With seven or eight minutes remaining, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta issued some instructions from the touchline.
‘Attack!’ he urged. As he will know well enough, that is the side of the game at which his team can occasionally excel. It is when the ball is at the other end of the field, more specifically in their own penalty area, that they struggle.
It would be too simplistic to say that the more things change at Arsenal the more they stay the same. There are signs of improvement in Arteta’s team. Nevertheless, deep-rooted and fundamental flaws continue to hold them back.
Arsenal have improved under Mikel Arteta but there are still fundamental flaws in the team
Here in Tottenham’s new stadium – that still manages to look fabulous even when empty – Arsenal were not at all bad. When this performance is compared to the ones that saw them lose their two games immediately after the restart of the season – at Manchester City and Brighton – there is a world of difference.
They clearly were not match fit back then and Arteta may wish to look at himself when he thinks about that one.
Now, almost a month on, Arsenal are much improved. With the ball, they look swift and seem to have some ideas too. Their front three were impressive in this game and had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit the roof of the net rather than the crossbar with a bullet shot from an angle with the scores level at 1-1, Arsenal would in all likelihood have won a fifth game of their last six.
It would have been a very different game had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang managed to score
But one of the problems with a suspect defence is that you are always likely to pay a double price for any failure to take opportunities at the other end. And that is exactly what happened here. Arsenal didn’t just lose two points when Aubameyang hit the bar, they essentially lost all three.
It’s not just an issue with the back four or back five at Arsenal, either. It wasn’t under Unai Emery and it wasn’t under Arsene Wenger. No, Arsenal are a club at which the ugly stuff has come too hard to everybody for a long time. It has become a cultural thing and as such is hard to unpick.
Manchester City and Liverpool, for example, defend front to back. At Arsenal, too few people really want to do it – the front three certainly don’t – and the ones who do are not particularly good at it.
If this sounds unkind then it is worth watching the last 20 minutes of the game again. During that period, Arsenal were in control of the possession and much of the territory. But they were not in control of the game. Not at all. As their defenders and defensive midfield players tired, so they became increasingly vulnerable to their own mistakes. When Tottenham scored, it was not a surprise.
Arsenal have often struggled with the ugly side of the game and that was the case again
There were some basic questions to ask about the winning goal. Why, for example, was the Arsenal full-back Kieran Tierney detailed to mark the significantly bigger and bulkier Toby Alderweireld? Arteta has some tall and aggressive players in his team. Why not one of them?
It was a detail that cost Arsenal dearly. There was nobody specifically to blame for the goal. The visiting players all endeavoured to do their jobs, it’s just that Tierney was always going to be up against it. Again, something for Arteta to think about.
On other occasions, Arsenal’s defenders just were not up to it. The Argentinean goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has been impressive since stepping in for the injured Bernd Leno at Brighton. The 27-year-old looks solid and reliable. Importantly, he is not at all showy.
But we see far too much of him game by game. Martinez has to make far too many saves and regardless of the fact many are routine, that tells you something about this team.
The mistake by Saed Kolasinac for Tottenham’s equaliser was obvious. He sold David Luiz short with his pass and Heung-Min Son scored nicely.
Luiz is just too ponderous, though. It isn’t just the Brazilian defender’s unusual gait that makes him look slow. He looks slow because he is slow and, to compound matters, he thinks he is quicker than he is.
And that is dangerous because it means he rushes towards balls and challenges he cannot actually reach and that too often leaves himself or a team-mate in lumber.
Shkodran Mustafi demonstrated again with his mistakes that he cannot be relied upon
David Luiz struggled again – he shouldn’t be an Arsenal defender or a Premier League defender
That happened late on here as Shkodran Mustafi actually made three mistakes in a single of passage of play to let Harry Kane in. The culpability was all Mustafi’s but still Luiz rushed in and was caught out. Spurs could easily have scored again.
Luiz is not an Arsenal central defender. Nor should he be a Premier League defender. It is an extraordinary curiosity that he continues to get games. It certainly doesn’t say much for others in that position at his club.
Young Tierney looks a fine prospect on the left and we hope the young Scot progresses. He doesn’t lack courage and crosses nicely on the gallop.
He fits in to Arsenal’s attacking play and there was much of that to like in this game. This was not same old Arsenal. It was an improved Arsenal hampered by some familiar shortcomings.
‘Attack!’ shouted Arteta but by then it was too late. The damage had been inflicted elsewhere and we have seen all that before.
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