At some point, you’ve just got to resign yourself to what looks to be an inescapable truth — Arsenal are mediocre, at the absolute best. Another day of toothless possession, little movement, no creativity, crosses swung into nobody, and the Premier League opponent scoring more goals. Today’s pathetic performance stings even more because the defeat came at the hands of Tottenham, who are playing quite well and topping the table.
When I say Tottenham are playing well, I mean they know what works for them, they’ve got a system, and they stick to it. It was no secret that their primary (only?) threat comes from counterattacks. And yet Arsenal were undone by two counters. That is inexcusable. It’s inexcusable for the players. It’s inexcusable for the coaches.
The first goal was the culmination of 4, maybe more, mistakes. Gabriel didn’t get tight enough to Harry Kane, allowing him to receive the ball and send it long for Son. Hector Bellerin took two steps infield instead of immediately getting on his bike and sprinting back; he’s got to know that as soon as the ball is turned over, Son is sprinting up the pitch, and he’s got to go with him. Rob Holding didn’t close Son down quickly enough. Bernd Leno was off his angle and showed too much of the far post.
I’m prepared to give Leno a pass because I’m not sure he saves that shot even if he’s correctly on his angle. It was an absolutely magnificent shot from Son. Rob Holding is in a pretty tough, damned if you do, damned if you don’t position. In hindsight, it looks like the wrong decision, but I think you give the guy the shot from well outside the area (as evidenced by the .05 xG of a shot from there). I’ve got patience for the 22-year old, Premier League rookie Gabriel, who has been fantastic all season. I’m disappointed in Hector Bellerin’s mistake. He should know better. That’s not to say he’s rubbish or not good enough, just that it’s a mistake he absolutely cannot make.
Maybe the second goal doesn’t happen if Thomas Partey doesn’t pull up injured. With him on the pitch, the counterattack isn’t a 4-on-2, and maybe he does something to break it up or slow it down before it starts. I’m not thrilled with him walking off the pitch instead of going to ground and trying to get play stopped, but I understand his (likely) frustration at re-injuring himself and how that probably didn’t have him thinking clearly. And on top of it, that’s Partey out injured for at least another few matches.
It also looked like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was slow to react to the cross that became the eventual turnover. That’s pretty much been the story of his season — half a step slow and just a bit off. It’s tough when your marquee signing of the summer and the guy who had been and is supposed to be scoring most of your goals has two league goals, one off a penalty kick. It doesn’t help that his service has been virtually non-existent this season. Today, Aubameyang did not receive five passes from any one teammate. Allocate the blame as you see fit.
Speaking of blame, how much of it falls on Mikel Arteta? Arsenal swung in 44 crosses today, connecting on only 9 of them. If his postgame press conferences are to be believed, that’s what he wants to see — just keep firing in the crosses. Arsenal had 2 shots on target today, both headers. Willian, he of the 7 forward passes of 42 attempted and innumerable giveaways, keeps getting selected. Those aren’t winning tactics. Willian isn’t a winning selection.
The bottom line is there is plenty of blame to go around. The players for their mistakes and underperforming expectations. The manager for his tactics and team selection. The executives for some really poor signings and the disjointed roster construction that’s half win-now and half build for the future.
Arsenal are broken. And unfortunately, I don’t see that getting fixed anytime soon.