Let’s get it out of the way early so we can move on to more important matters; Harry Kane dived to win Tottenham their penalty.
It is useless to deny it.
However much pundits want to call it ‘clever’ or that he was in some way ‘clipped’, it was an act of deception designed to give his team an advantage and it worked like a charm. Gabriel wafted his leg where it had no right to be and Kane took full advantage – hats off to him for thinking so quickly and being so convincing in the dive.
Now that is settled we can discuss why Arsenal were so fundamentally under par in a game in which they needed to be at their best to stand a chance of winning.
Motivation can simply not have been a factor. Dropped points for Manchester City and Manchester United left the door open for the Gunners to make a real late bid for a top four place, so not having anything to play for is simply not the case.
So if we rule desire and motivation out, we have to consider other factors and I think there were a number of them at play in what was a disjointed effort from Arsene Wenger’s men.
Tactically, they were out-thought and out-manoeuvred by Tottenham, who recognised the weakness down the right hand side caused by Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s inexperience as a wing back, and Mesut Ozil’s reluctance to do enough defensive work. Most of the host’s best moments came from Son, who was not troubled with being pinned back because there was little pressure on him Ozil.
Again and again he forayed down the wing at an exposed Chamberlain and nothing was done to correct this issue. It was inevitable that it would eventually cost us, even if the deflection for the opening goal was lucky.
I said before the game that Tottenham would provide a much sterner test of the 3-5-2 because they have been playing it for far longer than Arsenal, and are much better at it. Although Arsenal have had a month to adapt to the new formation, it was clear today that there is much about it that still needs time to bed in, particularly as we looked so disorganised at times.
Another huge factor in this defeat was the sheer wastefulness of Arsenal in possession. It was on an epic scale throughout the match. According to Opta, Alexis Sanchez, Chamberlain, and Nacho Monreal gave the ball away 20 times each, that is spectacularly wasteful and a big part of why we couldn’t keep hold of the ball and build attacks as we should. In fact, I can barely remember Chamberlain being able to get hold of the ball and really run at his opposite number.
A combination of those factors created huge pressure on the team and, ultimately, the pressure proved too much for Arsenal.
I don’t think it came down to any lack of effort, I think it was simply a matter that, on the day, Tottenham were better than we were and were tactically much smarter.
We lacked penetration going forward, we lacked surety in possession, and we failed to keep up the pressure for 90 minutes.
That’s not to say it was all disastrous from the Gunners. The first half had moments of encouragement. Aside from two big chances, which resulted from fortuitous deflections, Arsenal did a decent job of containing the hosts and forced them into mistakes with their pressing, although there wasn’t too much to shout about in attack.
Typically, the half-time break and a pep talk allows a team to reorganise and improve after the break, but it simply didn’t happen on this occasion. In truth, Arsenal stopped doing any of the things that worked well after the break and, as they so often have, conceded decisive goals at decisive times to put the game beyond reach.
After Tottenham’s second goal – dive though it was – I thought Arsenal might ramp up the pressure and create some good chances in the last third of the game. Aside from a couple of half-chances, though, they simply didn’t cause the home team any sustained period of concern.
With 10 minutes to go, they were still content to pass the ball across the back line instead of looking to just get it forward and get bodies in the box. It was almost as though the towel had been thrown in at that point, and the objective was simply to limit the damage.
However much hope and momentum had been created after three big wins for the club, it wasn’t enough to get past Tottenham. If you are being realistic as a fan, you have to concede that they were better than us on the day and were probably value for the win.
It hurts to have to admit that for the first time in two decades but it is further proof, as if it were needed, that Arsene Wenger’s time as Arsenal boss should come to an end in the summer.
Finishing above Tottenham and in the top four was always a yardstick of his quality and it looks as though both will be beyond us this season. For those reasons alone, and by his own high standards, Arsene should step down and usher in a new era.