Arsenal's 1-0 victory owed much to Tottenham's continued profligacy in front of goal, but also to their own improved grit. The perfect time to show such resilience, argues Daniel Storey.
By Daniel Storey
Last Updated: 17/03/14 11:44am
The headline statistic remains the same as Thursday - another home defeat for Tottenham under Tim Sherwood, and one that probably concludes their realistic interest in any competition this season. The stark deduction is that their top four hopes are all but over, and another season must be filed under 'transition', another nine months effectively wasted as nearly, but just not quite.
Questions will clearly remain over the continued presence of Sherwood in the dugout, and this still has the feeling of a man swimming slightly beyond his comfortable depth. Throwing his coat to the floor after just 20 minutes of the match doesn't necessarily inspire the confidence that one is completely in control of himself, let alone the situation at hand.
However, there was actually much improvement in Spurs following the limp capitulation against Benfica. Despite falling behind after just 72 seconds thanks to a bullet strike from Tomas Rosicky that surprised Hugo Lloris before he had set himself for the shot, Sherwood's side did not collapse under the burden of early groans around White Hart Lane.
Following the Europa League shambles, Spurs players this week spoke in glowing terms of Sherwood, very much toeing the PR party line. "I enjoy working with him and you can see he's a big Spurs man," was Christian Eriksen's public claim, whilst Gylfi Sigurdsson went with the equally cliché-laden "As long as you have a manager who cares about the team and the players then you will be fine."
More important than such words was the response on the field, and Spurs were, at times, excellent in pressurising their rivals. Nacer Chadli finally looked like a creative outlet, whilst Emmanuel Adebayor played with the hunger he striker so often reserves for his former clubs. Seventeen chances were created as Arsenal were penned back, forced to defend for large swathes of the second half.
As so often with Spurs this season, however, any ambitions of victory were undermined by a lack of quality in front of goal. Sherwood's side have converted just 11.4% of their shots this season (the sixth worst in the Premier League), whilst the current top four in the division all sit in the top five of that particular list. Taking your chances, it appears, is a clear indicator of success.
Against Arsenal, Spurs had 17 shots in total, but it took until 56 minutes for them to have their first on target, and until three minutes from time to add to that. Hitting 15 of your 17 shots off target is simply not good enough for a side aiming to break into the top four.
As so often has been the case this season (particularly under Andre Villas-Boas), Spurs' biggest sin was becoming impatient, leading to shots from distance that require close to perfection in order to beat the goalkeeper. Over 70% of Spurs' shots came from outside the box, with Nabil Bentaleb the biggest culprit with four, all from outside the penalty area and all off target.
The woeful under-performance of Roberto Soldado this season has crippled Spurs' potential for success, despite the resurgence of Adebayor under Sherwood. Introducing a £26million striker with just eight minutes remaining in which you are desperate for an equaliser is just another nail in the coffin of his spell in England. Soldado touched the ball three times, being booked for his only attempt to win the ball. It should be expected that he return to Spain this summer, presumably with tail between legs.
It would, however, be incredibly remiss not to praise Arsenal's resilience in securing their first win in six attempts at the home of their greatest rivals. This was further cause for the optimistic mindset that even if their title bid ends in fruitless fashion, this is a side with greater fight, determination and grit than in any previous seasons, closer to the title in both points and performance than at any other point in the last decade.
Arsene Wenger's side were forced to soak up concerted pressure, but kept their first clean sheet in seven matches since the drab 0-0 against Manchester United in mid-February. As the decades old chant of "1-0, to the Arsenal" rang out around White Hart Lane at full-time, there was a very real sense that whilst many (including the bookmakers) have already ruled out Arsenal winning the title, supporters, players and manager have not yet given up hope.
Most importantly of all, this was a result that effectively confirms that Arsenal will be playing in the Champions League next season for the 17th consecutive season. With Manchester United's current malaise, that will be second in Europe only to Real Madrid for its consistency. It's easy to mock fourth place as 'Wenger's trophy', but that stability is vital to Arsenal's hope of continued, and sustainable, growth.