When I came back from work I was somewhat excited at the prospect of watching a decent cup derby. The League Cup had been somewhat generous this year with two derbies; Villa against Birmingham the night before and a mid-week North London derby at such an early round brought a little magic to the darken September evening. Not quite the glitz and heritage of the FA Cup but surely a little more enticing than the next round of the Great British Bake Off and yet I was left a little disappointed by the show at White Hart Lane. Here we had a battle of styles; Wenger’s philosophy of possession against Pochettino’s high pressing game in a fixture which just seemingly delivers goals for fun, a cash cow of excitement. Yet this game was more about the lack of fluency than anything else.
Arsenal, off the back of the Chelsea defeat, lined up with no less than 10 changes for this game and whilst you couldn’t argue that Arsene Wenger has a fantastic squad to supplement his first team, tonight’s performance wouldn’t have the likes of Ozil, Cazorla and in particular Bellerin fretting about their first team places. So many changes brought about a slightly clunky Arsenal team with the defensive base of Flamini and Arteta hardly offering the same dynamism of a Coquelin lunging into tackles. The very fact Flamini was Arsenal’s best player, yet won’t start against Leicester (unless Coquelin remains injured), hints at the dilemma for Arsene, offering himself up to scrutiny through his lack of transfer activity. Very few fringe players seized their opportunity. The likes of Joel Campbell was anonymous on the whole, Debauchy struggled against Danny Rose, Son, Njie and basically any other player who looked him in the eye. Gibbs looked assured with some great positional awareness to block Kane’s shot off the line but with such a proneness to injury record a starting berth has never looked assured. Giroud ran the channels adequately but again his finishing came up short and the Ox looked short on confidence. Oxlade-Chamberlain raises a potential big question for Arsene Wenger. In two games that spring to mind Oxlade-Chamberlain had two of the best European games I can recall, both at the Emirates after first leg defeats, against AC Milan and Bayern Munich. Playing more centrally than usual, the Ox looked like a talent unleashed with domineering runs from deep and the ability to coast pass players – he looked like he was on the cusp of something truly special. Yet the emergence of Ramsey, Ozil and Alexis coming in on big transfer fees as seen his position in the pecking order remain slightly static to the detriment of his own personal development.
For Tottenham things I would say looked a little more positive on the night. Harry Kane’s goal scoring drought continues but with a goal ruled out for offside and a genuinely fantastic effort hit on the full at the far post hints at a player still riding on the confidence of last season. He will score, it is more a matter of when. Chadli and Rose look dangerous going forward, Trippier I thought was a very sensible acquisition from Burnley and will certainly challenge Kyle Walker and Son looks the part. Tottenham’s undoing this evening seemed to stem from the centre back partnership of Vimmer and Fazio. Neither seemed confident to dictate to the other about positional play and who is to step up and close. Such confusion could be seen in both goals with Flamini reading Vorm’s parry out for the first goal faster than either defender and with the ball dropping about 20 yards out off a deflection, Flamini raced in for a really great finish (Giroud take note) for the second. No defender near him. Until now Tottenham’s defence has been one of the best in the league but as Manchester City can vouch the loss of a central defensive lynchpin can do far greater harm than merely losing a first team player and such a fate occur Vertonghen or Alderweireld then Tottenham fans have cause for potentially concern. This defeat also raises the issue of where Tottenham sees themselves this season with the likes of Everton, Palace, Swansea, Southampton and potentially Leicester and West Ham challenging for Top 8 positions. Where do Tottenham see themselves in the Premier League? Neither Tottenham nor Arsenal fielded a strong team, but yet both teams needed a result. With defeat Tottenham are left with one (albeit impressive) win against Palace to their name in the league, out of the League Cup and are potentially in danger of stagnating under Pochettino. Harry Redknapp’s remit was clearly Top 4 football and with Daniel Levy not one to sit on his hands when dismissing managers, what are Pochettino’s objectives this season?
This game at the end of the season may have very little bearing when manager and chairman sit down to assess their respective campaigns but nonetheless a North London derby provided the opportunity to gain some invaluable early season momentum and form for players and teams alike and I can’t help but think this was an opportunity lost for Tottenham and one certainly gained for Arsenal.