Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good

Everyone will have their favorite moment of the match. The last time Arsenal beat Tottenham in the League was when Tomas Rosicky scored a screamer. The thing I will always remember about that goal was how his hair caught the light just as he was making his sprint and for a second it looked like he caught fire. Then he exchanged passes with Ox, which was more Ox just losing possession, and struck the ball into the corner.

The thing I will always remember about this match was Alexis having two close shots saved and on the second, the ball running out of play, and him making a Superman slide. That’s just me though. That’s what I’ll remember.

Ozil also had a good game, he created four chances for his teammates and one of them was one of the big chances that Alexis got on the end of. He also created three of those chances in the time between the 60th minute and the 84th minute.

That was a strange time in this match: Arsenal were up 2-0 and suddenly seemed to decide to go for it. Arsenal’s counter attack broke down time and again (which was frustrating) but when we did eventually create chances they were excellent and probably should have scored more. Arsenal’s attack cut through Tottenham’s defense as if they were standing still. Usually that’s a sign of fatigue but I can’t understand why they were tired: all of their players took the week off from international duty by feigning injury.

The Arsenal back line were not quite as easily broken down. We did require two spectacular saves – one from Cech off a Dire header and the other a block by Mustafi  – but for the majority of the match Arsenal’s back 5 held well. The back line was made to look especially good because they were put under immense pressure.

Arsenal’s midfield duo of Ramsey and Xhaka were simply abused by Demebele and Sissoko. The Ramxhakle midfield attempted 14 tackles (9 for Ramsey and 5 for Xhaka) but only were successful on six. Xhaka was dribbled 4/5 times and also gave up two yellow card fouls (for which he only got one yellow). Xhaka gave the performance that all the pundits criticize him for: slow and seemingly daft. Meanwhile Ramsey showed that even if he is asked to be more conservative he plainly needs a speedier midfielder next to him as he can’t cover for Xhaka. That said, even Coquelin couldn’t cover. But the combination of Mustafi heading everything away, Koscielny covering, and Monreal intercepting was nearly perfect on the day.

All that said, my favorite moment of the day was all of the pundits eating crow! I don’t think anyone picked Arsenal to win this match and there were more than a few who picked Spurs to win. That latter, an away win against a top six team, is a huge call and suggests that pundit thought that the so-called “power shift” in North London was more than just a minor flashing of lights and was instead a complete blackout in Islington.

I’ve been critical of Arsenal and do think that the club have to turn things around if they want to be title contenders (plus, come on – Mustafi and Alexis wanted to move this summer and Ozil and Jack are out of contract, there is huge turmoil in this club right now) but time and again I have shown that the so-called (mind the) gap between the two teams is minor at best. Watch the 7amxG difference between these two teams, it’s just 1 goal right now (Arsenal have the advantage) and before the match was just 0.05 xG. Spurs are not as good as people think and Arsenal are not as bad as people think. Imagine that: the truth is somewhere in between.

The Bad

The referees getting it wrong. I can honestly say that I would love to see the referees get it wrong every single week on the way to an Arsenal title. Not because of some perverted sense of “justice” for all the past errors:  calling that “justice” would be like if your house got burgled five times and the cops responded, “ok, now you get to rob five houses that may or may not have had anything to do with this latest robbery.” But just because it would certainly precipitate the end of the problem.

And there is clearly a problem. Referees get it wrong all the time. I also watch Bundesliga matches (do not look to the Bundesliga for defenders, folks) and they get it wrong there all the time as well. And they have Video Assistant Refereeing!

My solution is a second referee. One in each half of the pitch. I think that the vast majority of calls are called wrong because the ref doesn’t see the foul clearly through the tangle of legs. But if the ref were facing the direction of the keeper instead of the other way, and if the ref had less ground to cover, he might be able to get the majority of these calls right.

My second solution is to ask the question “how much are they getting wrong?” You will never be able to eliminate all mistakes. Even American Football where the refs stop the game every 30 seconds in order to ponder the 3,000 page rulebook with help of a video ref and a team of lawyers they get calls wrong and there is controversy. There was another controversial awarded touchdown for the Seattle Seahawks just the other day – two players apparently caught the same ball, one defender and one receiver. So, who wins possession?

To find out how much the referees are getting wrong, I think we should apply xG to bad referee decisions. That limits the bad decisions to just a few instances where a shot was taken or a shot was wrongly chalked off. Example: in the City match, the xG added by the referee was +1.25. That’s a penalty and a big big chance. Even if you say it was a penalty (it wasn’t) and just take the big chance it’s at least +0.5. Against Tottenham, they complained that Alexis “wasn’t fouled” which led to a free kick, which led to a header from 12 yards out, which Mustafi scored. That was a far more difficult shot than Jesus’s goal. My calculations are very rough but I score that as a +0.1.* So, between those two games we already see a referee error of between +0.6 and +1.35 xG. If we looked at the whole season, I bet we see a pretty large error rate. Much, much larger than allowed by something like six sigma.

