The Last 15 Minutes vs Tottenham Explained

What we need

Resilience is a wall built brick by brick, it’s not a single unit that can be erected overnight.

The last 15 minutes against the Spuds on Sunday were difficult to watch even though we had completely dominated the game up to that point.

RC’s excellent Post yesterday about resilience raised some interesting questions about the physical and mental strength of some of our players.

But I want to consider our mental resilience as a group.

First, if you can bear it, let’s remember those nerve-wracking final minutes:

79: Spuds get a corner following a mistake by Partey.

81. Partey kicks the ball straight out for a corner, while not under pressure.

82. Partey gives it away again.

82. Xhaka dives in and gets booked, giving Spuds a free kick outside the penalty area.

83. Kane heads it into the net. Offside.

84. Tierney boots the ball long, straight to the opposition.

86. Luiz concedes a corner.

86. Moura gets a cross in, Luiz clears for a corner.

87. Corner comes in. Leno, unchallenged, inexplicably chooses to punch rather than catch.

88. Xhaka commits another foul – Spuds have a free kick in the middle of the park.

89. Partey fouls Kane, giving Spuds another free kick just outside our box.

90. Kane hits the post, it bounces back to Sanchez who fires it goalwards. Gabriel brilliantly stops it with his head.

92. We give the ball away again.

94. Gabriel commits a foul in a dangerous spot right outside our penalty area.

94. Kane takes it: over the bar.

95. Final whistle. You can come out from behind the sofa.

What that litany of panic, bad decision-making and nervousness shows us is how frail our collective mental strength is: even in a game where we were clearly superior (so much so that the likes of Lamela and Kane were reduced to off-the-ball vindictiveness since we would not let them play) we came close to psychological collapse at the end.

The reasons can be found in all the carelessly dropped points throughout this season: Xhaka playing a brilliant snooker shot (into the pocket off the attacker’s chest) against Burnley; Ceballos being dispossessed by an opponent against Olimpiacos, leading to a goal; Leno’s questionable choices when passing out from the back; Leno rushing out of the goal to handle the ball and collect a red card; any number of Luiz penalty give-aways; any number of unnecessary fouls by Xhaka; air shots by the likes of Pepe and Lacazette.

We have been burnt so often by our own mistakes that our skin is still raw and unhealed, making us vulnerable to picking up another scar.

I don’t want to go into the individual reasons for that catalogue of cock-ups (we have done plenty of that in recent weeks). But if you think about the overall effect – the sense it must give our boys that no matter how well they’re playing they have the capacity to self destruct – you can see how those final minutes against the noisy neighbours played out the way they did.

So how do we counteract that sense of fear?

There’s only one way: it has to be done bit by bit, piece by piece. The wall of psychological security we need to build around ourselves only gets done one brick at a time. And here’s the good news: games like the one at the weekend, where we buckle but don’t break, represent a brick.

Every time we overcome our nerves and see out a tight game without blowing up, another brick is added. And the more bricks there are in the wall, the greater the chances that we won’t succumb.

If I can mix my metaphors, each new brick, each piece of evidence that we can prevail in adversity, is part of a virtual circle making the arrival of the next brick that bit more likely.

Between now and the end of the season we have the potential to build a decent wall. Not the Great Wall of China, perhaps, but a nice red brick garden wall capable of withstanding the most blustery of gales.

If we get that sort of security in place, next season could finally be the time when we really kick on and get back to where The Arsenal belongs: vying for the big prizes at the top of the table.



43 Responses to The Last 15 Minutes vs Tottenham Explained

  1. LBG says:

    The voice of reason!
    Get everyone fit, change shape and personnel sometimes to soothe the nerves ( why is Xhaka never substituted for instance?), find leader(s) who, in the heat of battle, say “no problem lads, I’ve got this!”.
    Most of the bricks are there, perhaps a keystone is missing, and the mortar need a little more cement all round.
    Thanks Rocky, you are our cement.

  2. GoonerB says:

    Thanks Rocky

    Just to let LBG know I replied to his comment earlier but got beaten by the new post if he wants to check back on it.

    To this question Rocky, and you are not wrong that it is a process that needs to be learned, but then we had quite a few experienced players out there that shouldn’t be in a learning process so maybe that contradicts this slightly.

