Arsenal and Spurs played to a 2-2 draw that, while full on goals and North London Derby excitement, was rather lacking in quality. The Gunners looked like a side playing it’s third match in eight days, and Tottenham, especially in the middle of the second half, looked more rested and energetic. A draw feels like a fair result, even though the match was there for the taking for Arsenal.
Honestly, I was not impressed by Tottenham. They attack well enough with James Maddison pulling the strings, but they didn’t show much ability to control a match or dictate the tempo. Had Arsenal been even 75% of what we think they’re capable of, the Gunners would have won handily. You can probably attribute some of Arsenal looking off to the way Spurs played, but it feels like more of Arsenal’s failing than Spurs’ success that was the story of the day.
The Gunners completely dominated the opening 35 minutes of the match, but only managed one goal for all the control. That’s an extremely worrying trend. Arsenal are not turning control of the ball and possession in the attacking third into enough quality chances and shots on target. Arsenal were poor through the middle third of the match but looked the more likely side to score in the final 15 minutes or so.
Both of Spurs’ goals were avoidable. On the first goal, Bukayo Saka’s defending on James Maddison was shockingly poor and Son Heung-min was somehow able to find space between three Arsenal defenders to turn the ball into the net. The second falls squarely on Jorginho. Lingering on the ball like that and losing it so cheaply is an inexcusable mistake.
It’s really disappointing that Declan Rice was forced off at halftime with a back problem. Arsenal really missed him in the center of the park, controlling the game. Without him patrolling the middle for Arsenal, Spurs had their best period of the match. The flip in control also stopped the Gunners from pressing Destiny Udogie, who was on a yellow card and looked ready to pick up a second, and putting the question to both Pape Sarr and Yves Bissouma, who both were cautioned towards the end of the first half.
I’m curious as to how Cuti Romero escaped a yellow or red card for his handball that gave Arsenal the penalty early in the second half. The only out that I can see in the DOGSO interpretation is that the referee and VAR deemed his handball did not “deny a goal or obvious goalscoring opportunity,” which seems like a stretch to me. It’s tough to see how blocking a goal-bound shot where the keeper is not in position to make a save doesn’t fit under that definition. There is nothing in the Law about intent, so that doesn’t save him.
Of the starters, William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhaes, Alex Zinchenko, and Gabriel Jesus were the only Arsenal players who had strong games on the afternoon. Reiss Nelson was strong off the bench. When 7 of 11 players put in performances ranging from below average to dreadful, the result is going to be something similar to the sloppy mess Arsenal were today.
David Raya’s distribution was terrible, although he gets credit for a fantastic save on Brennan Johnson in the first half. Ben White was poor on the ball. Bukayo Saka looked tired and was average. Martin Ødegaard was anonymous. He did a bunch of running in the first half to lead a much higher press than Arsenal had been putting on in other matches this season, but all that running dragged him out of possession and made him anonymous on the ball and in the attack. Fabio Vieira was average, at best. Eddie Nketiah was dreadful.
Declan Rice was fine until being forced off at halftime with “discomfort in his back” and asked to come off according to Mikel Arteta. His replacement, Jorginho was abject, easily his worst performance for Arsenal. Kai Havertz came on for Fabio Vieira at halftime, which was a tactical change. The German was unimpressive, although as we’ve pointed out before, he was playing with yet another winger on his side of the field. It’s really tough to get anything going when you can’t build and rely on chemistry with the players nearest you in the formation.
When faced with injuries to his squad, Mikel Arteta has an annoying habit of playing multiple players out of position instead of making the simple, like-for-like change. With both Gabriel Martinelli and Leandro Trossard missing out, Arteta played Fabio Vieira, who usually plays on the right, at left #8, pushed Gabriel Jesus to left wing, and played Eddie Nketiah through the middle. Arsenal sorely missed Jesus’ quality leading the line, and I think the change helped render Martin Ødegaard ineffective, too. And that’s before you get to Nketiah’s poor performance at striker this afternoon.
All of a sudden, it appears as if Arsenal are in a bit of an injury crisis. The club really needs Declan Rice’s back problem to be an insignificant one because if he misses time, they’re down their first two #6’s. Thomas Partey isn’t expected back for a few more weeks. They’re also missing the first and second option at left wing. Gabriel Martinelli’s hamstring problem reportedly wasn’t a serious one, but he’s still out, and we don’t know the extent of Leandro Trossard’s injury. It also remains to be seen whether Bukayo Saka picked up an injury late in the match. He was limping heavily after Udogie fouled him and fell on his leg and was substituted off shortly thereafter. Add to that Jurrien Timber being out for several months and all the work the club did to improve the depth has suddenly been erased.
It’s a bit odd to feel this disappointed and bemused by an unbeaten start to the season from Arsenal, but it’s undeniable that something is off. Other than the PSV match, Arsenal haven’t been as good as they were last season. Mikel Arteta and the Gunners need to sort it out, quickly, because dropping four points at home in the opening six matches of the season is not how the Gunners are going to challenge for the title again. To look at it from the bright side with a more positive spin, Arsenal aren’t playing anywhere near their best, they’re up towards the top of the league, and haven’t put themselves in a hole.
Arsenal are next in action against Brentford in the midweek in the Carabao Cup, then at Bournemouth, away to Lens in the Champions League, before hosting a Rodri-less Manchester City in a critical match in two weeks.