Tag Archives: North London Derby

Eight points clear and still plumbing the depths of what's possible…

For the first time in almost a decade, the visiting side won the North London derby, and this 0-2 scoreline flattered our hosts, whom we outclassed from start to finish. In the first half especially, it felt as if Arsenal had an extra player on the pitch, so thoroughly did we overwhelm Conte’s side. For someone with a reputation as a master tactician, it was genuinely baffling to see just how far off the pace his players. Even when they had time on the ball (which was rare), their passes were poor, too soft, too heavy, off-target, and more. While it’s true that they did sting Ramsdale’s gloves on a few occasions, there really was never any serious doubt as to the outcome. Even from the first kick of the ball, it seemed like everyone knew what the result would be and played their roles accordingly. 

Having gone ahead 0-2 through Saka’s goal Lloris’s own goal and then Ødegaard’s, it started to feel like we would well and truly run away from Tottenham. Partey’s howitzer just about dislodged the goalpost, and Nketiah very nearly beat Lloris on three occasions. Although Partey was booed every time he touched the ball and misplaced numerous passes, he dominated the midfield and allowed Xhaka, Ødegaard, Martinelli, and Saka to run roughshod. Saka in particular was untouchable, rendering Sessegnon to a trembling, shuddering mess. Ødegaard was simply unplayable. Against Spurs’ only real attacking idea—lump it upfield and hope Kane wins it—Gabi and Saliba were just too much. One starts to run out of superlatives. 

Man City’s loss gave us a chance to widen the gap, and this young, callow squad answered the call in what should have been a cauldron. Instead, we rendered the hostile crowd almost silent in the first 20 minutes, such was our dominance. Man U, surely smelling themselves after winning their own derby, will have to be having second thoughts about coming to the Emirates next weekend. Even if we fail to match the vivid, fluid, swash-buckling play of this day, we will be eager to atone for losing at Old Trafford and will surely offer our visitors more than they can handle or want. 

It’s starting to feel real. It’s starting to feel like we have a chance to finish atop the Prem. When we came back from the international break. there were fears that the layoff and hangover would blunt our momentum. Sure enough, we went behind to West Ham, and the naysaysers nodded smugly. Instead, we roared back, and the only other sign of any kind of wobble was against Newcastle, when we did have two legitimate penalty shouts ignored.

There is a tangible sense of confidence and belief emanating from this squad, a deepening sense that this is real, not a fluke, not a byproduct of the flounderings of Liverpool or Chelsea or Man U, or even of Man City. Yes, we have yet to face the holders, but each passing week seems to poke another hole in their aura of invincibility and add another layer of proof to our emerging sense of legitimacy. In fact, aside from ascendant Newcastle, there has to be a growing feeling that we are the only club moving in the right direction—and we’re still making our way through the gears, still exploring just how much horsepower is under the hood. 

Buckle up. We’re just getting started…

An Open Letter to Craig Pawson Ahead of the North London Derby…

The images one finds…

Hello, Craig (tosser). I suppose we both know why we’re here. Well, I’m here because this is my blog. If you’re here, I’m genuinely surprised. You really should make better life choices (that’s an issue we’ll be returning to in a moment, trust me. Let me be blunt: none of us likes you very much. In fact, I’m being polite. Sugar-coating it, if you will. The truth is somewhat more-hostile. The good news is that the situation is not irreparable, and the resolution lies almost entirely in your hands. It’s actually quite simple. Let’s walk through it together…

All I ask—all anyone asks, really—is that you avoid the kind of howlingly bad choices you’ve made in previous matches. That disallowed goal against Palace when you decided that Chambers had committed a foul when it was more likely he had been fouled. The red card on David Luiz and pen to Wolves when Ruben Neves collapsed and rolled a half-dozen times because Luiz had the temerity to be near him. I’ll grant the red to Leno in that same match, while we’re here. That was the right call. Failing to show red to Sadio Mané when he gave Kieran Tierney a mouthful of elbow? Of course, Mané would stay on the pitch and go on to score. There was the match in which Jorginho should have had a second yellow but didn’t…and scored an equaliser. These are just the few that come to mind. It’s like a Rorshach test for me and for many, many Gooners. Say “Craig Pawson” and these moments come to mind. Say “Andre Marriner” and we picture Oxlade-Chamberlain punched a ball off the line and Kieran Gibbs getting sent off. “Michael Oliver?” That glare at di Maria before sending him off. And so on.

