Ten days ago I took what for me was a highly significant decision but in the great scheme of things means diddly. I decided not to go to the Arsenal game. The logic was sound enough: the sale of the ticket subsidises one of the forthcoming Champions League matches, for family reasons my evening time is precious so I carefully ration my leisure time, and it was the League Cup 3rd Round, a competition and a stage that does not set the pulse racing regardless of European involvement.
I actually felt guilty, as if I were letting myself and the team down. 40 and more years of anticipating the derby, get behind the lads. Absurdly stupid – the club have had enough of my money over the years, as if they care. But being a Spurs fan, logic has no place as my mind contorts out of shape. So rationally it’s one match in a devalued competition in an expensive season. The sofa was the right place to be. But when the goals went in, heart ruled head. I couldn’t pretend any more – it hurt.
Harry obviously doesn’t think much of the League Cup either. Nobody expects to see a full strength side and we have serious injury problems at the back but the match was effectively decided when the team sheets were handed in. Wenger outmanoeuvred us by playing a strong side, especially in midfield. However, given our squad we could have fielded a better team and still achieved the aim of resting key players and giving much needed experience to others.
Our right side was the major, and avoidable, weakness. It’s asking a lot for a young man to step up to the first team, let alone in a derby, let alone to play with defensive partners for the first time ever. Two of them in one go is too much. Caulker did well for the most part. I liked the look of him, confident, unafraid, well-balanced and alert, always on the look-out for the clever forward runs of the Arsenal players. Tiredness took its toll, however. As the legs and lungs fail, so does the mind. In extra time the mask of concentration slipped and panic took over. Just for the one moment, and that was enough.
Naughton had a bad one. He isolated himself too often and discovered a harsh lesson that at this level his blistering recovery acceleration was not always enough to get him and his team out of trouble.
Redknapp provided no protection. Gio worked up a sweat but wandered aimlessly in search of the ball before apparently disappearing altogether. He’s not really a right-sided midfielder but the rumour that a Spurs coach sees him as ‘a pre-season star’ seems about right.
So that whole side was unbalanced. Gio didn’t help Naughton, Naughton over-compensated and left Caulker exposed. With the excellent Gibbs over there, and Nasri moved to that side, we were always vulnerable. The cross for their opener took out 4 or 5 of our defenders in the box. Bentley had the best angle, in fact he enjoyed it so much he stopped to admire the view.
Perhaps he wished it was something he could have emulated. On the night, Box-office Bentley played to the crowd, going for the blockbuster option wherever possible. A shot where a pass might be on, long range if at all possible, sweeping killer passes that were ripe for interception. He would have been better advised to play the straight man on the right, shuttling up and down, going the simple things well, the rest is bonus. He must think more about his game. We talk about young players taking time to learn their lessons, but when is he going to start?
Hutton and Krancjar would have given the team a much better shape. JJ has energy to spare. After Saturday’s cameo, I’m surprised Hutton did not appear. Maybe Harry sees him as first choice now and is resting him for Saturday then the CL. What’s happened to Niko? Word is that he had a verrrrrrry relaxing summer – he looks big to me. If he had played in midfield or maybe behind the striker he could have offered something. , or has Harry had words with him? Pav was isolated in the first half.
The long-awaited appearance of the Brazilian was bound to be an anti-climax but he was impressive. He looks a genuine defensive midfielder, for the most part naturally moving into the right position. Despite his size he’s mobile and alert, and certainly fitter than the comically biased Alan Smith was prepared to give him credit for. Hardly a fresh-faced youngster, more battle-hardened veteran by the look of him. How old? More please.
In the second half we looked better with 4-4-2. Keane’s goal should have been saved but hopefully it will give him the confidence boost he sorely needs. He then missed from 4 feet. Oh well.
Arsenal were undoubtedly the better team but our cave-in was disappointing. Both were penalties, but at the risk of sounding like the old fogey that I’m turning into, they were modern penalties – I just have that feeling that 10 years ago, the first one would not have been given and the player would not have gone down so rapidly for the second.
League Cup and sofa, who am I kidding? it was a deflating experience. 4-1 at home is 4-1 at home and no amount of philosophising will change the score. I’ve survived, despite my guilt. I wasn’t present to share the pain and I don’t feel that bad today, so I’m feeling bad about not feeling bad. Hopeless.
What does it tell us? Nothing new. Arsenal play to a system, therefore it’s easier for different personnel to slot into comfortable surroundings. We rely more on each player doing their own jobs – we’re fine when everyone does it well and the jigsaw fits together but are left frustrated and bereft when it doesn’t work out. We need several regulars on parade to do well and cannot cope with wholesale changes.
Our squad is strong but we did not make full use of it last night. Our young players are promising – I have high hopes for Caulker and Sandro – so let’s nurture that promise carefully. Nothing’s changed after last night.
Cheer yourselves up. The excellent new book In Search of Alan Gilzean by James Morgan is out now, available at all good bookstores and a few bad ones. I’m halfway through – it’s great look out for a review this weekend. More info here: http://insearchofalangilzean.backpagepress.co.uk/
Also, check out Spurs fan and journalist Jeff Maysh’s forthcoming book, a loving look at Spurs kit over the years: http://jeffmayshbooks.wordpress.com/lilywhite-blue/ Out next month, the photos look sumptuous. Look forward to the signed Jimmy Walker keeper’s jersey.