16 March 2014

Spuds 0-1 Arsenal: Grading the Gunners

On the whole, it wasn't necessarily the prettiest match to watch as Arsenal looked content to defend an early lead, earned through Tomáš Rosický's stunning second-minute goal. The rest of the match saw the Spuds try in vain to unlock the Arsenal defense, but they have little to show for their efforts as Arsenal came away with their first Prem victory at White Hart Lane since 2007. We now sit in second place,nine points above the Spuds (who do have a game in hand) and are level with Liverpool at 62. Chelsea's loss to Aston Villa means we are now four points behind them (they too have a game in hand, though). Alas, the poor Spuds now have to worry more about staying in the top five as Everton, with two games in hand, are only two points behind them. Try to look sincere as you shake head slowly and sadly at the idea that the Europa League may have to soldier on bravely without any Spuds next season. As for us, let's have a quick look at how the lads did (stats and ratings courtesy of whoscored.com)...

Starters:
  • Laurent Koscielny—9.23: A well-deserved Man of the Match for Kos, who was simply a beast throughout. Three tackles (2nd in the squad), 15 clearances (2nd), and three aerial duels (2nd) only tell part of the story, which also includes a vital goal-line clearance and last-man tackle. He was instrumental in locking down Adebayor and keeping that sheet clean.
  • Per Mertesacker—8.36: It's fitting that our center-backs came out smelling like roses on this day. We didn't generate much going forward, so Kos and Per faced down a lot of pressure. Per was, well, massive, with 20 clearances (1st), seven aerial duels (1st), three shots blocked (1st), and a few scoring opportunities that he couldn't quite convert.
  • Mikel Arteta—7.96: A bit of a quiet performance from Arteta, as he and most of the midfield seemed largely anonymous and out of sorts. However, he did keep things organized in the face of constant pressure from Tottenham, blocking three shots (1st) and adding in four interceptions (2nd) to hold them at bay.
  • Tomáš Rosický—7.82: Another derby, another crucial goal for Rosický. That screamer seventy seconds into the match was the only goal we needed, which is great, because it's the only goal we got. He added two key passes (1st) but struggled to have his customary impact throughout the match. Perhaps playing wide right limited his ability to influence things as much as when he's played more centrally...
  • Bacary Sagna—7.63: Despite drawing an early yellow card, Sagna did well to contain Rose and Eriksen on the flanks, showing little sign of some of the sluggishness that has seen him get blamed (by me) for goals we've conceded. At one point, as Rose tried to dribble Sagna, a Spud shouted, "run at him! He's on a yellow!" after which Sagna coolly tackled Rose to end the threat and, presumably, the shouting of advice. Four tackles led the team. Oh, and he tweaked Sherwood enough that Sherwood heaved the ball at him. Twice.
  • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain—7.6: He's credited with an assist on the goal, which might be a bit generous as he seemed to simply lose the ball in Rosický's direction, but whatever. Ox was guilty later of fluffing a scoring opportunity of his own and looked a little off his game, spraying passes around without much intent or accuracy (78%). With Spuds playing a perilously high line, we might have hoped to see more running from Ox, but it never really came to pass.
  • Santi Cazorla—7.46: Santi struggled to influence the match, to be honest, managing just one shot on goal and passing poorly (74%) accuracy). If it weren't for his four tackles (1st), he might not have had anything to point to as a contribution. Spuds had overloaded with five midfielders, and it did show in their possession (59%), but Santi also didn't seem like he could figure out what to do.
  • Kieran Gibbs—7.28: He had a lot to keep himself busy with 44% of Spud's attack coming down our left side, but he did well to keep things quiet against Townsend, Sandro, and Naughton, none of whom could get a shot on target or really do much of anything to contribute. Gibbs did pick up a yellow card, which is almost de rigueur when Mike Dean is involved.
  • Wojciech Szczesny—7.15: He made countless saves and punched clearances, but the story was very nearly how the scrum in front of goal that Kos was alert enough to squash. He leapt for a cross, but pawed at it lamely as he fell away from goal, and thanks be to Kos that he was there to block the shot. His post-match selfie is almost enough to atone for the lapse in judgment.
  • Olivier Giroud—6.53: He was poor, no doubt about that, but he also struggled to even get the ball. Five turnovers, two blatant offsides, and no shots on goal. Still, he's not as terrible as twitter was making him out to be. It would have been nice to see Sanogo come on, though, as Giroud was clearly struggling to have any positive impact anyway.
  • Lukas Podolski—6.44: I think I'm done with Poldi, at least as a starter. He might be a great guy, but he just doesn't deliver much. In 77 minutes, he managed only 29 touches, lowest among the starters. Behind him, Gibbs had 55 touches. Sure, part of Poldi's low number stems from our lower-than-usual possession, but he just never seemed to be involved or interested. I'd rather Cazorla play on the left and see Poldi come in in the second half, especially when he puts in such a lackluster shift as a starter.
Substitutes
  • Mathieu Flamini (69' for Rosický)—6.52: Even if we were looking to get a bit more defensive, even if Rosický was tiring, I didn't like seeing Flamini come on. Sure enough, he picked up a yellow card about ten minutes after coming in. Still, he did well enough to stay on the pitch and help more than he hurt, by which I mean that I assume he didn't hurt anyone.
  • Nacho Monreal (77' for Podolski)—6.33: Meh. It was pretty clear that Poldi was more or less taking up space, so why not take him off for Monreal? His arrival meant that we had six defenders on the pitch, but he didn't have much to do. He did, however, chip in with a couple of interceptions and clearances.
  • Thomas Vermaelen (85' for Oxlade-Chamberlain): Finally, Tommy gets to play some defensive midfield! Kidding. More seriously, though, I worry that these late, late substitutions are more grating than gratifying for him. Would he have come on at all if Ox hadn't needed to come off with some soreness/fatigue/cramps/whatever?
So there you have it. We gutted out a win, meaning we kept three clean sheets against Tottenham in one season, the first time we've held them scoreless in a Prem season. You can't ask for much more than that.