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Sunday 8 November 2015

The Last Post?

Rarely can I recall being more relieved at the prospect of break from the relentless run of fixtures and hopefully a fortnight of International footie, which might afford some of our players a much needed opportunity to recuperate. Admittedly Spurs were likely to have been no less fatigued in advance of their short trip to the right end of the Seven Sisters Rd, after having played Monday and Thursday. But they weren’t coming to our place on the back of the sort of psychological midweek battering that we endured, in our utterly humiliating defeat to Bayern.

Moreover in the likes of Delle Alli and Dier and so many of the relatively new faces in Pochettino’s hungry, young line-up, Spurs benefit from the fact that they don’t carry the same baggage of some of their old stagers, who’ve grown more accustomed to playing second fiddle to the Arsenal. By contrast, judging by our comparative lack of intensity in the first half, doubtless some of the Gunners were guilty of taking our long-standing superiority for granted.

Obviously, with Man City dropping an unlikely two points at Villa Park immediately prior, you could sense the mood of expectation amongst the throng of Gooners heading to the game, with everybody hoping we could take advantage of City’s slip up, with the win that would leave us going into the break sitting pretty atop the table. Sadly, the bookies favourites for the title won’t be deprived of the influential likes of Silva and Aguerro for ever and one can’t help but feel that we’ve missed a trick, by us failing to capitalize on what might well prove a rare opportunity to gain some ground on our immediate rivals.

Nevertheless, truth be told, in the opinions of many, a draw seemed to be the most likely outcome for Sunday’s game. Considering that the Gunners appeared so leg-weary in last weekend’s decidedly flattering victory against Swansea and in view of our struggle to escape the Allianz Arena on Wednesday with still some semblance of dignity intact, after forty-five minutes of a dominant Spurs performance the vast majority of us were desperate merely to salvage a face-saving point.

In fact, if I was (heaven forfend!) a Spurs fan, I would’ve been left feeling particularly disappointed at having failed to make the most of such a prime opportunity to stick the boot in, while the Gunners were down. There was a moment during the first-half that was a metaphor for the majority of this encounter, as Delle Alli bypassed Coquelin, not the least bit distracted by Franny pretty much ripping off Alli's shorts, in his vain attempt to thwart the impressive Spurs midfielder.

Still, unlike the majority of his team-mates who appeared to be more spectators than participants in this contest, at least Coquelin offered some resistance. Little did we realise that the army trumpeter’s moving rendition of the last post prior to kick-off would be a signal for the Gunners to lay down and surrender!

Despite Flamini’s two-goal heroics in our League Cup triumph at the Lane some weeks back, Matty was hardly the most likely candidate to turn this game around. Seeing Stevie Bould towering over him with his clipboard at half-time, didn’t exactly inspire us. These frantic and seemingly pointless pitch-side efforts to pass on last-minute detailed instructions always make me laugh, when all Bouldie really needed was the French equivalent for “get stuck in”!

As had been the case against Bayern, Spurs goal was largely due to the fact that we were guilty of gifting Danny Rose all the time he required to lift his head up, unopposed and pick out a through ball to Harry Kane. Although I can appreciate the logic in not wanting to waste too much energy, chasing the ball on the halfway line, it’s surely asking for trouble and feels uncomfortably arrogant, to be standing off the opposition, inviting them to do their worst.

It’s certainly not the blood and thunder, relentless pressure that we as fans demand from all of our players in this bi-annual derby battle. With Cazorla looking like “the little boy lost”, as if one of the mascots had inadvertently wandered onto the pitch, at least his replacement by Flamini enabled us to baton down the hatches in the middle of the park.

However with chances at a premium against Spurs miserly defence, we really couldn’t afford for Giroud to be squandering them. The obvious limitations of Arsène’s squad were highlighted by the fact that full-back Kieran Gibbs was left as the only card our manager was comfortable in playing, to try and rescue this match. Having grumbled that Gibbs was hardly likely to have an impact, I must admit that I was left eating my words a few moments later, when he managed to get on the end of Özil’s cross and smuggle the ball past Lloris.

We’d mistakenly erupted earlier, when we thought Campbell had equalised and so there was a moment’s hesitation whilst waiting for some confirmation, before everyone exploded in a euphoric convulsion of relief, after having enduring the mounting dread that the old enemy were about to get one over on us. Ultimately it felt significant that we managed to scrabble over the line, unbeaten. Yet with a full treatment room and so many of the remainder looking as if they are already on their last legs, the question is whether we’ve already hit “the wall”, or will this fortnight prove sufficient to recover the necessary fortitude and the required spring in our step for the Gunners to go again?

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