Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
Arsenal outclassed by Tottenham and they must now mind the gap
Last Updated: 01/05/17 12:59pm
Outgunned by Tottenham at White Hart Lane, Arsenal look like a team being left behind, writes Adam Bate.
Every punchline needs a setup. So after seeing both Manchester sides slip up earlier in the day against teams in the bottom three, Arsenal fans probably expected it. With a top-four finish back in their grasp, derby defeat duly followed. St Totteringham's Day cancelled for the first time in a generation. Arsenal not only outclassed, but outworked.
Goalscorer Harry Kane said exactly that in his post-match interview. Man of the match Jan Vertonghen agreed. "We wanted to win more than them," he told Sky Sports and the Spurs men had the numbers to back it up too. The five players who ran the furthest all wore Tottenham shirts. No Arsenal player coming close to Dele Alli's 98 sprints.
Arsenal fans are getting used to that feeling; Arsenal legends are too. "I can't say anything," admitted Thierry Henry. "They are right." That old Sir Alex Ferguson team-talk - "Lads, it's Tottenham" - now needs an update. Lads, it's Arsenal. Keep putting the pressure on and keep asking the right questions and eventually the capitulation will come.
Spurs keep pace in title race
Tottenham saw off Arsenal 2-0 to keep up the pressure on Premier League leaders Chelsea.
This north London derby, the last at the famous old ground, was decided in the space of 146 second-half seconds. Alli's opener followed up by Kane's penalty. Petr Cech kept the score down but couldn't change the result. "The first goal was the decisive one," the goalkeeper said afterwards; an ominous assessment that hints at the fragile belief at Arsenal right now.
But the problems are not only mental but technical and tactical too. "There was a gulf in class," said Jamie Redknapp. "Tottenham are more organised and know what to do. They are coached within an inch of their lives. Arsenal look almost like they are thrown together." Again, an Arsenal great felt forced to agree. "It's all too off-the-cuff," added Alan Smith.
In a sense, the formations reflected that. Much has been made of the work Arsenal have done on their new 3-4-3 system on the training ground, but on Sunday there was a world of difference between their efforts and the fluid flexibility of the home side with Spurs switching between three and four at the back as and when the circumstances demanded it.
Arsene Wenger has claimed this system suits his players but this was the biggest test yet and it was a failure. Mesut Ozil was sidelined; Gabriel characteristically uncomfortable. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has the athleticism for the wing-back role but not the defensive instincts - caught out in the build-up to Christian Eriksen's near miss before the break.
By then, Gabriel had already unsuccessfully attempted to play Kane onside as the striker set up Alli for a chance that seemed easier to score. So when Oxlade-Chamberlain failed to clear off the line after the same player netted the opener it only added to the sense that Arsenal were a team ill at ease with their own movements let alone their responsibilities.
Granit Xhaka was overwhelmed in the middle, an all too frequent occurrence this season, with Victor Wanyama utterly dominant. And with midfield lost, Arsenal's hopes rested with forwards who cannot be relied upon to finish and defenders who have issues defending. In truth, it is still unclear what sort of contest actually suits this group of players.
'Too many passengers'
Jamie Redknapp says Arsenal have too many players not trying hard enough - and highlighted Mesut Ozil's display at Tottenham as an example.
In the recent defeat against Crystal Palace, Sam Allardyce took great pleasure in explaining his side's tactic of targeting the Arsenal defence. But Wenger's men do not only get bullied. As Henry outlined before kick-off, the matches in which they might be expected to get some space and be permitted to play their own game do not go their way either.
The Gunners have not won any of their last six league games against Tottenham, the longest run in the club's history. Wenger understandably points to the positive aspect of their long spell as north London's pre-eminent club but that's not enough to inspire confidence that he's the man who knows where the next of those wins is coming from.
The 'Mind the Gap' banners belong to the Tottenham fans now.
And that gap - that growing gulf - is a real concern because for all the calls for Wenger to leave, the solution to Arsenal's slide does not seem so obvious. As was frequently discussed in the build-up to the weekend clash, Arsenal had only one player - Alexis Sanchez - who could get into the Spurs side and he's the one who seemingly wants out.
Ultimately, all journeys in the right direction must start with a single step. Arsenal might not have the players to turn this around. Perhaps they do not have the manager to do so these days either. But they can start with hard work and desire. Until the appetite for that returns, the jokes could well continue to be on them.