This was probably the most important and stressful NLD in many a year for both sets of fans. I have said over the last number of years that the NLD is the best of the lot. Maybe this sentiment is because of my having a greater emotional involvement in it, but I have looked at other derby’s like the Merseyside and Tyneside ones and I really feel that the NLD’s are more frequently infused with the best atmosphere, the best end to end attacking football, and the most goals and drama. For that I say kudos to both clubs and both sets of fans and I feel both sides are a credit to the EPL in these fixtures.
Right that is enough of giving the Spuds praise, now to the game. I thought Spurs started the better team. The reason for this is because they just had to play as they had been training and developing to play all season. They employ the (Guardiola Barca style) high press game with quick intricate passing when in possession and pressing quickly in the opposition third when possession is lost. They just slipped into a style of play that is now becoming second nature to them.
In contrast we have not been playing this way, although I have seen evidence we can, and I still feel we are a team currently without a solid identity of playing style. We seemed to struggle with their play and energy early on in the game, as we often have against the sides playing this way. However, we have quality players and we took the lead against the run of play with a very well executed goal. Ramsey’s finish was sublime but Bellerin’s hard low pass when shaping to shoot, which most players would have, showed a calmness and maturity beyond his years.
This seemed to galvanise our belief and we then came more into the game with the rest of the half ending on an equal footing for me. Entering the second half I was expecting us to weather a storm, but low and behold we soon started to take the game by the scruff of the neck and were the team in the ascendency, and 1-0 up to the bargain. They were the team struggling to free themselves from our high press all of a sudden.
That was until that moment. The danger from where Kane was moving forwards relative to his support and our defensive set up was minimal. The challenge was therefore unnecessary and really poor game management in that situation. I didn’t know whether to be angry with Coquelin for sheer stupidity, or the coaching and management for not instructing their players better. On hindsight I think that the players that are more in the heart of the battle (like the Coquelins, Vieiras and Keanes) will always have some reds in their career, and it needs to be accepted to a degree. This one was silly and unnecessary though and harmful to us, but I believe that Coquelin will learn from this and I still feel he is a very important player for us.
However we paid for it. I am not even sure whether it was the missing of 1 player that resulted in the next number of minutes of play, or whether it was more purely a massive psychological boost in a positive way for them coupled with a nervy negative psychological blow to us. Either way we were all of a sudden 2-1 down with 10 men, seemingly only in a matter of minutes, from having been 1-0 up with 11 men and playing the better football.
I was worried then but it seemed we were made of sterner stuff. The much touted spirit that Arsene often talks about, sometimes to my annoyance, was actually there. We created a few chances and one of them resulted in our equaliser and a much needed goal for Alexis. We weathered a few shaky moments but gave as good as we got in the last 20 minutes and it could have easily gone either way, even with us down to 10 men. Ospina, who had a great game, was required on a few occasions, but then again so was Lloris and their defenders.
So what did we learn?
Elneny, in Santi’s absence, looks a better bet alongside Coquelin than Ramsey. I refer to LB’s comment yesterday :
The thing that impressed me the most today about Elneny was not his incredible engine that enabled him to cover every blade of grass, not his ability to be able to read the game and position himself exactly where he was best needed; no, what most impressed me was the continuous metronomic accuracy of his short range passes; that’s to say, when he played a pass it seemed to always find its man. Nothing fancy, nothing Hollywood just plain simple passing which took the pressure off and enabled us to build.
I agree with slim that he needs to bull up a little bit and then he would be completely running the midfield.
We look better with a more mobile striker up top and, along with Ospina and Elneny, Welbeck was the third stand out performer for me. We need to develop this and these relationships that work more.
The third thing, and likely more controversial, is about the high press. I am largely a believer in it as being the more effective modern style of football. Now we actually spent some of this game doing it and some not. For me this style of play normally sees quick incisive forwards passing between players, and into fellow team-mates, even when the opposition players are in close attendance. The risk is that you may lose possession more easily than passing backwards or sideways, but then if you have “x” amount of players near by anyway, if the slick pass doesn’t quite come off, you can press immediately to win back possession or force them into a mistake.
We did this at the start of the second half and Spurs didn’t like it. What they liked was when we slowed it all down a bit and took less chances with our quick forward passes and started to pass the ball back more and circulate it around. They could then push out again themselves and pressure our defenders. This all says to me that we need to move away from the slower, more possession guaranteed, passing back to defenders and move towards the slightly higher risk quick passing in the opposition third but with a quick press when possession has been lost.
We can do it and possibly could be the best exponents of it in the EPL, if we adopt it. I think this game showed both our weaknesses and our strengths, and it showed us what we have been doing wrong, and what we need to do with the set-up and style of play to really move forwards. We have the capability to win every remaining game this season, and what would that mean? Time to pull the finger out and get the best out of this highly talented squad I say.
Written by GoonerB