Mind games

This has been one hell of a shite week football wise. After the horror show vs Man Utd we were given the opportunity to claw back some ground on the chasing pack and we well and truly ballsed it up on typical Arsenal style. Not only did we manage to throw away a 1-0 lead to a possession based team with 6 changes and no confidence but we managed to do it on a night where Sp*rs and City had both lost alongside Leicester dropping points the night before. If there were any doubters/fence sitters on our title challenge, they had well and truly fallen off the wagon. We’d self destructed and played like complete arseholes and looked resigned to defeat even as the equaliser went in. It sucked the life out of the team and Fabianski didn’t really have a save of note to make. The post/bar had their Swansea shirts on and luck wasn’t really on our side. Nevertheless it was once again reflective of our currently mismatched starting XI. I have been crying out for Ramsey to return to the right hand side for a few weeks now as he is costing us in the centre and was a little worried that what so many fans can see, Arsene Wenger seems to take a little longer to discover or at least act upon. Now he has a lot more information than you and I, however the regulatory with which this seems to occur is a litre disconcerting. So it was pretty much ‘as you were’ heading into the NLD.

The day arrived and trepidation is the only way I can say I felt. A nervous sleep the night before for 2 reasons. Partly because of the game and partly because of a 6 week old wanting to feed relentlessly during the early hours. Maybe she was feeling the nerves too. The day began with my usual chores to busy my mind before such a big game. Vacuuming the house, sterilising my little ones bottles among other things. It got to kick off time and I had to say I was more nervous than I ever have been for a North London Derby. Largely because the onus was on us to deliver after 2 awful performances. The pressure was off Sp*rs as they had the 3 point cushion as well as a superior goal difference. For them, for the first time in a long time they had been focussing on their season independent to the success of Arsenal. It’s a big part of the reason they are where they are in the league this year. In Pochettino they have a manager who doesn’t, publicly at least, care about where they finish in relation to Arsenal. It seems to have galvanised their squad.

The game itself had started with Sp*rs firmly on the front foot. Lots of possession and intensity but not much of note in the final third to show for it. A few routine saves ensued for Ospina apart from one world class save from the shin of Lamela the dirty swine (more on this tosser later). We had a few moments ourselves, and one of them finally came off. A great move down the left and some great running from Danny Welbeck created an opportunity. Bellerin did well to control his pass to allow Ramsey the chance to flick home. 1-0 and the game was well and truly on. We had 2/3 excellent chances to go 2-0 up but didn’t take them. Welbeck put through on his left foot had a wayward first touch allowing the defender to get back in time else it was a 1 v 1 situation. He also had a headed chance, one where a glance wasn’t going to be enough but he could have possible chested down to volley in. All hypotheticals but to be 2-0 up would have been a dream scenario at HT. There were a couple of bookings for us in the first half. Coquelin’s one came from him dallying on the ball too much and it led to him being fouled to which he stupidly tried to grab the ball with his hands. The referee didn’t give the foul and then went on to book Coquelin for his stupidity. The half time whistle went and this was a game where we were in full control. One chance aside we kept them at bay with relative ease. One thing that I noticed throughout the game was the number of pot shots that Sp*rs actually had. There were a fair few 30 yard attempts that went 10 yards over, wide or rolled harmlessly into the arms of Ospina. It’s indicative of the fact that the stats in their games are heavily weighted in their ‘favour’ making it appear as they are in complete control. Granted you have to have the ball to shoot in the first place but regular 30 yard pot shots is usually reflective of running out of ideas in the final third.

The second half continued in the same vein until another moment of stupidity from Coquelin. A nothing situation where Kane bought the foul but it was a foul nonetheless. Coquelin slid in when there was absolutely no need to and he knew what it meant. He saw a second yellow and we could have no complaints other than to the man himself for letting the team down in a massive moment, in a massive game, in what could be a watershed season. Who knows what might have been had he stayed on but one things for sure, it acted as the catalyst for what most thought would be our collapse. They went on to have a shot saved off the line by the brilliant Ospina but then scored 2 in quick succession. The first from a set piece, how this happens with 10 men I have no idea. I understand a goal where we are stretched with 11v10 but not a set piece. It’s just not good enough. What then followed was yet another error by the BFG. He really should have smashed the ball away but instead allowed Alli to flick the ball back for Kane who in fairness scored an absolute wonder goal. A brilliant curling finish to put an end to our title challenge. Or so it seemed.

