Three wasted points. Three abysmal defenders. Three players to replace. From the first minute when David Luiz lost the ball by being too slow in his decisions through the last minute of Mustafi going to ground with Kane, we only saw what we’ve all known all year long. Our defense is as supportable as fat man Trump; it’s as reliable as the White House protecting people from Covid19. How bad is our defense? It’s so bad that Mustafi was the best defender today.
Though we did not exactly learn anything new, it’s still shocking to see the mental weakness and flat out stupidity of Kolinsac. To be fair to him he has been a walking disaster all season. Yet he finds way to plumb new depths. His distribution against Leicester was crap but today it was beyond intolerable. Two minutes after a glorious Cigarette strike gives us the (deserved) lead, to make a weak, aimless pass that wrong foots David Luiz is beyond professional incompetence.
Since the restart I have finally become convinced that this team is moving in the right direction. We have seen significant improvements. We have seen confirmation that we unquestionably have the right manager. Finally, after the idiot Emery, we have someone who can build this team and resurrect this club. The performances has demonstrated progress and identity. We’ve been fortunate to reduce the leakage in goals and Martinez has been a revelation. But, we have consistently seen a sloppiness and lack of focus from all three defenders. And today it cost us a game we deserved to win.
We played better than them and had enough chances to take the lead. Today we paid the price for Aubamyeng missing too many chances he would normally score from. In truth, when we needed our captain the most, this was his weakest performance. Too often he would refuse to make forward wide runs to stretch their defense – which had both full backs on yellow cards. Conversely, Cigarette had one of his best games for many months. Even beyond his wonder strike, his link-up play and positioning were excellent. He set up Aubaeyang who failed to convert his chances. Amusingly, their captain today was also shit. Their main man looked off the pace and had a handful of chances – care of our inept defense – to score and fluffed his lines. We also suffered today because Pepe was back to his old form. There are moments of brilliance but it still looks like the pace of the EPL and the physicality is too much for him. I wish we had brought on Saka earlier. The change in the speed of thought and passing was immediate. Both Aubameyang and Pepe refused to turn up field and take on their men today.
Overall though this team looks much improved. There was a real balance in midfield. Not perfect but Ceballos and Xhaka dominated this game. This was another improved performance from Ceballos. At this rate we need to retain him. He created more chances, worked harder, won tackles and kept the ball moving so much quicker than in the past. Xhaka has proven to be the backbone of this team. Since his return to the starting eleven we have looked like a real team. There is no way we win at Wolves without Xhaka. Today they dominated Sp*rs. They were helped by the wing-backs. Tierney is a star in the making and is a sharp contrast to Pepe. Half the price and twice as good. And on the other side Bellerin continues to show improvement. His distribution – unlike a certain other player – was much improved. I have been very critical of Hector latterly but he has built on the improvement from Leicester and was much more creative today.
We had our chances today but failed to convert. Fine. But how can you speak to the defense? Sp*rs we’ve given all their chances. Whilst watching I had said, with about 15 minutes left, how Mustafi had been the only defender to not make stupid mistakes but that you knew he would eventually. Then in the space of 10 minutes he impersonates Kolinsac, diving in unnecessarily, losing possession and over committing on Kane. We have come to expect this though. It’s a shame, because for the first 80 minutes, he was solid (aside from his long-ball passes with are like a random spray-gun). More often than not, Ceballos or Xhaka would pick the ball up from the defense and then build play up from there. These two were passing the ball quicker and playing through the lines. On the other hand when David Luiz has the ball at his feet he was sluggish and too slow in his distribution. Whereas Kolinsac can only pass sideways and backwards – and to the other team.
Another moment on Martinez though. What a great performance. Beyond the wonder save from Davies, he denied Sp*rs on multiple occasions. In the first minutes when we gave the ball away and then Kane tried to lob him to multiple saves from Kane and Son. I really doubt that Leno would have done better.
Where does this leave us? Mightily pissed that we lost to a team that is just not as good as us. But if I had to choose, irrespective of our current league position, which team looked like it had the bright future I would pick AFC. Sure, I thought his substitutions today were too late and not effective – Saka should have come on earlier for Pepe. But the style of play, the width of the wing-backs, the arrival of Tierney and Saka and the emergence of Ceballos is refreshing. For the first time in 18 months since Wenger retired (or was pushed out) I feel like we’re finally functioning as a team. We have an identity. And we know our problems. We have know this for too long. But Arteta can’t fix that – yet. He needs a transfer window. He needs some time. He has made, as much as I hate to acknowledge it, Mustafi better. No-one though can make Kolinsac better.
Today was a wasted opportunity. The three points were there for us. But, like the Brighton game, we found a way to give it to them. It’s not like, in either game, the other team earned it. We gave it to them. This game is not too complicated, Attackers should score – we did that today. Midfields should both create and protect – we did that today. And defenders should defend. Think about how often Sp*rs actually created chances by themselves? Most of their chances came from us giving the ball away cheaply. No team can survive like that.
The last few games raised the European hopes again and today crushed them. But not because we were outplayed by a better team. But because we are mentally frail and have inadequate defenders. The question becomes, in the midst of a financial meltdown – minus match day revenues and European football – whether we will have sufficient money to buy the replacements we need. For sure, we will dump Kolinsac. As a left-footed player, I swear I would be an improvement over him – and a lot cheaper.
Even in defeat though I come away optimistic about so many parts of this team. We need another year to complete the re-build. But, finally, I believe we have the right manager in place. If you had to choose between the two managers on display today it’s pretty clear we’ve got the better one. If you created a joint team from today most of their players would get into that team but yet we should have won todays’ game. It was a painful and excruciating to watch the headless, dumb way we threw away these points. But I’m convinced these are just bumps in our upward trajectory. Not this season. But for next. We should have locked up our NoHoppa Cup position. But Brighton and today have ruined that. There is still the F. A. Cup. But I think you have to win it to qualify. It’s not enough to lose in the final anymore. But that’s beyond us at the moment.
This is not to say we won’t get murdered by Liverpool. But there is enough progress here for us to believe we have turned the corner. Today we out played Sp*rs, we controlled the game and played better football. But until we remove our back three they will continue to be like a dead weight around our necks. There is something holding Holding back. Because I would play him over either Kolinsac or myself. I would love to see that change for Wednesday. Because, after today, Kolinsac, can’t play for Arsenal again.