I know that every fanbase moans and whines about bias and incompetence and corruption. I’m trying not to disappear down that rabbithole, but you do seem to keep on digging. You will have to forgive me, though. I think I speak for all of us when I suggest that our nerves are a little raw and jangled. As I’m sure you know, the FA has charged us twice within a week for failing to “ensure [our] players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion” because they had the nerve to protest likely penalties against Oxford and Newcastle. Our players didn’t invent protests, Craig. We’re not even that good at it. Four or five players talking to the referee? That’s a tea party. Every outfield player surrounding the ref? That’s Man U. Still, I can understand them protesting. They’re so accustomed to the ref being their the 12th man that they’re genuinely flabbergasted when they have to actually ask for preferential treatment. 

Keep in mind, Craig, I’m not asking for preferential treatment. Not at all. I’m only asking for a fair, even-handed application of the rules. For example, if one of our players goes up for a header, and Kane undercuts him, blow the whistle for the foul. If he does it again, maybe book him. Last but not least—and I hope you’ve got the smelling salts ready—if he does it again, send him off. That’s right. Send Kane, captain of the English national team and some other club that wears white, off the pitch.

Last but not least, don’t let Antonio “I will fight any manager who won’t shake my hand at fulltime” Conte get in your head. Perhaps seizing on the FA’s overzealous warnings and fines, the Italian has said, “I think to intimidate…is not fair. I don’t like this. I hate the people that try to do it.” I’m sure he’s speaking of his own players as well as ours. Hold him to his own words.

In the end, I want what we all want: a good, clean match in which the best club wins (that’s us, in case you hadn’t already figured). Oh, one last word. Kane and Son are among the divier players you’ll see outside of an Olympic diving competition. Let that marinate. Right. See you Sunday (but you won’t see me unless, again, you’re making poor life choices).

Hey, loyal readers, a request: please let me know if you see a popunder or any other ad that obstructs your view of the article. I switched to a new ad service but don’t want any ads that get in your way. Let me know in the comments or by emailing jfshay@gmail.com. Thanks!

Rivals' Roundup #36: Zeno's Paradox and the Pursuit of Fourth Place

You know this blog is good because it makes a pop-culture reference and
an allusion to Greek antiquity in one fell swoop.

Hm. Maybe I’ve hit on a new title for the Harry Potter series. I’ll put a pin in that and come back to it later. Pretty good weekend, all things considered, as we inch ever closer to clinching fourth place. We’re not quite there yet, no thanks to sodding Liverpool’s wastefulness. Still, the list of contenders has shrunk to three…but I’m going to include four because, well, I’m a petty, petty man, and I will never pass up a chance to lord it over the likes of Man U. Having established myself as both a man of letters and a spiteful troll to boot, let’s get to it.

3. Chelsea (35 played, 19W 10D 6L: 67 pts.). 
Oh, Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea. Could it be that you are toying with us, much as Zeno’s tortoise does to Achilles? This is three weeks on the trot that you’ve dropped points, and, um, I feel almost rude pointing this out, but none of those opponents have quite been on Real Madrid’s level. It feels more-rude to point out that Wolves had lost seven of their previous 11 matches before their last-minute smash-and-grab, scoring that equaliser in that minute of stoppage time added to the preceding six minutes of stoppage time. On the plus side (maybe?), Lukaku somehow managed to score not once but twice, suggesting he may be ready to take over goal-scoring duties from the departing Antonio Rudiger. So there’s that. On the other hand, though, I thought losing to Everton was a low point, but that was at least an away match. You were at home against Wolves. You may or may want to check the rearview. We’re only a point behind with three left to play…

4. Arsenal (35 played, 21W 3D 11L: 66 pts.). 
If we’re Achilles to Chelsea’s tortoise, then perhaps we’re the tortoise to Tottenham’s Achilles. Thursday is shaping up to be the most-momentous North London Derby in quite some time. If we win, fourth is ours. If we draw, we control our destines but have two fixtures that are somewhat trickier than Tottenham’s. The early signs against Leeds were bright, with Nketiah scoring twice inside of ten minutes and Ayling getting sent off inside a half an hour (both ruining and proving my pre-match prediction in equal turns). In truth, though, we ended up toying with our visitors rather than killing off the match, and they found a goal to make things quite a bit nervier than they should have been. Maybe we’re playing possum, letting Tottenham think we’re a bit gassed while they get overconfident from their result at Anfield? Stranger things have happened. At a risk of showing my hand, I’d suggest that the pressure on Thursday will all be on Tottenham. No one expected us to be in a fight for fourth, and the hiring of Conte was supposedly going to elevate this bothersome bunch into the stratosphere. And we know how that lot deal with pressure.

