A tale of two halves…
I have spent the last 6 hours in recovery mode in a mixed state of shock and confusion. I’m not sure exactly what I witnessed, or how such an event occurred. Just to re-confirm – we went 2-0 up at half time to a team that could barely make a pass and then in the second half we became the team that couldn’t make a pass and self-capitulated.
Let’s take a run through the line up and how the events unfolded:
Sagna – Squillaci – Koscielny – Clichy
Denilson – Song
Nasri – Cesc – Arshavin
With a bench of Szcznesy, Eboue, Djourou, Wlshere, Walcott, Rosicky, Van Persie
A win would take us to the top of the table, but a loss could see us go 5 points behind Chelsea if they won… as it turns out they failed to beat Birmingham which means, despite the loss, we are still just two points off the top of the table.
We went ahead in the first half through an excellent piece of play through Samir Nasri who wondered into the middle and collected a pass from deep and managed to get past Gomes and tap in from a very acute angle – it wasn’t a game in which we had a lot of chances, but we looked like we started to get going around the time we scored the goal. 1-0 became 2-0 when we broke well to combine with Arshavin out wide left and then to Chamakh who flicked the ball in to make it 2-0.
At that point, I thought that this was incredible – obviously very pleased with the result – but the best thing of the scoreline was that we had the team on the ropes – we needed to provide a knock out blow and get the third. I knew that after half time they would be a different proposition, but I don’t know if our team knew that…. because as you know it was a second half of crazyness. A half which saw us really not come out at all – we were so different – so slow, so confused and so slow to react.
In a way, we played in gear 2 during the first half and Sp*rs played in gear one, they accelerated to gear 3 and we simply didn’t have the energy to match it – despite Arsene’s claims of tiredness after a weekday international foray – one thing he has to realise is that that excuse is no longer valid when we play a top 6 / top 7 team as they also have a plethora of players on international duty too. The difference between the two halves was purely down to the will and want to win and the mental strength to do so.
That is absolutely our problem – mental strength – we have none. Well, we have none when it matters. To be 2-0 up at home against your rivals is a position that we need to see through. The second half unravelled as Gareth Bale used his pace to burst through and slotted away. A dubious decision from the referee saw us concede a penalty through a Cesc Fabregas handball – dubious to say the least , and Van Der Vaart converted from the spot. Kaboul put them into the lead with a header from a free kick and the whole reason for all of this was simply down to erratic behaviour in our defence – perhaps disorganisation due to the attempt to move forward and win…
The surprise inclusion of Koscielny ahead of Djourou proved to be a big factor in the loss as the Frenchman was responsible for some bad defending for Sp*rs first goal, actually pushed Cesc’s hand into the ball for the penalty and also gave away the free kick for the third – in fact, his performances this season have all resulted in us losing points – I think Arsene needs to realise this – he cannot be first choice.
Arsene spoke about the game after the game:
“We could not maintain the focus nor the urgency for 90 minutes because some players dropped. I believe as well that overall we delivered a performance expected in a game like that quality wise and if you look at the stats and the numbers it’s very difficult to understand how we lost this game. A drop of concentration, some basic errors, some bad luck as well because the penalty spot I think was no foul for them at the start. And on top of that, not only did we get the foul but we get the penalty where we are guilty of. But overall you are a bit speechless. To re-analyze the game, it’s a mystery how we can lose a game like that.”
When asked whether he thought Arsenal were still in the hunt for the title…
“Yes of course. I’m convinced that we are it but there are opportunities in the championship that you want to take and today we put ourselves in the right position and we failed. We have to accept that. And that is mental more than football. If Tottenham had dominated the game and created 10 chances and they won the game, you would say, ‘okay, we have lost against the better team today.’ Today we were always in the position where we could win the game and we didn’t win it. And that is something that is difficult to swallow. They are tough. I believe there is a matter that exists in football as well – that is bad luck. How can you imagine that suddenly you get a free kick and then a penalty behind that when the free kick is missed? It is difficult. You cannot predict all but for me there is a mixture of fatigue in the second half and lack of cautiousness as well.”
At the moment, I feel more confident when we play away from home… with quite a few good victories on the road, and three losses in four at home… we have Braga on Tuesday and then Villa away, we have a chance to win some pride back…. and God do we need to…
For today, that’s it… over to Kieran tomorrow…