In case you missed it, I wrote in my match preview that I was having trouble getting excited for today’s Carabao Cup quarterfinal against Tottenham. Turns out there is a silver lining there - it’s not nearly as bothersome when Arsenal lose.
There isn’t much to say about today’s 2-0 loss. Arsenal created some chances, hit a post, but otherwise looked a bit flat. It wasn’t a bad performance per se - it was just meh. Tottenham got men through on goal twice and scored both times. Both goals came in transition - a quick punt from the keeper to an attacker who played the goalscorer in - Son Heung-min in the first half, Dele Alli in the second.
Nobody had a particularly good game for Arsenal, but nobody was notably poor either. Henrikh Mkhitaryan looked lively and was probably the most useful attacker in the first half. He also had a number of the erratic touches that are becoming all too common for him. Still, it was surprising when he was substituted at halftime in favor of Laurent Koscielny when Unai Emery changed formations to a back three. At least temporarily, the change brought some life to the Arsenal attack, and the Gunners looked likely to get an equalizer until Dele Alli’s goal put Spurs up 2. After that, Tottenham were able to sit back and Arsenal struggled to generate much of anything.
Today’s match reinforced one thing: Arsenal need Granit Xhaka next to Lucas Torreira at the base of the midfield. That’s not a knock on Matteo Guendouzi, more an acknowledgment that Xhaka has raised his level and has quietly had a fantastic season thus far. Today, as was the case in the loss to Southampton, the Gunners struggled to control the middle of the field, dictate the pace of the game, and link up the play. Arsenal just seem to have more of the ball with more time and space when Xhaka is in the midfield.
It’s never fun to lose, especially to Spurs, but going out of the Carabao Cup isn’t the end of the world. It decongests the schedule and gives the Gunners some much-needed time to rest and recuperate.
The matches are coming fast and furious over the next two plus weeks. The Gunners host Burnley on the 22nd, travel to Brighton on the 26th, and then Liverpool on the 29th. Counting today, they’ve got 6 games in 17 days. Yikes.
And just remember, the last time Arsenal lost two games in a row this season, they followed it up by going unbeaten in 22.