    I think there is something to be learned from the best sides because they rarely enter those last parts of the game sitting deep in an Alamo type defensive structure. They normally keep the opposition in their half chasing shadows to get the ball back, and also offer an effective counter attack should the opposition overcommit to their attack.

    We did neither. One reason is we don’t leave ourselves an outball to set off the counterattack so end up just clearing it to an opposition player to come straight back at us.

    The other reason is that you need players in CM who will help out the defensive cause but have the ability to carry the ball forwards from deep areas when we get possession back.

    Players like ESR, Odegaard, Saka and Martinelli can all do that while players like Xhaka, Elneny and Ceballos don’t have the pace and ball carrying ability to bring us out.

    Xhaka for example, despite his qualities and recent improvements, always needs a passing option as he can’t drive forwards from deep with the ball. This is why, when he has no decent passing option, he more often turns his back to shield it and waits for the contact before falling over, because he can’t move away from the player with the ball.

    In many ways the more attacking line up I suggested in my comment on the last post could make us better in these situations. As long as the attacking 4 help out defensively where needed we should always be able to keep 1-2 players in positions to be an outball and we have better ball carriers as well to turn and drive us out.

    I think it is a myth that just putting on more defensive players makes you protect a 1 goal lead better, and actually just has the effect if inviting the opposition to push onto you with a high defensive line.

    If you can show them that you can hit them on the break and are likely to score again then they will be more reserved in pressing onto you rather than just accepting the invite, even with 10 men. Also more quality midfield players who can play keep ball means we are more likely to work them back into their own half and keep possession there.

  3. GoonerB says:

    Sorry, even with 10 men should have been especially against 10 men

  4. AaronD says:

    Good note! After watching the game again,
    1. I am puzzled by the Willian sub. He had the chance a time or two to go to the corner to kill time and hold up play. Instead, he turned ball over by going inside. He should have recognized that the team needed to settle down. Equally important, other than those two turnovers, he jogged about never closing down nor offering a passing option.
    2. Partey seems to lack fitness. As the clock moves into second half, he tends to make more mistakes. Everyone becomes more prone to making mistakes when tired. I can’t remember a player who looks so good for 60-75 minutes suddenly looking inept. Surely, his fitness (meaning mental fortitude) can be improved.
    3. I had no issue with losing a long clearance. Actually, I was very happy to see us clear long rather than try to play out when pressured. “Safety first” has been missing from our game.

  5. Maxwell says:

    As always, Rocky, a cogent and optimistic angle to mull over. Thank you. I would just like to add one unmentioned aspect. The team were playing in Athens until late on Thursday night, probably couldn’t train properly on Friday; while Sp*rs were at home with an early kick off. So not only did Arsenal have just Saturday to prepare, they had very little recovery time. I think it is hardly surprising that they fell off a cliff both mentally and physically for the last quarter of an hour. One more thing – the Oliver character allowed Sp*rs unchecked to physically intimidate and foul us, and while the team did not bow, that too takes its toll over ninety minutes. I think they did really well in the circumstances.

  6. LBG says:

    I suggested it a week + ago!

  7. LBG says:

    See “New Hope, Old Failings”
    Seems longer ago, but we have won the NLD since.

  8. RC78 says:

    Great post Rocky! Thanks.

    I think Arteta is aware that we need to improve our game management. It was ridiculous to be so much under pressure playing 11 against 10 with 10 minutes remaining.

    The annoying thing is that Leno, Luiz, Xhaka do not seem to be improving on this very element. Luiz and Xhaka are not young players anymore…I also expect more from Partey. Similarly, when you are coming on as a forward player, you need to take the ball forward and go to the corner post or the touch line and try to draw fouls, get corners and throw-ins IF you cannot go for goal or creating a clear chance. Do not go for the elusive cross…Willian should have known better…

    I also agree that sometimes putting a forward player forces the opposition to be more careful. I would not have mind seeing Martinelli or Auba in instead of Willian for example. It would have put Doherty under more pressure…

    When leading a game, you need to be able to see the game through and that means retaining as much possession as possible or building the Great Wall of China. Opponents need to feel that there is no way they can score against us and that if given the chance, we will add a goal. Chelsea is doing this very well these days.

