Twenty six hours after the event I have finally seen the entire match. The strain on the wifi in the place where I found myself on Saturday meant I saw only the first-half, and that on mute. A second viewing of that first period on Arsenal Player confirmed the impression I had at the time. The midfield that so impressed for much of last season is still taking shape, and we have not hit the ground running. Despite dominating ownership of the football too often our advances were side to side and lacking the urgency that we exhibit when on song.
It would appear reasonable to wonder if continued efforts to shoehorn Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, and Mesut Ozil into the starting eleven are at the heart of the problem. All do their best work in behind the main striker, and it was evident that Ozil was more influential after Ramsey’s unfortunate removal with a hamstring problem. We will perhaps find out in the coming week, or weeks, depending on the diagnosis of the extent of that injury.
The loss of Mikel Arteta too limits our options for the meetings with Galatasaray and Chelsea in the coming days. There is an obvious replacement in Mathieu Flamini, but the old warhorse looked to tire badly against Manchester City in his last start, and was caught in possession for Spurs unlikely opener in this match. Two big games in four days will test his fitness. Arsene said afterwards that Abou Diaby is not yet ready to return and if Jack has a reaction to his ankle knock yesterday, and is also ruled out, then our options are limited.
Indeed it could be that we will be down to almost the bare bones for Wednesday’s Champions League encounter, with Mesut and Santi Cazorla ahead of Flamini, and Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flanks. Pray none of that quintet picks up a knock that rules them out of the important trip to the bus stop in Fulham also.
The improvement in our creative play in the second-half was apparent before Spurs were gifted the lead, and the reaction to that shock was commendable, if ultimately insufficient. The Ox looked rightly thrilled with his equaliser after a magnificent dummy by Danny Welbeck (cough). It looked for all the world as if the axis of Ozil, Cazorla, Alexis, and Gibbs could open up Spurs right flank at will, and with Calum Chambers and the Ox threatening down the opposit flank it did look as though the winner would be found. My heart says we deserved it, my head tells me to be more questioning.
The other significant contributor to the match was Michael Oliver. I know I am harsh in my assessment of our Premier League officials. Because of the general lack of quality we currently have this young man has been fast-tracked, and his appointment to this fixture merely reinforces that view. It was too big a game for him, although to be fair he showed no partiality and had some very difficult calls to make. We will argue that Jack should have had a penalty in the first-half but it happened quickly, and only multiple views of the relays confirmed Rose’s challenge was unfair.
Even harder the decision to deny Per Mertesacker an equaliser. The goal line technology showed the ball in play when Lloris saved, which was not in doubt, but the ball did thereafter go backwards and close at least to over the line. Neither of those non-decisions should result in him being marked down, but his inconsistency in what constituted a yellow card meant that players were free to commit multiple offences, and none more so than Lamela. Oliver cottoned on to this too late, and decided to award yellows for almost any foul in the second-half by anybody not previously booked.
Laughably, Chadli was booked for taunting the schoolboys, girls, and pensioners in the Family enclosure. Since when has being nothing more than a classless prick warranted the award of a yellow card? Frankly, Oliver appeared to lose control, but for clarity, I again emphasise this was not an excuse for dropped points by the hosts. I just hope he is not considered an option to officiate next Sunday, and that is far more important.
Criticism of a side thus far unbeaten in the Premier League might be seen as harsh, but trailing Chelsea by six points after just six matches is a legitimate concern. Next Sunday’s match is too early to be considered pivotal, but more important is that we start to rediscover the consistency of performance in the calendar year of 2013. We have, thankfully, strengthened the squad if not entirely to everyones satisfaction. We are bedding in some new talent and that is taking a little longer than we might have hoped.
That said we are still not far from fielding a front three of Theo, Welbeck, and Alexis. I am rather looking forward to that. If only they could start in the coming week. Pray for a clean bill of health after Wednesday night.