Arsenal won’t win the Premier League title, or any piece of silverware for that matter, playing the way they did at White Hart Lane.
By the end of the game, it was Arsenal’s back line, predominantly Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna, who earned the entire team their three points. But away from the final result, it was a worrying attacking performance ahead of a couple defining games over the coming weeks.
It was a laborious watch. Arsenal were so un-Arsenal that you had to question what went wrong. Why was a team who had shipped seven in their previous two and only scored once allowed to look as threatening as Tottenham did on Sunday afternoon? This isn’t the Arsenal of last season, where their backs were truly against the wall in a fight for fourth place; they’re now a team very much in the mix for two trophies, and it’s the middle of March.
Had it not been for Mertesacker and Koscielny’s heroics, Arsenal would have certainly lost or at the very least drawn against Spurs. The defensive duo’s collective effort in blocking Nacer Chadli’s effort when Wojciech Szczesny was thrown out of position should be commended: another example of how far the two individuals have come and how safe Arsenal’s defence finally is.
In attack, the contrast was alarming. Players like Santi Cazorla failed to retain possession; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had shown such coolness and calm in front of goal in recent times, squandered three excellent chances to further Arsenal’s goal tally; and Olivier Giroud simply looked exhausted and incapable of offering the kind of cutting edge we saw earlier in the day from Liverpool’s attack.
If this criticism appears overly and perhaps undeservedly harsh, it’s because the expectation for Arsenal is now so high. They may have been without Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey, three players who have defined certain periods of this season, but their displays and impact on the club helped to set a marker for where Arsenal believe they should be come May: with at least one trophy in hand. With Arsenal’s attack on the day failing to motivate themselves beyond a few chances early on in a North London Derby, you have to wonder what is in store against better opposition in Chelsea and Manchester City.
In this bizarre Premier League season, Arsenal’s win at Tottenham was the kind of result that will leave the other three teams in the top four with a sense of relief. What Arsenal have done is eliminated the fifth-place team from the race for a Champions League spot, creating clear daylight between them and Manchester City, currently occupying fourth.
It’s also a win that should, in theory, give Arsenal the impetus to go out and get a good result at Chelsea, who will be without two key players following Ramires and Willian’s sending off against Aston Villa.
Arsenal were very good against Bayern Munich last week, showing they can hold their own against a team who are currently considered the best attacking unit in Europe. There is momentum going into the next few league fixtures.
What is absolutely vital, though, is that Arsene Wenger dusts off whatever problems halted Arsenal from playing their own attacking and possession game to good effect against Spurs. With the setting and ultimate prize in mind, two of the next three league opponents won’t be as forgiving.