Sunday, 6 March 2016

10 Man Arsenal Fight Back To Earn A Draw

I had very little confidence in Arsenal going into yesterday's North London Derby after some awful performances from them in the last week. They needed to take all three points to keep their Premier League title hopes alive and I just couldn't see them getting a win at an in form Spurs team who were three points ahead of them. The meeting of the second and third placed teams was just what Leicester wanted as they looked to increase their lead at the top later in the day away to Watford.

Arsene Wenger rang the changes as he looked to put some life into a team who just hadn't been good enough in the defeats against United and Swansea. David Ospina came in for the injured Petr Cech in goal while Kieran Gibbs replaced Nacho Monreal at left back. In midfield Mohamed El Neny took Aaron Ramsey's position as Ramsey moved to the right and Joel Campbell dropped to the bench. The final change was in attack where Danny Welbeck got a chance in the central role and Olivier Giroud missed out.

Spurs dominated the early proceedings and it took Arsenal a while to get any sort of footing in the game, but they at least managed to keep their hosts scoreless thanks to some good work from Ospina. Five minutes before the end of the first half Arsenal took the lead with a sublime back flick from Ramsey after some good work from Welbeck and Hector Bellerin. They held that lead until half time and started the second half very well.

The turning point in the game came when Francis Coquelin stupidly slid in to tackle Harry Kane when he really should have stood up and ushered him down the line. He had already got a slightly harsh yellow card in the first half for handball and the referee had no choice but to issue another yellow and give him his marching orders. If Spurs wanted a way back into the game they had just been handed it on a plate.

I thought Arsenal had to change things immediately and bring Mathieu Flamini on, but the boss chose to drop Ramsey back into the Coquelin role. What Arsenal had to do at that stage was hold out and try to hit Spurs on the break, but in true Arsenal style they folded within six minutes. 

Ospina kept a shot out by literally a millimetre with his wedding tackle even if his choice of starting position behind the line was more than questionable. Spurs equalised when Ramsey played Toby Alderwield onside after a corner and he finished from close range. The momentum was with Spurs and yet again Arsenal could do nothing to stop it.

Gibbs played Dele Alli onside and he recovered it in the corner when Per Mertesacker should really have put it out of play. Alli back heeled the ball for Harry Kane who brought it inside and finished superbly into the far corner. There was nothing Ospina could do about the goal, but his defenders didn't help him by putting no pressure on Kane.

I feared the worst at that stage and a real drubbing could have been on the cards, but Arsenal dug deep. Maybe Spurs celebrated their second goal too much and thought the game was over, but Arsenal continued to fight hard and got their reward with 15 minutes left. Bellerin played the ball in behind the Spurs defence and Alexis hit a shot which bounced in front of Hugo Lloris and went in off the far post.

Neither team really wanted a point and they both did their best to take all three, but to no avail. Ospina had to be at his best again to deny Spurs and I can't remember the last time an Arsenal keeper had to make nine saves in a league game. In added time Arsenal almost snatched it when Ramsey was played in, but he was denied by a last ditch tackle just as he was about to pull the trigger and the game ended even.

There is no doubt that the Coquelin red card had a huge influence on the outcome and the referee showed the lack of consistency in the game when he didn't give Eric Dier a second yellow with the score at 2-1. He had already been booked for pulling an Arsenal player back and when he did it to Giroud the referee bottled the decision. He did the same with Bellerin very late in the game, but the failure to send off Dier could have had a much bigger effect on the outcome given the timescale and the score at the time.

Coquelin apologised for his red card after the game and he was the fourth Arsenal player to receive his marching orders this season. The players have to be commended for coming back from 2-1 down to get the draw with only 10 men, but at the same time they capitulated far too easily as soon as Coquelin was sent off. A draw didn't do too much for either team's title ambitions and Arsenal are now eight points behind Leicester with nine games to go.

Next up for Arsenal is an FA Cup replay at Hull on Tuesday night and the outcome of that game could determine an awful lot. If they win they will face Watford in the quarter finals next weekend and they're only two games from a third final in a row. If they win their league game at home to West Brom scheduled for next Saturday will be postponed and the two teams above them as well as City will all play in the league next weekend.

Those three teams have games against the bottom three and the three of them will be expected to win. If they do Arsenal will be 11 points behind Leicester and six behind Spurs with a game in hand and one point behind City having played the same number of games. I just can't see us making up 11 points on Leicester in nine games even if we do have a game in hand, but six points on Spurs is still possible. 

To add to Arsenal's troubles West Ham won again yesterday when they came from two down to beat Everton 3-2 and they're breathing down our necks. A win for United today would put them two points behind Arsenal and West Ham are only three back and those two teams will be fighting hard to finish fourth. The season is on the precipice now and it could go either way.

It's going to take some real character for Arsenal to win the league and they will probably have to win at least eight of their last nine games to have any hope. The cup is certainly a very real prospect for the third season in a row, but it would be scant consolation if the title challenge has come to nothing. Added to the mix is a trip to Barcelona with Arsenal two down from the first leg and the prospect of a very difficult night for the team.

It's up to the players what happens from here on in and they could well prosper if they show some of the character and bottle they displayed to get back into the game yesterday. They are two characteristics the players have been accused of lacking recently, but they will need them both in abundance from here on in. In a topsy turvey Premier League they might not be written off quite yet, but it's as close as it can get to throwing the towel in.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.


  1. Very good analysis of the #NLD.Very crowded fixture list coming up.Glad the comment of the Spurs guy in yesterdays' preview did not happen.

  2. Thanks, when we went down to 10 men I thought it might well have happened, but thankfully the players found something extra.