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Tuesday 14 February 2012

Tottenham Watching Eastenders...So Long As Harry Has Technical Assistance To Turn On His TV!

It’s barmy to think that it was only a couple of weeks back that we were contemplating the potentially catastrophic consequences of failing to finish in the top four and the tragi-comic, comedown of bromidic Thursday night football in the Europa League. In the absence of any silverware, Champions League qualification has come to be viewed as scant consolation, as we Gooners have grown accustomed to taking our seat at Europe’s top table for granted, following 14 consecutive seasons of our participation in this highly-prized pearl of club football.

Now here we are delighted to be flying off to a glamorous encounter in Milan (arctic weather permitting?), against the renowned Rossoneri, whilst sitting pretty in 4th place - albeit only by grace of having scored four more goals than the Blues - optimistically feeling as if we’re suddenly back in the Champions League frame.

As cock-a-hoop as we were to have seen Titi take a bow in his final Premiership curtain call, after a last-minute smash & grab on Wearside, there could be no denying that our elevated status is largely due to error-strewn efforts of the inconsistent sides around us. And as if we needed further reminding of the calibre of football required of a genuine form side, the Gunners were still removing their boots at the Stadium of Light when we received news of the slap in the face of Spurs’ quick-fire barrage against the Barcodes.

By contrast, it was hard to imagine where a goal was going to come from against Sunderland, up until Aaron Ramsey’s strike after 75 frustrating minutes. Even then, as his opportunistic effort pinballed between the posts, I was convinced the ball was going to bounce away from the goal and into Mignolet’s hands.

Van Persie’s peach of a goal against Man Utd was the only Gunners’ effort to make it into the Goal of the Month montage, shown on the box on Sunday night. Seeing us cut a swathe through Utd, moving the ball from one end of the pitch to the other in the blink of an eye with just three passes, only served to highlight why we’d struggled to break down the Black Cats. With the scintillating pace of Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain operating on the flanks, it shouldn't be beyond us to stretch any opposition, by getting them turned and running towards their own goal.

Yet with Martin O’Neill relying on the same XI who required extra-time to eject Boro from the FA Cup in midweek, instead of trying to run them ragged, we insisted on playing to their ‘park the bus’ strengths, with the sort of slow-tempo, predictable passing game, which all took place in front of the massed ranks of Sunderland’s defence, as we tried in vain to pass our way through the eye of this resolute needle.

O’Neill’s tactics were pragmatic and on another day McClean might’ve stolen all three points, as the Derry lad took advantage of Mertesacker’s mishap (on this cabbage patch of a pitch!). But defence against attack doesn’t exactly make for exhilarating entertainment and with this being our least impressive season during Arsène’s long tenure, these days I’m always surprised when opposition managers afford us the same level of respect that they might show to the Premiership’s form sides. While I’m sure Sunderland fans currently believe O’Neill walks on water, in their shoes I’d have been disappointed with the lack of ambition evident in the Black Cats apparent reluctance to take us on.

But then a more open game would’ve probably played into our hands and as we’ve witnessed with Man City in recent weeks, in the absence of the irresistible force that is Yaya Touré, opponents have largely managed to frustrate the title contenders with smothering tactics, getting about City’s creative sources in twos and threes and making up for any lack of class, with their work rate and commitment. However while City can invariably count on a selection of keys to eventually unlock the door in such circumstances, the Gunners are all too reliant on RVP, as our one and only master locksmith.

I’d hoped Gervinho might return to lend some incisiveness to our attack, but after missing the penalty that cost Ivory Coast the African Cup of Nations, he’s hardly likely to be full of the joys of Spring. Meanwhile as big a deal as Milan might be (in case it should prove to be our Champions League swansong!), I’m sure I’m not alone with my concerns that Arsène might not view our encore at Wearside this weekend with equal significance. Surely it’s time for le Prof to set his own pragmatism aside, in an effort to end our trophy drought by going ‘eyeballs out’ for the one that’s closest to hand?
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