08 February 2015

The Negative Spiral, Part II: Arsenal, arise!

A tense North London Derby has left us in shambles, much as it did two years ago—when a similar loss left us seven points adrift of an apparently ascendant adversary. Two years ago, that loss was supposed to send us into a negative spiral out of which we were apparently powerless to resist. My memory fails me at the best of times, so I apologise in advance. Just how did things turn out the last time we ventured in into White Hart Lane only to come away empty-handed? Ah, yes—fourth place, our accustomed (accursed?) spot, a point ahead of our dear friends from down the road. Fast-forward to 2015, and a certain feeling of déjà vu might creep in. For as ominous as that might feel at first, take solace in the fact that the last time we lost at White Hart Lane, there were only ten matches left to play. This time through, not only are there fourteen left to play, we're girding our loins rather than straining them.

As we've already discussed, no one in the squad bathed themselves in glory, save Ospina, who, by saving so many shots, spares himself the indignity to follow. No one else can credit himself with a match well-played, not even Mesut Özil, who scored the goal to put us ahead. Aside from that sequence, we were on the back-foot for almost the entire match. Players who had played talismanic roles, whether it was Cazorla in recent weeks or Ramsey further into the past, were all but invisible. We clearly seemed to miss Alexis, directly in the sense of the shots and chances he created, and indirectly in the sense of the effort and work-rate he offered. We were flat, and we paid the price.

Then again, you get what you pay for. Yes, we lost to the Spuds. Yes, they now sit above us on the table. However, the response to this result highlights a key difference between Arsenal and Tottenham. We trod off, clearly disappointed. The Spuds celebrated maniacally, as if they had achieved something. Yes, a North London Derby reaches a fever-pitch, but winning one is but one skirmish in a much-larger war. What does it matter for one squad to win over another in February only to finish below that that same squad come May? It's too early to predict just who will finish above the other, but there's a certain sense of letting the baby have its bottle at the moment.

Let's revisit the last time those Spuds beat us. It was March 2013, and there were only ten matches left. This blog had just come online at the close of the transfer-window, with Nacho Monreal joining. Shambolic defending allowed Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon to score, and we were apparently dead to rights. However, we never got that memo, and we went on to win eight of those last ten, drawing the other two. Spurs, meanwhile, would go on to lose their next two matches away to Liverpool and at home to Fulham, respectable enough on its face but representative of a certain small-club mentality. In that instance as well as this one, Arsenal might be accused of adopting a certain nonchalance while their rivals asserted a definite insistence.

The short-term payoff is obvious: Tottenham won the match and have climbed higher on the table. In the longer term, we've all read this script before, and we know how it ended up last time.

Alexis, for one, is assessing this one with at least one eyebrow cocked, Gabriel is taking notes on our opponents, and Ramsey, Cazorla, and a fair-few others are licking their wounds as all of them size up their chances. This is not the first time we've had our backs up against it, but it might be the first time that we've had our backs up against it and felt like we were gathering strength instead of seeing it slip away.

The turn-around time is quick, as we host Leicester on Tuesday. Elsewhere, Tottenham travel to Anfield to face resurgent Liverpool. I wouldn't be surprised if order was restored to the universe as early as that. Even if we have to wait a bit longer, I'm sure that we'll look back on Saturday's result with nothing more than a rueful smile, nothing more, nothing less.