Now onto Lamela. Pochettino has clearly tasked him with being one of their team to break play up. The clown ran around and committed foul after foul and it’s not a new thing. He was the premier leagues highest fouler at the end of January with 44 fouls. The rest of the list he’s on comprises of DMs and defenders, no attacking players at all. It’s something that he’s been asked to do for a couple of reasons. One being that attacking players are less likely to pick up cautions for reckless tackling than the likes of DMs another being his size. He’s not the most filled out of footballers, which leads referees into a false sense of “I don’t need to book him for that”. There was a moment where he has a slight push on Alexis Sanchez who reacts by pushing him back. Tit for tat, although Lamela’s reaction sees a yellow for our man but nothing for the antagonist. Not least it being less than a yard away from the linesman. It would have been a second yellow. But God forbid the notion of ‘evening things up’. Following that sheer idiocy he was substituted to ensure things weren’t evened up. After going down 2-1 we came alive into the game a little more. The key was when Giroud came on. Within minutes we were level after a great through ball from Bellerin and a good finish from Alexis Sanchez. The keeper however will be disappointed with his effort to keep it out. Not that we were complaining! Hopefully the end of a rut for Alexis as well. Thereafter another big moment came. Giroud was hauled down by a shirt tug, followed by being scythed down in one motion. Right in front of the referee. Dier had already been booked and with 10 minutes to play in a 10v10 situation I would have fancied out chances. Michael Oliver bottled it and once again the refereeing continues to hate Arsenal. People will talk about Bellerin being let off one 5 minutes later but I would argue that Bellerin tugged a shirt, not tugged a shirt and went through a player so not the same thing as Dier in my book. Even from then on in we created the better opportunities. An Alexis free kick another Welbeck half chance but we almost gifted it to them through a sliced clearance from Gabriel. The final chance came to Ramsey with Alexis playing him in. He had to shoot earlier and could well have seen us home. The extra touch he took allowed Wimmer I think to come back in and make a good challenge to block the shot. The game ended there and the points were shared.

There are 2 conclusions from this. Firstly can you imagine if Arsenal were 2-1 up with a man advantage and then the game finished 2-2? The media would have had a field day. ‘Bottlers’, ‘typical Arsenal’, ‘Soft underbelly’ would have been the headline statements heard across the land. As it turned out it was Sp*rs who ‘bottled’ it but with nowhere near the fanfare. The media have become so accustomed to lambast Arsenal that laziness has taken over instead of reason. Curious to say the least. The second learning from all of this is in itself twofold. Firstly a massive psychological boost for us and secondly a big psychological negative for them. It will play on their minds but the games will now come thick and fast. They play Dortmund in 4 days and then Villa away. Now Villa away is a nailed on 3 points on current form but a NLD, followed by a classy Dortmund makes the then away trip to Villa a slightly tricker one. This next 2 weeks is a small taster for what it’s like to be in the Champions League for Sp*rs next season and it will be interesting to see how it pans out. Hopefully with the dropping of multiple points on Sp*rs’ part. You could tell in the post match press conferences that Pochettino was feeling the pressure a little. He seemed on edge, not that he was being put under any by the media but he just looked a little worried. To say he thought Sp*rs were better over 90 minutes and deserved the win was clutching at straws and you could see it in his face. The mind games have begun and it’s through the games themselves rather than one manager antagonising another.

A win would have been magnificent for us, especially seeing that Leicester extended their lead at the top but at least we showed some fight and hunger to get back in it. Remember that Man City were 8 points adrift with 6 games to play in 2012 yet managed to go on and win it. There are 9 games to go and plenty of points to play for. We’re still in this. We just need to believe.

Have a great week people.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

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