    The good news is that much of our squa is still quite young:

    Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney, Saka, Odegaard, ESR, Pepe and Martinelli are 26 y.o and under

    so there is still room for some of them to learn and grow although we have less patience for the likes of Bellerin and Pepe as they are closing on being 26 and should know better by now 😛

  9. RockyLives says:

    Thanks for some excellent comments.

    GoonerB/LBG – I agree that being more forward-minded is the better way to defend a one goal lead in the dying minutes. Throwing on defenders just invites the opposition to camp out mid way in our half and pump long balls into the box.

    Aaron – 1) You’re right. Willian lost the ball twice in those dying minutes and, as you say, he dod not work hard. My heart still sinks whenever he takes to the field. 2) I think fitness is the issue with Partey (plus tiredness as per Maxwell’s comment). 3) I think it depends. When we are in Alamo defending mode then it only relieves the pressure for a few seconds, whereas controlling the ball can kill 20 or 30 seconds. I have no problem with the GK going long when under pressure, however.

    Maxwell – that’s a very good point that I probably should have mentioned. As you say, it makes our dominance of the game (apart from the tense ending) all the more impressive.

  10. LBG says:

    Read your last from yesterday now and can only say “great minds think alike”, therefore!
    Still think Haarland ,as with Mbappe, is/are pie in the sky.

  11. RA says:

    An excellent follow up Post, Rock Man, thank you. 😁

    I think you summed up the ‘bricks and cement’ analogy very well (probably pinching my idiom from 12 years ago — that should keep the peace between LBG and GB — altho I am, of course, lying thru my teeth 😉 ) and I think your virtuous virtual circle explanation binds the bricks and cement together nicely. 😛

  12. RockyLives says:

    I think we have the potential to build something baroque and beautiful, compared with, say, Mourinho’s Brutalist approach to footballing architecture.

  13. RockyLives says:

    Maybe we should sign Mason Mount, if we can master the special handshake.

  14. LBG says:

    The only reason you could give for fresh “defensive” legs like Elneny for instance, is if you change the shape at the same time.
    451 on Sunday, with Elney told to work between and along side Partey on right and Xhaka on left, but to close the man on the ball quickly always. Pepe and in that case BOdegaard to hold wide positions in 5.( Saka or Emile would be a better fit, if on the pitch).
    That said, attack in prefence to defence always for me.

  15. LBG says:

    Always loved GoonerB!

  16. RA says:

    I am not sure how Google has managed to invade my cell phone with snippets of info relating to the Arsenal Arsenal website, but it does give me cause to get pretty cross – not with them – but with Arsenal themselves, or with Mikel and his reasoning concerning the players and what is or is not acceptable to him.

    For example, Auba was a naughty boy and, not for the first time, has been late – so Mikel dropped him for the team, and did not use him from the bench when we were struggling to hold our lead near the end.

    But — I mam unhappy with what is being rumoured, that Martinelli is fit, playing well in training but is simply being ignored during games and not even being used from the bench.

    So what? some might say – not me -never – but has Martinelli said that’s OK – no he bloody well hasn’t. He seems to have said he is disappointed and wants to look elsewhere, with plenty of clubs interested.

    That reminds me of how Balogun has been treated.
    He has played well in limited minutes during EL games, despite scoring. He too has been told by Mikel he has to be patient, despite Willian and Pepe getting games ahead of him.

    Again, he is understandably miffed, and seems to be clear that he wants to leave this summer with no contract offered or agreed.

    The rumours are widespread (according to my sources) that there is to be a major clean out of the youth team, with a number of really good kids being lined up, and likely to get the chop – I am not going to list the players by name, as you will probably know who I mean, but it makes me mad at the flawed logic of what is being considered.

    Against all expectation, it turns out that there are voices in the club unhappy with Xhaka and Bellerin being retained, with there being strong questioning of the reasoning behind why a good prospect in Dozy being offloaded to a French club on loan/permanently.

    Many are saying he is still very young, and any misbehaviour among young men is inevitable because ….. they are young.
    Dozy can be a bit fiery, but apparently the penny has dropped with some, that a young, mobile, fiery Dozy could be the perfect partnership to go alongside Partey in midfield.

    I don’t know precisely who is saying what to whom, but it seems that Edu is unhappy that we could be on the verge of letting go some top youngsters for free, or for pennies (is there a difference) and risking buying expensive players who may not be worth the money — but doing crazy things seems fairly standard for Arsenal, like sacking all the club scouts, and using the unreliable Stats software now owned by Kroenke.


