This is only partly due to their longevity as bastions of the English upper class. It also gets to the heart of the lack of character that both North London clubs are trying to eradicate.
The Spursy Arrow is an arrow that has been thrown at Tottenham for years, signalling the team’s habit of leaving with a victory in sight. For the Gunners, there’s no equivalent for verbosity – Peak Arsenal have been the best on social media for years; they’ve built their own blooper reel.
Just this week, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta was asked how he tried to reduce the number of individual errors that have undermined progress during his 15-month tenure. Saturday, the 6th. In March, the Gunners were leading 1-0 against Burnley when Granit Xhaka intercepted a ball from goalkeeper Bernd Leno and crossed into his own penalty area, which bounced into the net via striker Chris Wood. The Gunners failed to recover and played out a 1-1 draw: more lost points in what looked like a lost season.
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It’s very difficult, because in a football situation you expect a lot, but we have to be much calmer emotionally and have much more confidence, Arteta said after the loss against Burnley. We need to handle the game better in certain situations, and that comes with maturity and learning.
The good thing is that I think we have it under control – it’s not something the opponents do that we can’t control. I think it’s easier to solve it, but we have to do it very quickly, because otherwise you’re going to lose points all the time.
Thursday’s Europa League round 16 clash with Greek representatives Olympiacos threatened to become another classic when Leno’s misplaced pass again embarrassed his teammate. Dani Ceballos was brought down in his own half and Youssef El-Araby made it 1-1. Two late goals from Gabriel and Mohamed Elneny quickly made up for Jeballo’s mistake.
For her part, Aretha continues to play behind the scenes. They’re not far off, he said after Thursday’s 3-1 victory. The goals we miss or the opportunities we miss we owe to ourselves. That’s a really positive thing, because once we stop doing that, of course we’ll be even stronger. But the reality is that we have to stop this now, because if we don’t, every game is a [chance to] lose points.
Since Haka came to Borussia Monchengladbach for £34 million in the summer of 2016, no Premier League player has made mistakes that led to goals (8). But this is not an isolated incident. Since 2017, Arsenal have led several self-destructive statistics: most errors leading to goals (35), most missed penalties (23) and most red cards (14, including nine for Arteta).
Spurs coach Jose Mourinho was quick to point out his own team’s shortcomings in a similar area. They have already lost 10 points and four times this season: from Newcastle United (1-0) (penalty wrongly awarded for a hands ball in the VAR review), Crystal Palace (mistake by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris), Wolves (equalizer in 86th minute) and Fulham (Davinson Sanchez missed the equalizer too easily and missed several chances).
Tottenham also took a three-point lead over West Ham at the start of the season, beating them 3-0 with eight minutes to play, and Mourinho has regularly complained about his side’s defensive weaknesses throughout the season. His tactical caution in standard matches often leads to tricky cat-and-mouse situations, but after the FA Cup fifth round defeat at Everton (5-4 in extra time) at 10. In February, Mourinho adapted to this analogy.
Serge Aurier and Granit Xhaka have both been guilty of this this season. Glyn Kirk – Pool/Getty Images
Boom, boom, boom, foul, foul, goal, goal, he said. If you answer, you score again. Then fight again and score again. It was a mouse and a cat. The Mouse was our defensive failure and the Cat was our attempt to compensate for that by playing very well and scoring goals.
It’s certainly a fundamental internal struggle for any team – like being tight at the back, but strong up front – but given the respective characteristics of Arsenal and Tottenham, it’s tempting to think that Sunday’s match will be determined by which team is better at exploiting the other’s mistakes.
Mourinho’s approach is generally based on minimising mistakes. He is no fan of the biography of Diego Torres, but one of the central philosophical principles described in the book is clearly part of his methodology: Football favors the player who causes the most mistakes for the opponent.
The December derby is boring. Arsenal had 70% of the ball, 32 crosses and 11 shots on target against five from Spurs, but still found themselves trailing 2-0 and predictably getting two goals on the stroke of half-time. Mourinho set a trap and Arteta fell for it. Twice.
Son Heung-min opened the scoring with a superb free kick. On the second goal, Thomas Partey fell out injured in the middle of the action, causing an escalation, but Arsenal were with too many players on the pitch when the attack failed, leaving four Spurs strikers playing against two defenders and Harry Kane becoming the most prolific scorer in the North London derby, with 11 goals already.
Kane and Son performed bizarrely better than expected goals and assists at the time, but have since fallen back to average. However, the emergence of Gareth Bale has provided a boost to Spurs’ attacking line; the Wales international scored twice in Sunday’s 4-1 win over Crystal Palace. The triumvirate of Bale, Kane and Son showed promise early in the season and have finally been allowed to join forces. The re-entry of Dele Alli also provides an extra boost.
Spurs have had their best results this season with a realistic approach to goal, as in their 2-0 win over Manchester City in November. They had just three shots on goal in the win over Arsenal in December, and in that respect they had a lot in common with their opponents. Arteta won the FA Cup last season, making two of four shots in the semi-final against Man City and two of three in the final against Chelsea.
Arsenal’s mid-season slump is as much down to the fact that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been out of action for a while, as it is to his vulnerability in defence. The Gunners were often too strong defensively, but the introduction of Martin Odegaard, on loan from Real Madrid in January, and youngsters Bukayo Ska and Emil Smith Rowe provided a better balance that Aubameyang undoubtedly took advantage of. After a two-and-a-half month drought with one league goal, the 31-year-old has scored nine goals in his last 11 games in all competitions.
His form should pose a threat to Spurs in the same way Bale, Kane and Son do for Arsenal, with the emphasis on reducing defensive errors. At least it’s a familiar destination for both of us.
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