EPL Notes: Tottenham gets in its own way vs. Arsenal; Garde helps Villa
The weight of history was almost visible in the last 15 minutes at the Emirates on Sunday.
After Tottenham drew 1—1 at Arsenal, Mauricio Pochettino blamed Tottenham’s exhausting schedule. Tottenham played on Monday and on Thursday. Arsenal played on Saturday and Wednesday, though, unlike Spurs, the Gunners had to leave North London and travel to Swansea and Munich.
“We play three match in six days, we have one day less of recovery,” Pochettino told Sky, which broadcast the match.
The main problem, though, was that Spurs play Arsenal twice every season. And those matches usually only reinforce Tottenham's insecurities.
For the first 75 minutes, Arsenal looked the tired team. Its front four barely bothered to run back to defend. Tottenham bullied Arsenal for most of the first half and a sustained stretch the middle of the second half.
Arsène Wenger said that Tottenham had controlled the midfield in the first half because Santi Cazorla was “dizzy.”
“Cazorla was not at the races,” Wenger said.
Harry Kane gave Spurs a deserved lead after 32 minutes and had chances to add a second.
Arsenal only posed a threat when it pumped aerial balls into the goalmouth. Olivier Giroud could have scored twice with second-half headers. That is not how Wenger’s Arsenal likes to beat opponents.
Paradoxically, Wenger got his team back into a game it was losing by taking off attacking players and bringing on defensive ones. In the second half, Mathieu Flamini and Kieran Gibbs replaced Santi Cazorla and Joel Campbell.
The switches paid off when a high ball to the far post reached Gibbs, whose tame shot squirmed over Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who was falling backwards at the near post.
Tottenham had won only one of its last nine visits to the Emirates. It has struggled in Arsenal’s shadow for more than three decades. After the goal, Arsenal was energized. Tottenham’s players, so coolly dominant for so long, seemed visibly to wilt as if suddenly realizing they could not out-run historical inevitability. They panicked, wasting time and whacking clearances wildly up the field.
Tottenham hung on for a draw in a match it should have won comfortably. Arsenal, even though it dropped points at home and missed a chance to go top of the league, will take confidence from gaining a point after being so badly outplayed.
“In the second half we had a great mental response and were determined not to lose,” said Wenger.
Rear Garde — Maybe Remi Garde really has made an instant difference at Villa Park. Certainly his team looked more organized and less neurotic than it has been so far this season as it held Manchester City, the league leader, to a goalless draw on Sunday.
Perhaps Garde inspired goalie Brad Guzan by telling the goalie how handsome he is. Certainly, if Garde did not like the look of the American’s face before the game, he liked it afterwards because Guzan used it to stop a close range header from Raheem Sterling. Guzan might not have known much about it, but it was the best of a string of saves.
Sterling, who scored a hat-trick at Bournemouth last month, was back in cannot- hit-a-barn-door mode. The header was the only one of his four strikes, most from good positions, that hit the target.
City is missing Sergio Agüero. It dominated but could not score.
“That happens in football,” Manuel Pellegrini, the manager, told Sky TV after the game.
Players you only love when you're paying — The last week has brought two more examples of the nonsensical argument that those who watch sport are not qualified to criticize those who play it.
John Terry picked on an easy target when he went for Robbie Savage, now a TV pundit who has been critical of Chelsea. Savage, a nasty, preening cheat in his playing days, is one of the very few players of the Premier League era who was clearly more despicable than Terry. But Terry’s complaint was that Savage could not criticize because he had not played at the same god-like level as the Chelsea captain.
One wonders how Terry responds to criticism from José Mourinho, who cannot even claim to have played at Savage’s level.
After Manchester United eked out a 2-0 victory over West Brom on Saturday, Van Gaal said, “you have to accept” that Old Trafford fans that have been booing his team “have their own opinion.” He went on: “I think they were very influenced by Paul Scholes and all the criticism and what the media has written about.”
Most United season ticket holders have watched hundreds of soccer matches live. Like the tens of millions round the globe, who tune in to hear Savage, Scholes and other pundits, they know what they are watching.
If Terry does not know he is in terminal decline and if Van Gaal does not realize his tactics are dull, maybe they should open their ears.
Possession is less than half of the law — Van Gaal’s approach is based on possession. This weekend no team in the Premier League enjoyed a greater share of the ball than United, which, according to Opta, had possession or 69 percent of its match. United won. Maybe Van Gaal is right.
Not so fast.
Of the six other teams that won this weekend, only one had more than 50 per cent of the ball. That was Southampton, which boated 64 per cent of possession but needed a penalty to win, 1-0, at hapless Sunderland.