5. Tottenham (35 played, 19W 5D 11L: 62 pts.). 
Remember just a few weeks ago when Tottenham were fourth and were writing our obituary? Turns out that the universe has a wicked sense of humour (I’m done milking the Zeno’s paradox angle, just so you know). Or maybe it’s Brighton with the wicked sense of humour. More on that in a moment. While it must be said that Tottenham should derive a bit of confidence from not getting battered by Liverpool, the point they took doesn’t dramatically change the arithmetic. They know that they have to win on Thursday, win their other two matches, and hope that we drop points from one of our own two remaining matches. That’s a lot of pin hopes to. As alluded to above, there are few clubs whose name becomes an adjective that means “to consistently and inevitably fail to live up to expectations”. Still, it would be a mistake to write them off so easily. On the other hand, the pressure over there must be massive. Fail to secure Champions League football, and they may have to say goodbye to Kane and Conte and face a massive rebuild. Our list of motivational quotes grows long…

6. Man U (37 played, 16W 10D 11L: 58 pts.). 
Ooh, now we’re into the dregs. Here’s Ralf Rangnick’s entry. Brighton absolutely thrashed Man U six ways from Sunday. Not one but two Brighton players scored their first-ever Prem goals, and it was clear that Man U’s players were clearly on the beach already, and I’m not referring to the location of Brighton’s stadium (it’s on the south coast, and I’m pretty sure you can see the beach, so that’s why the preceding line was hilarious. You may have to trust me on this. I’ve never been.). Man U are now guaranteed of their lowest points total in Prem history and face the prospect of their worst top-flight finish since 1989-90, when they finished 13th on 48 points. The best they can do is 61 points and 6th; it’s still possible that West Ham, with two games in hand, could finish above them, thereby bouncing them into the Europa Conference League. Should that happen, expect Ten Hag to experience work-permit or visa issues or at least a sudden desire to spend more time with his family, much as Fred Rutten did in declining a role with the club. They’ll have to offer massive wages to convince players to join but will still likely miss out on the players Ten Hag would most prefer. Rangnick has called for an “open heart operation”. Unconfirmed rumours have it that he held his head in his hands and cried, “it’s the beating of that hideous heart.”

So. There you have it. Unbiased, objective analysis, stolid and true. If you disagree or demur, please have a go at me in the comments section below. If you approve, by all means, follow, re-share, upvote, and all of that malarkey. ‘Til next time, then.

Arsenal 3-1 Tottenham: A Semblance of Order Restored.

There. Just like that, all questions regarding Mikel Arteta, all of those tranfers, and the season itself have well and truly been settle. What other conclusion is there to draw other than to say that we have our old Arsenal back? Three goals in just over 30 minutes in a pulsing North London Derby sure do go a long way towards re-establishing our dominance of the color of North London and also towards establishing our bona fides as title contenders. 

Erm. Well, let’s maybe press the pause button here. For as thrilling and as convincing as this victory was, a bit of a reality check is in order. To put it mildly, this result revealed our own potential of while also exposing our opponent’s frailties. Suffice it to say that we owe Nuno Espírito Santo a bit of a thank you for some of his decisions. Then again, this result does seem to be a bit of a bellwether signaling the resurrection of one club and the potential downfall of another.

It wasn’t so long ago that Tottenham looked to be the new-look, flashy club. They had the visionary manager in Pochettino. They had the talismanic striker in Kane. They had a squad bursting with verve and engery, playing an attractive, attacking brand of football that got them to a Champions League final. Fast-forward a few years, however, and that same squad is looking, well, decrepit and more than a bit jaded. Harry Kane, whose summer transfer demands went unmet, is a shadow of his former self. Gone are stalwarts like Vertonghen and Alderweireld. On this day as on so many others, it was only Son Heung-min who looked like he was up for the match. However, Nuno’s decision to field Højbjerg virtually alone in front of the defense was just one factor that allowed us to ran rampant and hit with such devsatating effect on the counter. A front three of Moura, Kane, and Son just isn’t going to offer much in terms of tracking back, and Alli and Ndombele just didn’t seem interested in or able to defend either.

Having said all that, our opponents’ shortcomings only matter as much as we’re able to exploit them, and, well, did we ever exploit them. Each of those three goals, not to mention numerous other scoring opportunities, came through lightning-quick, decisive, and devastating counter-attacks that unfolded in a matter of seconds via a bare minimum of touches. I do recall one backheel sequence being activated. It’s been a while since we’ve seen some incisive, determined, attack-minded play, and we certainly reaped those rewards. There’s a template there that we would do well to build on.  