Doing a project like that would give PGMOL an objective standard to reach for. I wonder if they have thought of doing that?

The Ugly

Why can’t I just have a moment? Now I remember why I didn’t like this format! If I were to point out something ugly… it would be… that.. uhh… Ramsey and Xhaka were dribbled way too many times.


*I’d love to see what the Opta pros score that shot as, my guess is somewhere between +0.05 and +0.1.


  1. I don’t think two referees – one on each half of the pitch , is the solution.
    At the end of the day it’s still one referee making a split second decision he might not necessarily have a clear view of.

    As flawed as it may be, VAR is still a better solution but only if everyone agrees what certain rules are.
    For example, if all agree that being even a few centimeters off sides constitutes being off, then there won’t be any argument after the game.

    So, in this particular situation Dean’s awording the foul on Sanchez – where there was none, at least not the kind he thought he saw( a shirt pull), wouldn’t have mattered because the goal would’ve been disallowed by VAR for a marginal off sides.

    Football is a lot like politics these days and hipocracy rules supreme.
    The same manager who complained a week ago about referees putting the game out of reach for his club by making a mistake in favor of the opponent, will gladly take a mistake in his favor if it means points.

    At the end of the day the only thing you can control is the performance of your team, and as long as the players give their best effort, that’s all you can ask for.

    Arsenal were the better side yesterday and they deserved to win.
    City were the better side at the Etihad and they deserved the points.
    Perhaps that’s overly simplistic but it’s better than the alternative when tha calls go to a poorer side giving credence to the saying “we were robbed “.

    1. Two referees and video are not mutually exclusive. And an additional referee doesn’t really add any delay to the match if the roles are clearly defined.

  2. “….all of their players took the week off from international duty by feigning injury.”


    But it didn’t stop the pundits making excuses on their behalf, did it? I’m in the US at the moment, and caught the game… As in England, I’m struck by the anti-Arsenal bias of many commentators. I can say that a great many of them were rooting for a Spurs win, so this one felt sweet (did anyone read Henry Winter and Jacob Steinberg’s ‘s prisssy moralising on twitter, because Arsenal’s twitter team gently trolled their Daily Mail colleague who had said that NOT ONE Arsenal player would get into a combined XI with Spurs. That BS ritual of NLD reporting that I’d love to see stop).

    About the midfield, you said:
    “Arsenal’s midfield duo of Ramsey and Xhaka were simply abused by Demebele and Sissoko. The Ramxhakle midfield attempted 14 tackles (9 for Ramsey and 5 for Xhaka) but only were successful on six. Xhaka was dribbled 4/5 times and also gave up two yellow card fouls (for which he only got one yellow). Xhaka gave the performance that all the pundits criticize him for: slow and seemingly daft. Meanwhile Ramsey showed that even if he is asked to be more conservative he plainly needs a speedier midfielder next to him as he can’t cover for Xhaka. That said, even Coquelin couldn’t cover.”

    That’s a pretty accurate summation, in contrast to the one over-long and overwrought analysis on the previous thread that addressed it. 85% was on a single Arsenal player, in what was a total team performance. And aplayer, who, as you said, did his share of D. I was actually pleased, overall, with the whole team play. We showed, as in the FA Cup final, we are tough to beat when we play with tempo and intensity.

    And oh, in challenging your piece on Pep, I said that Poch was better. I think that you were right on that, and I was wrong. The truth in evaluating Spurs and Arsenal, as you said, is somewhere in between.

    1. “We showed, as in the FA Cup final, we are tough to beat when we play with tempo and intensity”

      And against Chelsea at home in the 3:0 win.
      Strangely, there seemed to be one constant in all three wins, or is my imagination running wild?

      Arsenal got man handled at the Bridge in a 3:1 loss, where most pundits thought our players were lightweight and chokers( Alonso and Hazard goals), and Chelsea were again picked favorites in the reverse fixture, only for Arsenal to come out of the gates like a house on fire.

      Same in the FA cup final where everyone picked Chelsea to walk away with a double.

      Same yesterday against the Spurs , when clearly the players must’ve been insulted by the media’s ridiculous combined starting eleven for both clubs and score predictions.

      My question is; why does it take insults and disrespect to get our players properly motivated.

      Performing at this level shouldn’t be the exception but rather a norm.

      1. It seems to me we play our best football when we have a chip on our shoulders… when we have a point to prove. The good news is it means we CAN play like a team when we really want to. The bad news is it also means that a big part of our inconsistency is psychological and if you look at our recent history there is ample evidence to suggest that this is now a part of our identity. We are also a much better home team than an away team and a large part of that also comes down to psychology. Is this a reflection of the manager? It most probably is. The players are different but the issues are the same. I suppose for me personally, I have come to accept this as a part of who we are now. Wenger isn’t going anywhere so might as well enjoy these performances when we get them.

