Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Arsenal 1 Tottenham 1

Premier League's top two in-form sides met at the Emirates for the second north London derby of the season. While the white half of the north London thought this was their best chance in years to finally overcome their local rivals away from home, the fixture could not have come at worst time for the red half. Prior to the game, we had 10 players on our injury list, which was the second longest in the Premier League after Newcastle (11) according to Spuds may have had a day fewer to rest after their last game played (what we call Spursday night football), but it can hardly compare to the exertion of travelling to Munich and playing 90 minutes against one of Europe's best teams.

Arsene Wenger made only one change from the side who started in a 5-1 thrashing by Bayern Munich on Wednesday night. Laurant Koscielny, who sat out the defeat due to a hip problem, was declared fit to play, which meant that Gabriel was dropped to the bench. Both David Ospina and Mikel Arteta came through their first full training after injury on Friday to make the bench. Among substitutes, Alex Iwobi was the only attacking player on the bench, which spoke volumes for our desperate injury situation.

As if Wenger hadn't had enough selection headaches –of a totally different nature to the one he had earlier this season–, there was an early scare about Santi Cazorla's health. The Spanish midfielder took the field, while Mathieu Flamini started warming up from the first whistle. In the post-match interview, Arsene Wenger cited Santi's condition as "dizziness" and "he couldn't move". That was the biggest factor behind our first-half struggle as our two-man midfield was outrun by the visitors' three midfielders. According to Wenger, Santi was at 30% of his potential. If we had had Ramsey in the squad, the Frenchman wouldn't have dreamed about taking a chance on Santi's fitness. In fact, the Spanish magician may have been afforded a rest a couple of games earlier, had our squad not been so stretched. Ramsey's finishing may leave much to be desired, but we sorely missed his work rate. There was no surprise in a wide gap in distances covered by both sides. We only had 9 fit outfield players against their 10 in the first half.

In fact, the hosts started the game better than we anticipated. They had a promising chance early on, but decided not to shoot and wait till other team-mates joined. The Gunners looked dangerous when Özil got on the ball in the final third, but as Wenger said, the German playmaker was often isolated without Santi making a run forward.

Then, the visitors took the lead through Kane's composed finish. It was very disappointing that we made the same mistake twice in four days. This time the culprit was our best defender, Koscielny, who tried to play an off-side trap, or perhaps he was in two minds, with another Tottenham player on the other side as well.

At the start of the second half, Mathieu Flamini replaced Santi. Then, Campbell's powerful shot drew the first meaningful save from Lloris. Giroud hit the crossbar with his header in the 53rd minute. Without pace up front, Arsenal seemed to have resorted to scoring from set-pieces. Özil was the architect of our attack, delivering excellent corners and free-kicks into the Spurs box. At the other end, Cech had to be at his best to stop Alderweireld's header.

In the 73rd minute, Wenger brought in Kieran Gibbs at the expense of Campbell. Normally, the England left-back comes off the bench to shore up the defence to see out a victory, but in this case,Wenger chose him as his "most offensive" player on the bench. And it worked. He stretched Tottenham's defence with his pace and got a very important goal after running into Özil's floating cross. We now had a momentum to get all three points. Giroud volleyed another excellent Özil corner over the bar and forced a save from Lloris, but a winner didn't come.

It was disappointing not to win a north London derby at home, especially when we had a chance to go two points clear at the top of the Premier League after the Manchester City dropped points against the league-bottom Aston Villa earlier on the day. However, given the number of injuries we had, getting over this tough period without losing a game in the league cannot be sniffed at. At least we did not lose any ground to Man City and remained joint top of the league.

We never felt an international break this welcome before. Arsenal are confident of having Bellerin, Ramsey and the Ox back from injury after the break. Santi was already feeling better by the end of the game. Thanks to Joachim Loew's decision to omit him from the Germany squad, Özil will be given a well-deserved breather. Monreal, Mertesacker, and Coquelin will also have a good rest. Unfortunately, Alexis Sanchez was called up for Chile's World Cup qualifiers, expected to play 180 minutes in South America. Let's hope that those who go out with their national teams will come back unscathed. We need to get back to winning ways quickly.

Players ratings

Cech: 7
Made match-saving stops.

Debuchy: 7

His much improved display proved that he is getting up to  speed after a couple of games under his belt. Made 7 tackles and 2 interceptions. According to Wenger, he took the French right-back off with 12 minutes left on the clock because Debuchy was tired (not due to the knock on his knee) after two consecutive starts following a long period with no game time.

Mertesacker: 6

Poor game. His pace is not going to improve, but his positioning should have been better. Made 3 tackles, 1 interception, and 5 clearances. 

Koscielny: 7

He was culpable for the goal, but after the mistake, he kept Kane pretty much quiet. Made 3 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 8 clearances.

Monreal: 7

He shouldn't have left Eric Dier unmarked at far post in Eriksen's free-kick.

Coquelin: 7

Added a bite to our defence. Made 6 tackles and 2 interceptions. 

Cazorla: 5

Withdrawn at half time. This day's poor display may be explained by his illness, but he has not been playing to his full potential for a few games by now, which worries us. Hopefully, he will get rotated when Ramsey comes back. 

Campbell: 7

Decent showing. Unlucky not to score. 

Özil: 8

Man of the Match chosen by Arsenal fans and stats-based Tottenham midfielders, Dier and Alli, won praises for their defensive work, but they could not stop Özil without fouling him. Özil was fouled 5 times in this game, suffering more fouls than any other Premier League player this weekend but he still created 7 chances for his team-mates and set up our equaliser for Gibbs with an astute lofted pass. Set a new Premier League record of the most consecutive assists in the same season (Cesc Fabregas made the same number of successive assists for Arsenal and Chelsea, but the feat was spread over two seasons 3 years apart) by making an assist in the 6th game in a row. If Giroud's finishing had been more clinical, the German playmaker could have claimed a few more assists. He was also the first player in Europe's top flights to make double-digit assists this season. He has started delivering on a regular basis, which is a big positive for our title challenge.

Alexis: 6

He was so out-of-touch in this game. We know what he is capable of when he is on form. Hopefully, we can give him a breather after the international break when we get some players back from injury.

Giroud: 6
Missed 3 gilt-edged chances. Had 5 shots, including one that hit the woodwork and one that flew agonisingly close to goal. 


Flamini: 6
Replaced Cazorla at half time. Was definitely an upgrade on a 30% Santi as we looked better with him in the team. Moved to the right-back position when Debuchy was taken off.

Gibbs: 7
Replaced Campbell in the 73rd minutes and made a huge contribution by scoring an equaliser. 

Arteta: 6

Made a cameo apperance after coming on for Debuchy in the 78th minute. Made 10 passes with an 80% accuracy, no tackle nor interception. Little impact.