So, Tottenham v. Arsenal yesterday.
The day started with the requisite imagery of horses separating two brawling fan bases. Remember that White Hart Lane is one of the few places of danger remaining in the Premier League, especially where Arsenal are concerned.
There was an image shown during the broadcast of a fan, blood streaming from the top of his head. It was unclear whether he was a Tottenham supporter or an Arsenal supporter, or whether his injuries were caused by opposing fans or mounted riot police, who were liberally whacking people.
This photo was notable in that the subject showed no pain, no remorse, no fear. He was looking defiantly at the camera, a bloody survivor.
Arsene Wenger made many changes to his side. Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud were benched. Nacho Monreal was as well, because of injury. Petr Cech, who’d been injured in a pointless run back to goal after coming pointlessly downfield for a last gasp corner kick against Swansea, was replaced with David Ospina. Joel Campbell, one of few who did well in the Swansea match, was also in reserve.
Wenger started both Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin, the two defensive midfielders working together for the first extended period of time. The former did quite well, had a solid day. The latter, well, he changed the course of the match, and not in a good way. He was sent off not long into the second half with two unnecessary yellow card offenses, after which Tottenham quickly scored two goals. Cue the cacophony of “Coq up” puns.
And before the red card and two quick goals by Tottenham? Well, Tottenham looked dominant for most of the first half, full of verve, quickness, crisp passes. Even though Arsenal had trouble getting anything going offensively, they managed to keep Spurs’ danger at a low boil.
My biggest frustration during the first half was those little back-heel flicks of Aaron Ramsey. Every one into the path of either nobody or a Tottenham player, take your pick. But Aaron Ramsey had the last word when Arsenal made their way down the field and the ball was whacked by Hector Bellerin to Ramsey, his back to the goal. A back-heel flick later, Arsenal were ahead. They went in at half time 0-1.
Spurs have a great record of winning from behind, so the second half was going to be no picnic. One brain-dead moment from Francis Coquelin and we were looking at half an hour of playing with only 10 men, even tougher. It took no time at all for Tottenham to score, once, twice. 2-1.
But then Arsenal showed spine, lots of it. We grew into our numbers and at some point, we started playing better with 10 than we’d been playing with 11. With 15 minutes to go in the match, Alexis Sanchez equalized, breaking his fabled scoring drought. Tottenham had plenty of dangerous moments after that and got away with a foul that should have resulted in a sending-off for Eric Dier, but Arsenal had some dangerous moments in Tottenham’s defensive third, too.
With the exception of the last moment of the game, in which Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina wasted the last few seconds, Arsenal were going for it. Everybody knew that 1 point from a tie was not what was needed to make a dent in the point gap between us and Leicester City at the top. Two of Arsene’s substitutions were intended to maximize our chances offensively. The third, the introduction of Matthieu Flamini, must have been to preserve someone for the Hull City match on Tuesday.
Poor Mathieu Flamini. To have so many ne’er-do-wells such as myself questioning his value. He did the job he was asked to do yesterday.
Young Hector Bellerin wasn’t at his best, lost the ball too easily and created some defensive moments that could have been dangerous, but he had two assists. The second one is my favorite. He placed the ball perfectly for Alexis to run onto and then just stopped to admire his work as Alexis put it in. He knew it was the perfect ball, even for a guy struggling for form.
It ended in a 2-2 tie. As I said, not the result we needed to cut into Leicester’s lead. But a gutsy performance overall and notably, not one that required a dominant performance by Mesut Ozil. He was invisible for much of this match while others stepped up. Exactly what needed to happen.
Like the guy with the bloodied head in the photo before the match, we were defiant.