I have a confession to make.
I didn’t watch the season’s first clash with our noisy neighbours live – in fact, I didn’t even watch it the same day – as I couldn’t bring myself to cancel a long-standing engagement to watch what I assumed would be a delightful game where a reserve Arsenal side was dumped out by something close to the Spurs first team, no doubt pumped up for the biggest game of their season.
Of course, we know now that it didn’t quite turn out that way, with Spurs making a few more changes than expected (albeit still less than Arsenal) and our revamped side able to more than hold its own in what was, by recent standards, a fairly tepid North London Derby… for the on field participants at least.
No, I watched the game on the train the next day and, despite initially trying to avoid the result, I did so knowing the score, the chief protagonists and – once my resistance completely caved – the entire match story via Twitter.
In summary, I knew:
- Mathieu Flamini had scored a worldie
- Aaron Ramsey had channelled his inner Ozil with a series of sublime key passes
- Harry Kane had hit his head on an advertising board in an apparently hilarious manner
- Olivier Giroud had missed a couple of absolute sitters
- Mathieu Debuchy had played so poorly that he deserved to be released from his contract immediately, preferably into a wilderness filled with Siberian tigers and giant mutated flesh-eating spiders.
Isn’t it strange how, when watching after the event, things don’t always look the same?
Of course, Flamini’s second still looked like an absolute wonder goal – this column has taken considerably longer to write this week given the number of times I have paused to rewatch a GIF of him catching the ball so beautifully – and indeed he was to be found overlapping Joel Campbell as early as the 3rd minute, apparently unshackled by playing alongside Arteta. Arsenal have a new striker! And Aaron Ramsey still had an excellent game, probing and finding endless amounts of space in behind and around the sides of the Spurs midfield.
Harry Kane’s head first plunge into the hoardings still raised a chuckle, as well, and it didn’t seem to change the forever gormless look that he bears.
However, maybe it’s because I was watching with the mandatory cheeriness that follows Gooners around after a victory over Tottenham, but I didn’t think Giroud had that bad a game. He should perhaps have lifted the ball over Vorm for one of his two presentable chances, but his near post effort which the Spurs keeper poked away in a brilliant save was no different a finish to the endless goals he has scored from the same position – sometimes it’s possible to just be unlucky.
As for Debuchy…
I don’t know if it’s just Arsenal fans, but it does occasionally feel as if we’re unable to enjoy a result without finding someone to criticise, someone to blame. Wednesday’s victim was our French full-back.
Now Debuchy didn’t do himself any favours when he announced that he had expected to be gifted his place in the team back as soon as he was fit, in spite of the form of Hector Bellerin. Nor, in truth, has he even looked fully fit in either of the games he has recently played.
However, nor was he as abysmal as I had expected based on the Twitter meltdown.
He played much closer to Calum Chambers than Bellerin typically does to Gabriel or Mertesacker this year, but that’s little surprise given the young centre back’s troubles in the first half against Liverpool and the style of play of both Chadli and Eriksen, preferring to cut inside and overload the centre than play as true widemen. It did expose him on the occasions when Danny Rose bombed beyond the tracking back of Joel Campbell – a rarity in fairness to the Costa Rican – and when the ball was given away poorly in midfield while he was ahead of the ball supporting in attack.
For the goal, he was undoubtedly caught infield and upfield, but a closer inspection of the preceding events reveals that a poor turnover by his centre-back teammates leaves him stranded after he makes a covering tackle to prevent the first phase of the counter attack. He could have got back quicker, of that there is no question, but he was hardly being reckless in his initial positioning.
The biggest error of his evening came when a frankly poor challenge right on the edge of the box gave Spurs a dangerous free kick which ultimately came to nothing, but it’s hard to be too critical of a player for mistiming a challenge when they are hardly featuring. It was noticeable against Dinamo Zagreb that both Debuchy and Gibbs looked off the proverbial pace, so it was good to see Debuchy putting I’m an improved (if not perfect) performance and his English colleague back to his goal-saving best.
All in all, not a world class performance from Mathieu by any stretch of the imagination, but hardly the disaster many were reporting.
Contrasts and calamities
Meanwhile, Calum Chambers was widely regarded as unlucky for scoring an own goal with no Spurs player in the vicinity. Now, don’t get me wrong, he had a cracking game overall, especially in light of his recent troubles and Debuchy’s inconsistent performance alongside him, but I can’t help feeling a little bit of communication between him and Ospina would have prevented that goal from happening.
That’s not to criticise the youngster – as I say he had a superb game – but just more evidence that as agendas and storylines snowball, the details can become a bit blurred.
It just goes to show – as Stephen noted so eloquently in his column on refereeing decisions – so much of football is subjective. Its beauty – and indeed its ugliness – is to be found in the eye of the beholder.
But that’s exactly what makes us love the game so. What one person sees is different to another, and it gives us endless content for discussion, debate and discourse.
So please, if you want to vilify Mathieu Debuchy in the heat of the moment, be my guest, but just promise me that you take a second look at the game or give him a second chance before you cast him off entirely. After all, he’s still better than both Spurs’ right backs, and Twitter isn’t always right…