  17. RA says:


    I love GB too — but I love Cedric the camel more! 😎

  18. LBG says:

    Sent a post in re Mount on arsenalnuts email, if ever of use.

  19. RA says:


    — (fresh “defensive” legs like Elneny for instance, if you change the shape at the same time). Ouch.

    What would Ant and Duck say?? 😜

  20. LB says:

    The thing I love about Gabriel’s clearance is that he had the where with all, in that spit second, to head the ball wide, away from the eagerly waiting spuds rather than head it forward into the melee of players as most people would.

    Of all the topsy turvy shenanigans of the last 15 minutes, that is the image that stays in my head.

    Gabriel is the most solid brick in the defensive wall that we have had for ages.

  21. RC78 says:

    I have not really seen him play but what do you make of James Ward-Prowse from Southampton. Would he be a good fit next to Partey or would Soucek be tter or would we be better off with an “Ndidi/Kante” next to Partey?

  22. RockyLives says:

    Thanks LBG

    I can’t access arsenalnuts as I’m not one of the admins on this site.

    However, if you can post it here as a comment I will quickly swipe it away before anyone gets a naughty peep and put it into drafts – we can run it tomorrow.

  23. Pete the Thirst says:

    @Rocky who are the admins of the site?

    I think Peaches is one, but haven’t heard a pip from her for well over 6 months..

    btw keep up the good work. Nice articles!

  24. LBG says:

    Can only do that move with an email address. Sorry.

  25. Rasp says:

    Sorry for my absence of late everyone. Rocky, I will email you the password to access Arsenalnuts later today if that’s ok.

  26. Rasp says:

    As others have said, a big thank you to Rocky for the number and consistent quality of his posts … and RC78 also.

  27. RockyLives says:

    OK – thanks Rasp

  28. RockyLives says:

    Please send to RC as well.

  29. Rasp says:

    Will do ….

  30. GoonerB says:

    I’m enjoying the big love in, and can I say that I love both LBG and RA too……although purely in a heterosexual, thigh slapping, beer swigging way.

    I am still awaiting the pleasure of a beer with RA, but have had the pleasure of a beer on more than one occasion with Mr LBG and his bros. All jolly nice chaps but LBG is the only one of the 3 bros that hasn’t told me I’m talking complete bolleaux (at least on a regular basis……actually make that every time we met) 😄

    We do very much align in our thoughts LBG so I think that with our special ESP link it means we came up with the 4-1-4-1 idea together. However, in the high stakes poker game of when it was first written down, I will have to see your “New Hope Old failings” and raise you a “Big four days for Arsenal” 😎 (the glasses are so you cant see if I’m bluffing).

  31. RockyLives says:


    It will be very nice to meet you and the rest of the gang when they let us great unwashed back into the ground.

  32. RC78 says:

    Can’t wait to actually go back to the Emirates too…Went there once and met with the core crew and it was an amazing evening because we also won that night! Great memory and can’t wait to make more memories at the Emirates with you all

  33. fred1266 says:

    I too can’t wait to be back especially last 3 games I went to we lost all

  34. RockyLives says:

    Blimey Fred, you’d better bring some lucky charms next time.

  35. fred1266 says:

    GoonerB if you didn’t know LBG is taken talk done

  36. fred1266 says:

    Lol @rocky
    Seems no luck on my end loses in the last 3 games I watched live were loSes , last prem game I saw live and qe one was huddersfield grrr

  37. RockyLives says:

    We’ll get you a win on your next visit Fred – that’s a promise 😀

  38. fred1266 says:

    Lol yea, think a picking a easier side next not time

  39. GoonerB says:

    Rocky, how did you know I normally turn up unwashed in the background?

    Looking forward to meeting RC and Fred also, although in Fred’s case the minute we leave the pub I will have to arrange his immediate but temporary kidnapping with those kind of stats.

  40. LBG says:

    “GoonerB if you didnt know LBG is taken talk done”
    If I had any idea what you are saying I might be offended!

  41. fred1266 says:

    NOPE not meeting u guys at the pub anymore, LBG makes me miss to much of the first half lol

  42. RockyLives says:

    New Post

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