Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal
It’s easier to damn than to praise after a defeat against your long-suffering nearest rivals, so let’s start off with the praise.
Firstly, for Arsenal to retain bragging rights in this fixture for 20 games, lasting over a decade, is a magnificent achievement for Arsene Wenger, it really is. History will forever remind us that between November 1999 and April 2010 we did not lose a single league game to them.
Secondly, Sol Campbell. For a creaking 35-year-old, he really did roll back the years last night. Despite the predictable abuse, his experience was there for all to see, and his urgency and drive was bettered by no-one. When we were chasing the game in the second half, he was often mixing things up at the half-way line. And when we had pushed up right at the end looking for the equaliser, and suddenly it was a one-on-one chase to get the ball with Bale, Campbell matched him yard for yard. I’m not sure what his plans are for next season, but given the possible departure of Gallas and the certain departures of Silvestre and Senderos, on this form another year would hardly be a gamble.
Thirdly, Robin van Persie’s return showed us what we have missed. Despite the lion’s share of possession we had done little to trouble the Spuds defence until he came on. He was incredible when he did, having one volley and a pinpoint free kick marvellously saved by the not so Hilarious Gomes. How we have missed him.
Overall though, it was a performance full of what-ifs.
What if we had had fewer injuries over the course of the season? Vermaelen was last night added to the roster of the crocked, joining the back of the snaking Colney queue for plaster and strepsils. For much of the game we were without three of our best midfielders, both of our best central defenders and our best striker. Spuds were without a few of their best players too so it’s not an excuse, but over the course of a season it’s been a major factor.
What if we had played with the incision and wit of the last 15 minutes a bit sooner? All the possession of the first half counted for naught. While some of our players stood up to the occasion, others did not. Wenger’s comments on Sol Campbell and the team in general were telling:
“Sol was one of our better players tonight. I think he was outstanding and he has shown what a winner he is and if he won championships, you see why. He deserves a lot of credit tonight because he turned up with a real performance.”
Others, he said, “were not mature enough”.
It wasn’t the night for a mixed bag of a performance, but that’s what we got. For all our possession, we weren’t creative enough in the midfield and we gave away both the goals weakly.
“Our passing was not quick enough, not sharp enough,” said Wenger. “We had a lot of ineffective possession.”
But the bottom line is we lost, and that means, unless you’re a big fan of improbability, we’re out of the title race for another year. To be honest, it’s been a long shot for a while. We’ve come back from the dead twice this campaign, which is impressive enough, but we were always chasing, chasing, chasing, and four points from the last nine has made that chase all but mathematically impossible.
Where do Arsenal go from here, you might ask?
Wigan is the answer.