Crystal Palace had 36 percent of the ball at Anfield but exploited Liverpool’s inability to clear the ball to win 2-1. Palace took the lead when Liverpool wasted three chances to clear. Emre Can sliced the last to Yannick Bolasie who slammed the ball home. Scott Dann scored the winner when he was allowed to head in a rebound from his own header.
The Jürgen Klopp revolution will start in the next game. Promise. Wait. The next game is away to Manchester City. So, maybe the week after that.
On Saturday, Watford had 59 precent of the ball at Leicester and lost, 2-1.
Chelsea had 64 percent of the ball at Stoke, and lost 1-0.
Swansea enjoyed 68 percent of possession at Norwich but could not manage a single shot on target and lost, 1-0.
Bournemouth controlled the ball for 68 percent of the game at home to Newcastle and managed 20 strikes at goal to just two by the visitors. Yet the Magpies had an edge in the stat that matters. Newcastle scored the games lone goal with its only shot on target.
Lost in the mists of time — If James Vardy goes on to claim a place in history, Riyad Mahrez will be credited with a big assist.
With Leicester one goal up at home on Saturday, Heurelho Gomez, who was having a bad day in the Watford goal, up-ended Vardy just inside the box. Mahrez normally takes Leicester penalties. He placed the ball on the spot. Then he turned and indicated that Vardy, who had scored in eight straight games, should take the kick. Vardy gratefully accepted. With confidence clearly coursing through every sinew, he practically took off as he smashed the kick home.
Vardy is now one game short of the record for scoring in consecutive games set by Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2003. Or is he?
The first issue is that Van Nistelrooy’s run straddled two seasons. So Vardy has scored in more consecutive games in one season. But the second problem is that Van Nistelrooy might not have been the record holder anyway.
There are some awkward types who insist that English soccer history did not start with the launch of the Premier League in 1992. Yet as statisticians searched desperately for players from the first 110 years of the English league who might have done better, it became clear that the problem is that before the Premier League, English soccer was much less aware that it was making history. The statistical records grow sketchy and vague.
Is Tom Phillipson, who scored in 13 straight games for Wolves in 1926-7 the record holder? The problem is that Wolves were in the second division at the time. Advantage Van Nistelrroy. How about the mighty Dixie Dean, who scored in 12 straight five years later? Same problem. Everton went from first division champion to second division champion in just three seasons and Dixie was too good for second-division defenses (mind you, he was too good for first division defenses too).
That’s not the end of the search. One of Dean’s main rivals for the title of “greatest English center forward ever,” Stanley Mortensen, seems to have scored in 11 straight first division games in 1950-1. The historical evidence is far from conclusive, but that is the target Vardy should be aiming at.
If he gets there, Vardy might want to look further afield. The record in Italy is also 11, set by Batigol, Gabriel Batistuta, for Fiorentina in the 1994-95 season. In the Bundesliga the record in an impressive 16 straight games by Der Bomber, Gerd Müller, in 1969-70. But the European major-league record is an extra-terrestrial 21, set in 2012-13 by, who else, Lionel Messi.
Vardy is less than halfway to Messi.
Mad men — Scoring is, of course, the goal of soccer. It is a moment worth celebrating and sharing. No wonder players react emotionally. Joy, like that displayed by Jesse Lindgard as he slid toward the touchline after putting Manchester United ahead against West Brom, seems wholly appropriate. So does the relief visible on the face of Dusan Tadic, as he converted a penalty to give Southampton victory. Gratitude, like that displayed by Vardy when he turned and pointed to Mahrez and then hugged him, is a particularly pleasing. This is a team game after all.
But one common reaction is quite mystifying. It is anger.
After he scored the acrobatic goal that gave Stoke a 1-0 victory over Chelsea, Marko Arnautovic, turned, sprinted more than half the length of the field and started gesticulating in evident fury at the upper deck of the main stand. Maybe he suspected that Mourinho had sneaked into the ground despite his ban. Mourinho used to manage the Austrian at Inter Milan and said the player had the “attitude of a child.”
Yet Arnautovic is a grown man being paid thousands of pounds a week to play a game. He starts every week. He had just sent their fans into raptures of joy. His life is good and, in that moment, it was as good as it can get. What does he have to be angry at?
Of course, Arnautovic then went and proved Mourinho right. In added time, Stoke counter-attacked. Arnautovic swerved in from the left. He had teammates unmarked right and left. One reason they were unmarked was that the defenders knew Arnautovic is too immature to pass. The Chelsea defenders all converged on the ball and dispossessed Arnautovic on the edge of the box.
Presumably, when he skipped into the locker room a few minutes later, Arnautovic would have been greeted by a manager and a couple of teammates who were also angry. They would have had good reason. This is a team game, after all.