Well, I’m gutted, obviously. The stakes were high, and we came to play. In fact, I was amazed at how hard we pressed and how disorganized Spurs were from the get-go. I even started thinking that we could pull off something memorable. And then, barely two minutes apart, we conceded two goals. We were dominating possession comfortably, and both goals came on counters and due to lazy defending. On the first, Mikel Arteta somehow let Gareth Bale drift behind on the left-flank and run onto a nifty pass to slot home. Before fans could even sit down, we were down 2-0 after Nacho Monreal released Aaron Lennon (again on our left – what is it about our left side?) but without telling Thomas Vermaelen, who was left to flail his hand to call for offside. Perhaps Wojciech Szczesny could have done better, but there’s little a keeper can do in a one-on-one. Without those two lapses, this could have very easily gone our way- at least in terms of a draw if not a victory. Aside from Olivier Giroud, to whom I’ll return to in a moment, we put forth a strong effort of which I’d say we should be proud of. However, I’m not a big fan of moral victories or esteem-building exercises, so I won’t say that.
As down as I am, I don’t feel nearly the despair I felt over the loss to Blackburn in the FA Cup. That one, after all, slammed a door shut, a door we should have kicked off its hinges. This one is a setback. Yes, it’s painful to lose to Spurs, but this one was a reach. They are on a roll, Bale is in-form, and we were in their lair. Losing hasn’t slammed a door on finishing in the top four shut, but it has put a hand on the knob and is slowly closing. We now sit five points behind Chelsea, seven behind Spurs, and nine behind Man City who sit in second. And Everton are nipping at our heels as well. For what it’s worth, we were ten behind Spurs at this point last year. I’ll revisit what this all means later. For now, the game.
Let’s get the worst of it out of the way. Aside from a near-brilliant goal in the 9th minute, stopped by a last-gasp Jan Vertonghen tackle, Giroud hurt us far more than he hurt them. Far too many cutesy dinks and flicks, too many sloppy headers, too many wasted shots. I’m going to have to analyze this more deeply later. For now, he had that chance in the 9th and a nifty back-heel to Lukas Podolski in the 78th that the German forward fluffed. Other than that, I daresay we’d have been better off with Gervinho or Podolski up-top. Mostly everyone else had a strong game – Woj made several strong saves, and Carl Jenkinson was playing the game of his life, for all of my worries. He even used his left foot once or twice. His crosses were on target, including one that almost led to a great goal at the 53rd, but Hugo Lloris (who had a great game himself) pounced on it. Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey were relentless, and Jack Wilshere was a bit quiet by his standards. The chances that they created for each other, for Theo Walcott and for Giroud, had they been more clinically taken, would have seen us through. As it is, we are where we are.
I won’t go as far as to say that I was wrong on Bale – he did score after all, and was threatening. However, I found myself more afraid of the idea of Bale than the reality. We’ve built him up, and he is on the verge of something great. I didn’t see him do much else that was special – two hard-driven shots straight at Woj might be his other highlights of the game. Unfortunately, it was more on the Walcott side that my words came back to bite me. He was best when he was out wide working passes with the midfield, and he snuffed out a few too many attacks when he was more-central – notably a ridiculous heel-flick to himself on a pass from Cazorla that just fluffed harmlessly away. When he lined up for a spot-kick at the 88th, I scanned the field desperately for someone else who could take it -Arteta had come off, but there was also Podolski, Wilshere, or Cazorla who could have stepped up. I’d have preferred one of them taking the shot over Walcott, who aimed his right-footed shot to Lloris’s right, and it curled wide by about two meters. A right-footed shot might better be sent to the keeper’s left in order to use that curl as a weapon. So it goes.
As despairing as we might feel, we still carry a more-favourable schedule into the final ten weeks of the season, and I still believe we can finish fourth, if not higher. It’s still too early to put away this year’s Totteringham’s Day invites.
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