Tottenham 2-0 Arsenal: Spurs lay the trap, Arsenal fell for it
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
Never have I experienced such an expected state of affairs on a football pitch. In the midst of a testing period for Mikel Arteta and his boys, Arsenal produced a performance encapsulating absurd naivety and stupidity, which inevitably ended in defeat. Despite it being blatantly obvious what Jose Mourinho and his Spurs side would set up to do, Arsenal fell for it- and we all knew it would happen.
Jose Mourinho's most successful sides have all done the same thing, and he has built his Spurs side that now sits top of the Premier League (sorry I had to mention it) on the exact same principles. Sit in a low compact shape, try and score early on the counter, then do absolutely nothing offensively in the second half once this lead has been established. Allow your opponents to ponderously control possession as you pack your own six yard box with numerous lumps who will deal with every cross you throw at them. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing and fashionably stylistic approach to winning football matches, but when you have a striker who specialises in dropping off and playing balls into the path of the world's second best finisher (statistically), then it is very, very effective.
This is just what Mourinho's Spurs did to Arsenal yesterday afternoon in front of 2,000 (fucking annoying) home supporters. The Portuguese managerial veteran sat off Arsenal, allowed them to have the ball, and then hit them on the counter when they inevitably over committed men forward. Son produced a wonder goal on the break, before Arsenal left Rob Holding and Gabriel five on two as Harry Kane added a second on the stroke of half-time. Game, set and match. There was absolutely no way Arsenal were finding a way back into the match.
Despite having 72% of the ball and inhibiting Spurs' attack to 0 shots and 0.0 xG in the second period, we were never getting anything out of this. We created a few half chances, with a Lacazette header being turned away by Lloris and an Aubameyang header floating over the bar, but we failed to muster a single shot with an expected goals value of over 10%. In other words, we didn't create a chance where you'd have expected our player to bury the ball in the back of the net. Arteta stressed that he felt we had the numerical advantage in chance creation over Spurs, but when these chances have such a minimal likelihood of ending in a goal, this point is somewhat redundant.
Many teams will play Spurs and have played Spurs where similar patterns will occur. City had the exact same issue a few weeks ago, as did Chelsea to some extent last week. However, it was the stupidity at which we fell for Spurs' traps that made this all the more infuriating. Chelsea cautiously approached the North London side last week, not over committing and setting up in a way which was clearly weary of the counter threat Spurs caused in transition. They managed to negate this threat, even if it was at the expense of some of their own attacking endeavors. They may well have won it with a late Olivier Giroud chance, and ultimately came out the game unscathed, but perhaps slightly disappointed they didn't claim all three points.
If Arsenal hadn't been as naïve in the first period they may well have returned to the Emirates with a point. Although we've been calling on Arteta to show increased attacking intent in his approach, this probably wasn't the game to do so. On two separate occasions, we suicidally left our defensive players exposed and vulnerable to Spurs' frightening counter attacking players. Two occasions is all they needed. Although both goals were results of poor systematic choices, they also were down to personnel issues. Deploying a double pivot of a half fit Thomas Partey and a completely immobile Granit Xhaka was perhaps not the best way to deal with an electric counter attacking side.
It wasn't just Arsenal's defensive approach that showcased naivety. Offensively, Arsenal played to Spurs' strengths. Spamming 800 crosses a game has never been a statistically successful way of creating high quality chances, but when you're supplying a guy who's never scored a header up against two aerially dominant centre-halves, it's never going to be fruitful. This isn't an approach that comes in isolation however. Over the last few weeks, Arsenal have resorted to this wide aerial delivery route to create goal scoring opportunities on a relentless basis. It hasn't worked once, so the fact we're continuing with it is very bemusing. It's an approach that stinks of desperation. When ideas of breaking down a defence are slim, going wide and hoofing it into the box aimlessly feels very, very hopeful.
If Arteta had supported this approach with the notion that because Spurs pack the central areas with numbers, we were left with little choice but to go wide and sling crosses in, then I'd probably accept it. However, in his post-match analysis, he portrayed this as his plan A and that it had worked because we'd created some opportunities through it. Concerning.
The pressure is now fully on Arteta to turn this rut around. He looks stuck and unsure how to fix this mess. A sign of his inexperience as a coach and probably something we should've expected when appointing him. Long-term plans can be emphasised as much we want, but there is a need to fix the immediate short-term issues, as things look like they could hit boiling point. Now isn't the time to assess the managerial position, but in a few weeks after games against Burnley and Southampton take place, it could well be.