pitch it was hard-earned and mighty satisfying fare all round. (Almost all round, on reflection, for if you will excuse the slightly awkward clearing of throat it is difficult to ignore the fact that things perked up in the second half once Adebayor had been scraped from the turf and hauled away, with Defoe seemingly far more interested in applying himself to the day-job.) Our heroes may have segued seamlessly from perspiring elbow-greasers to care-free spring gambollers had one of those straightforward second half chances been popped in (quite what masterplan popped into the Sigurdsson cranium at the vital juncture is a poser), but in a curious way it was somehow more fun to see l’Arse toil so feverishly to no avail. So near, yet seven points afar. The heart bleeds for them.

Tedious points will presumably be made at this juncture about the remaining fixtures and last season and whatnot – for another time, please. Smug grins remain the order of the day.

Spurs – Arsenal Preview: Come Hither for Sunny Optimism

Regular imbibers of the AANP chalice may be wearily readying themselves for the latest pessimistic warbling, but truth be told I feel pleasantly optimistic about this one.

Physcial Combat  – Conspicuously Absent

For a start, that ‘orrible lot from down the road possess not in their ranks any sort of attacking man-beast of the ilk of Andy Carroll, or indeed a Holt, Lukaku or Drogba type, who can shield the ball, win every aerial battle, say naughty words and generally make our lot cry. The only certainties in life seem to be death, taxes and Spurs defenders failing to cope with bullying centre-forwards, so huzzah thrice over for the absence of one today.

On a note entirely dissimilar note, l’Arse are not typically known for peddling that sort of agricultural, feisty approach that, for example, Norwich and Leeds deployed to good effect against us. History – and indeed personnel – suggests that rather than a fist-fight this will be another absurd end-to-end attack-fest, with tactics ultimately reducing to ‘Outscore the other lot and we’ll be fine’. And should this be the case, AANP just about throws its hat in with the lilywhites, on the eminently scientific basis that our lot are, all things considered, better.

Central Midfield

The horn-locking of Messrs Dembele and Wilshire threatens to be awfully good fun, but in the absence of Sandro, that midfield area is where alarm bells start making the most frightful racket. A willingness to beaver away may be a Scott Parker trademark, but he will have to clear his throat and sing the notes with particular gusto if Wilshire, Cazorla and their devious troupe are to be kept in check.

The Principals

I rather expect this to be the one performance of the year for which Adebayor bothers to exert himself, as he does seem to loathe his former employers. Fingers crossed that a modicum of sense manifests itself in a brain cell or two this time.

Young Master Bale is unlikely to slip onto the pitch entirely unnoticed, but whether or not he delivers his usual two-goal salvo one can expect a quivering swarm of opponents to buzz around him at all times. Marvellously however, there seems no stopping the chap these days – defend deep and he will thrash one netwards from distance; attempt to close down the space and he will skip merrily by, or earn a free-kick in so-doing. Lip-smacking stuff indeed.

While it can probably be expected that Walcott will score (it does tend to happen against our lot, alas), ultimately I do expect that when it is all totted up, our lot will have more in the bank. Exciting times.

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