It’s not just the losing – Spurs fans are familiar with that concept although oddly I’ve never quite got used to it and after every defeat there’s an element of bafflement. How did that happen? So it still hurts but what gets me with losing to the old enemy is the constant innovation and inventiveness with which we self-destruct.
Many years ago I watched from the back of the Paxton as we were soundly beaten, 3-1 I think, by a Woolwich side coming to the peak of their powers. Didn’t like it but there you go. But the implosion impulse has characterised this fixture in recent times. Further back, 5-0 and not one but two Doubles. A winner with Storey so offside I swear he was munching a burger at the Colonel’s stall behind the Paxton. Score four, they get 5. Davies sent off for no reason. Deflections. I haven’t checked but I strongly suspect tmy report in the corresponding fixture last season began with the same sentiments – 2 up, lose 5-2.
So this time, with both teams hesitant after relatively poor starts to the season, Spurs find some rhythm. Sandro makes the midfield his in an opening remeniscent of the old days when midfield hatchet men took no prisoners and more delicate souls wore steel shinpads. We take the game to our foe, two up front to pressure their wonky back four, Lennon beginning to make inroads on their left. The high defensive line is causing some anxiety but we’re OK so far, Gallas is in one of his wild-eyed ‘they shall not pass’ moods and anyway Lloris’ selection is part of the plan, to act as sweeper.
Some decent passing but it’s the early ball forward to get at them directly. Mertesacker, so ponderous he makes Huddlestone look like a cross between Usain Bolt and Lewis Smith, is drawn forward. Defoe, whose movement was excellent all afternoon, nips in behind him. His shot is saved but Abebayor is there for the rebound.
Bright and breezy, it was all too much to bear. Adebayor flew in for a tackle that meant nothing even if it had been anywhere near the ball, which it wasn’t, and legal, which it wasn’t either. Down to ten men after 20 minutes when a goal up is bad enough, but the science of implosion demands more, so much more. Our goalscorer, their ex-player, the one they love to hate, the one who has made such a difference to our attacking shape, and for a meaningless midfield challenge when our opponents had no idea how to get back in the game.
Our Andre said he wasn’t blaming Adebayor but I am. Foolish in the extreme. No one knows how things might have turned out – Walcott was itching to get a decent ball into the space behind our back four and Arteta and Cazorla had their sliderules out to plan the precise trajectory – but without him we stood no chance.
Now, a thunderous cloud of dark inevitability hung above the Deathstar, blocking out not just the light but all hope and shreds of mercy. Watching from my sofa, I had the luxury of taking a few notes. Each time, I wrote, ‘have to hang on - don’t let them score’, they scored. We conceded quickly after the dismissal, followed by another soon after then a third just before half time. Not feeling forensically inclined today, I won’t dissect the mayhem but suffice to say that Mertesacker’s header was sdown to lousy marking, Hud I think lost his man, while the ball for the second and third emerged from challenges where the man in red came out on top.
Discussing Spurs is like the current debate about the BBC. Everyone hauls out their own soapbox and shoehorns it in somehow. Poor editorial decisions and complacency about dealing with child abuse take a back seat to anything from left-wing bias to the break-up of the entire corporation. At Tottenham it’s not actually all about AVB versus old whathisname who used to be in charge as many seem to believe. Let’s postpone all the chatter and specualtion about formations and players because there’s little to add to that debate from this game.
However, what I would say is one problem has carried on from one reign to another – the wide men do not track back enough. I’m all for attacking wingers and both Bale and Lennon are playing very well this season. It’s just that in the Premier League you have to play another role and contribute to defensive solidity. Poor Naughton was run ragged by Walcott. I’m not convinced he can be a Spurs regular but yesterday he received little protection and in the fifteen minutes before the break it was too easy for the gunners.
And yet…. going to 3-4-2 after the break was a brave decision. Our young manager could have settled for damage limitation and scuttled away into the night, spraying cliches behind him like ‘one of those days’ and ‘look forward to Thursday’ to shake off his media pursuers. It nearly paid off. The gunners don’t like it up ‘em and approached their superiority with surprising trepidation. They weren’t happy as we ran at them. For a time we didn’t notice the loss of a man and played our best football, holding the ball and passing it well. Then ‘don’t concede’ and we did. However, Bale’s goal and their fans, who know their team best, were shaken into silence. Who knows what would have happened if Bale’s cross-shot had been more cross than shot, with JD waiting, or if Defoe had gone for placement not power at the far post from a corner.
The fifth seemed unfair somehow. 5-2 sounds worse than 4-2 by a factor of more than one goal. What was important for Spurs in the longer run is that we did not lie down and take it. When Villas-Boas got hold of them in the dressing room, they listened. They settled easily into an unfamiliar set-up, unlike last season when we couldn’t grasp the 3-5-2 at Stevenage at all, and responded willingly, playing their best football. Pressing high and defending from the front was effective. Walcott and Chamberlain were itching to get moving and Daws and WG couldn’t have caught them but if you prevent the gunners’ midfield from getting the ball or the space to pass it, it’s as good as an extra man. Almost.
This is one positive we can take from the game. It will stand us in good stead as we come to a sequence of games under growing pressure for points.