Arsenal’s good run was halted abruptly as Tottenham Hotspur turned the form book around to claim victory in the North London Derby.
The Gunners travelled to the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium on the back of four wins and a draw while Spurs’ last game saw them fail to hit the target against relegation-threatened Bournemouth.
Alexandre Lacazette’s thunderous opener looked to continue their good form but a defensive blunder gifted Son Heung-Min the equaliser before Toby Alderweireld’s late header completed the comeback.
Mikel Arteta has received plenty of praise for the way he has improved our much-maligned defence but he can only coach so much.
Two errors from David Luiz ended the game as a contest at Manchester City and effectively rendered Arteta’s game plan as useless while a lapse in concentration allowed Brighton to equalise.
And after taking the lead against Spurs Sead Kolašinac, under absolutely no pressure, played a heavy pass away from David Luiz, which left the Brazilian in a foot race with Son that he was always going to lose and the South Korean’s deft flick gave Spurs a goal they barely deserved.
Kolašinac and Luiz have both performed well in the recent run of form but they showed that an error is never too far away and as long as they are part of our defence, the ability to self-destruct will always be there.
Shkodran Mustafi has also been much improved under Arteta, so much so that talk of a new contract has been discussed, but he too reverted back to his old self. Twice Harry Kane brushed past him with ease while his love for going to ground returned as well.
Arteta can only work with the players he has but Arsenal will not improve with the current personnel. There needs to be an overhaul at the centre of the defence. William Saliba is already arriving but we can’t expect a teenager to change things on his own. An experienced CB needs to be a priority this summer.
Consistency a problem for Pépé
It’s been a season of adaptation for Nicolas Pépé. The Ivorian arrived in London with heavy expectations due to his club-record £72m transfer from Lille and so far, hasn’t lived up to them. In fairness to Pépé he has contributed eight goals and eight assists in a team that has struggled for creativity and hasn’t found out how to utilise him properly.
Learning a new language, moving to a new country and acclimatising to a new way of playing are all factors to why Pépé hasn’t hit the ground running and he has recently had a new baby and so sleep deprivation is also added into the mix but his performance against Spurs was perplexing.
He looked dangerous towards the end of the first half when he drifted into dangerous areas centrally and saw efforts go narrowly wide. However, apart from those moments he failed to deliver.
He excelled at Lille due to their counter-attacking style but he seemed to be the player that slowed down the counter against Tottenham. There were three of four times when Arsenal looked like they could catch Spurs on the break and his pace and trickery make him a great candidate to lead the attack but he was too passive in possession and opted to pass back rather than take on his man or look for the penetrative pass.
I think Pépé can be a success for Arsenal and have been pleased with him for the most part but on a day when we needed our players to deliver, I don’t think he did. With Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka waiting in the wings, he needs to respond positively or he risks losing his place.
Timing is key
After a tactical masterclass at Wolves and a scintillating attacking display vs Leicester – in the first half particularly – it seems Arteta’s game management had taken a step forward. However, he got things wrong for the derby.
There wasn’t anything majorly wrong with his line-up and he would have been pleased with the performance for the first hour. However, when we started to look leggy and Spurs took more control, there were no changes. The water break team talk didn’t seem to change anything and his substitutions came too late and didn’t have the desired effect.
He isn’t going to get it right all the time and this is not me going against Arteta. I am fully behind him and will not start judging him properly until next season but his game management has been an area where he can improve and this was another example of it.
Had Kolašinac not made that bad pass and Aubameyang scored rather than hit the post, we may be seeing things differently. They are things that he can’t change but there are fine margins between success and failure and he will know that more than most.
With Liverpool and Manchester City up next, we need to see a response from the players and the manager.
Taking a chance
Eddie Nketiah would probably have started against Tottenham had he not been sent off against Leicester. He plays a slightly different game to Alexandre Lacazette, who has received plenty of criticism this season, but I don’t think Eddie would have scored the goal that Lacazette did. It was a hell of a goal and should have been a platform for us to build on.
Lacazette’s hold-up play was good and he set up Aubameyang for a chance that he should have done better with. The Frenchman had a point to prove and I think he definitely showed something.
He isn’t as mobile as Nketiah but links the play well and has plenty of power in his shot, which caught out Hugo Lloris.
With Eddie suspended for the next two games and Arteta seemingly against playing Aubameyang centrally, Laca is sure to get the nod up front and if he impresses, he may see himself restored to the attack when everyone is available.
Passive, not aggressive
Against Leicester, we saw a team that was fired up and ready to let loose. They were first to every ball, poured forward and looked hungry for goals.
The only player I saw that from in the derby was Dani Ceballos. He always made himself available for the ball, was positive in his play and continually drove forward and even looked for those defence-splitting passes.
His teammates weren’t on his wavelength. When anyone else got the ball, except Héctor Bellerín who had a good game, they slowed the game right down and frequently passed backwards.
The ball went out wide on the halfway line while Spurs gave their wide attackers through balls to run onto into dangerous areas. It meant the links of Pépé and Aubameyang had so much more to do and so many players to beat when they picked up the ball rather than just finish the final ball that could lead to a chance.
I remember in the first half, the ball was worked to the right-hand side and everyone in the TV picture was either standing still or walking at a snail’s pace. There was little movement off the ball, which in turn forced the ball back down the pitch.
With only one change it may have been fatigue setting in but we got 48 hours more rest than they did so it’s difficult to use that as an excuse.
Playing the occasion rather than the game may have weakened the attacking instincts of the players but there needs to be more urgency in the play sometimes. We have players with pace and players with technical abiity and we should be using that to full effect.
Manchester United are enjoying a purple patch at the moment because they are utilising the pace of Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford with Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba pulling the strings.
While we can’t boast their midfield talents, in Saka, Pépé, Nelson and Aubameyang we have plenty of pace and we need to use it.