Speaking of building on templates, we should certainly pay our respects to the fact that the heart of each of these three goals (plus numerous other scoring opportunities) came through three very young but very precocious players— Bukayo Saka (a goal and an assist), Emile Smith-Rowe (a goal and an assist), and Martin Ødegaard (okay, so no goals or assists, but instrumental all the same). This trio, playing behind a lethal finisher such as Pierre Emerick-Aubemayang, looks like it could very well revive the best of the Wengerball era. Their desire and ability to get the ball up the pitch, into scoring positions, and find teammates was, if only on this day, unparalleled. It’s displays like this one that augur well for the future. With Saka as an inverted winger playing in from the right, Smith-Rowe bombing forward on the left, and Ødegaard pulling strings through the middle, we have what feels like a devastating trio. It’s almost enough to make us overlook how stalwart the defense was, and we’re running out of room to applaud Tierney, White, Gabriel, and Tomiyasu.

If this kind of performance keeps up, well, we’ll we writing our own ticket for continental competition. Let’s not get ahread of ourselves, though. After all, lads, it’s Tottenham. 

The Art of the Dive, or how to lose your bottle: Tottenham-style.

Tottenham are not Everton. Let’s get that straight. As such, it’s unlikely that we’ll blitz our putative hosts as we did our wilting visitors. Still, there’s something in the air. Even after Tottenham escaped Anfield with a miraculous (read: dodgy) draw, it’s hard to resist a creeping sense of optimism, a belief that a world that has gone topsy-turvy may just be set right. After several years of ekeing past Tottenham to again finish above them, the once-unthinkable finally happened last year as they found a way past us. It happened on the back of their best campaign ever and our worst in recent memory, but it happened. Even as they perch above us, they don’t quite rule the roost. Not by a long shot. In fact, they look ready to bottle it.

Of course, a frenetic transfer-window saw us part ways with Alexis, Theo, and Giroud, among others—along with the astounding arrivals of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang. Not only did their arrivals make the squad look and feel more dangerous, their contributions to the evisceration of Everton was notable. It’s not just that Mkhi notched three assists and Aubameyang opened his account; the entire squad looked rejuvenated. Alexis, for as good as he could be, had apparently become somewhat toxic on the pitch and in the locker-room, and his departure seems to have encouraged everyone else to step up—and to play more fluidly.

Say what you will about Everton, Allardyce can usually be counted on to park the bus and replace the tyres with cinderblocks. Even with that, can you remember a period during which our interplay was as dazzingly, as seamless, as intimidating as it was last weekend? Everyone was involved. Without overselling it, that was as close to “total football” as we’ve seen in a long time. I don’t mean to say we’ll see the same again on Saturday, but Pochettino has a lot more to think about than he did when Tottenham came to the Emirates in November and lost 2-0. Does he dare play fit-again Toby Alderweireld? He’s available after sitting for four months with a torn hamstring. He played 90 minutes against League Two Forest County, an interesting managerial decision given the stakes on Saturday and again on Tuesday when Tottenham travel to Italy to face Juventus. Will Alderweireld be up to the challenge of slowing if not stopping Aubameyang?
We saw how dangerous Auba can be on the break when he was played through against Everton only to be denied by Pickford. It’s doubtful that anyone in the Tottenham squad could keep up with him even when fully fit. It’s not just his pace, either; his movement around the box unnerved and pulled Everton’s defense every which way, and even if he was probably offside when he scored, he is the most-clinical finisher Arsenal have had in years. Somehow or another, Pochettino will have to account for him at all times while also being aware of where Mkhitaryan, Özil, and Ramsey are. If Arsène can find room in there for Lacazette as well, well…
In addition to the pressure of hosting Arsenal at Wembley—a home away from home where we’ve won our last nine—Tottenham will be under additional scrutiny after numerous dodgy calls went their way against Liverpool. Alli was booked for diving, but Lamela seemed to hoodwink our old friend Jon Moss (hey, at least he’s consistently incompetent, eh?) into awarding Tottenham a stoppage-time penalty. You can be sure that all eyes and VAR will be on Tottenham’s thespian tendencies on Saturday.
None of this adds up to much, of course, unless we can play with the elan and flair we showed against Everton or the grit and tenacity we’ve shown against Chelsea. Mixed in among those results, after all, are a fair few we’d really rather forget. A tidy result on Saturday would not only help with the forgetting; it would thrust us right back into to thick of the of the top-four fight.

Right. Let’s get to it. Add your scoreline predictions below the fold.