        1. Weren’t we a better away than home team at one point a season or two ago?

          I seem to recall Arsene claiming championship credentials based on the away form , and blaming home support for the team’s failings at the EMS against smaller clubs.

  3. So let’s play this silly game, post-game. How many Spurs players, on that performance, would get into the Arsenal side? Three, maybe.

  4. If I recalled, Tim actually predict that we win against them too.
    I’m surprised by that and without a notable data to back it up. I wonder where the confidence came from, is it Poch poor away records? The favour is big on them so I understand if people rationally think that they could beat us
    I, myself, considered not watching the match but when it’s actually start, I glued to it and so glad I did.

  5. The German VAR has run into controversy with the guy running the project accused of bias to help Schalke. Plus they changed how and when it should apply into the season and didn’t inform the clubs of it until later (and the head of the DFB denies knowledge of THAT letter) .

    I don’t get to watch the German League these days but I think VAR is working much better in Italy, though of course, nothing will ever eliminate controversy entirely, and especially not so when bias and a lack of clarity reigns in the media.

    Hah! PGMO evaluating refs on a statistical formula? They have their statistics. 99% correct decisions, and they’re going to stick to them.

    1. The Manfred Krug controversy is a bit more complex as it’s really about the refeering governance and administration structure as a whole. The system itself is having teething problems and isn’t running smoothly with still open questions on when to intefere and when VAR shouldn’t interefere, questions of actual procedures.

      And lastly, I bow to your wisdom, Tim, magnificent.

  6. “You like to get the s***, the biggest s***,” he said to journalists. “What happens in the changing room is the real thing. I have been talking to clubs or if I haven’t, it’s only rumours. I’m here, I’m standing in front of you in an Arsenal shirt.”

    “You want everyone to leave don’t you?” he said. “We need the players, not everyone can leave. Obviously they are important and everyone in the team wants them to stay.

    A couple of weeks ago Bellerin said something about the media agenda. Mustafi is pretty blatant about it. Ozil said much the same on his FB. And Wenger in his presser also made the point about how the media treats us.

    Arsenal are fighting back against the media (and last week the referee) bias, and it’s been long overdue. And of course, the biggest fightback ever, Ozil sipping a cup of tea.

  7. Gutted that I could only see highlights of this match. And as a result I don’t have a lot to add.

    Arsenal are not as bad as people say they are. That’s basically my whole output in comment threads on Arsenal blogs in one sentence 🙂

    Fighting hyperbole since 2008, one comment at a time.

    Surprised and disappointed to hear that Ramsey and Xhaka were overrun, that the trend continues. I read in other match reports that Sissoko and Dembele were strong but fairly static.

    Now the defence and front line are looking more stable, we really need that midfield to work. For Wenger to drop Xhaka would be a big step. I’m looking forward to see who gets the nod for Koln.

  8. Actually strange how stats seem to make you question what you see. I thought Xhaka had a good game, and that Ramsey was more disciplined. Now you say they were overrun, I suppose I can look back and think of a few incidents to back that up. Maybe watching it again with that in mind is a good idea. Thanks for the stats Tim.

    1. I also thought Ramxhacle was respectable Saturday, but another viewing would be worthwhile. What surprised me was all the raving about Ozil. I am his no. 1 apologist, and while I thought he played well, it just didn’t seem that much better than other games. He has tracked back and makde tackles in other games this year, and yes he had one play where he outmuscled the oh-so-physical Dele Alli. He had the cross on the free kick, which was nice but not spectcular. And he had his usual assortment of nice touches and chances created. Seemed like a normal day at the office to me. The big difference was Arsenal won. and no one needed to go looking for a scapegoat, imo.

      Tim – was Ozil statistically much better than other games?

  9. Good stuff as usual Tim, I’m just going to nitpick a bit here because I think this is important re: “the Ramxhakle midfield” (and good pun, btw).

    For me this is all about context. First, the context that Arsenal were winning the game for the majority of the clock, so the midfielders were looking at the ball more than they were possessing it. Second, the context of the team setup which asked the team to press the visitors high up the pitch naturally meant there was a lot of grass behind the pair. And third, the context of the chances created by the opposition: how many of those dribbles led to a Tottenham chance? How many of these events occurred in Spurs own half? And what was the positioning of the rest of the team at that time? The man pressurizing the ball will naturally miss it a good percent of the time against good players, but in the context of a team press that can still be regarded as a good defensive move as long as the rest of the team is backing you up.

    So basically I’m saying that I don’t trust negative individual statistics when I see a good team defensive performance (and vice versa, though I doubt I’m actually consistent on this front because I’m a massive homer). Having said that, I’m not trying to invalidate your point about the general slowness of the first step for this Arsenal midfield pair, I think that’s very real. The main question in my mind is: can the partnership work against top opposition? And I’d say based on the pattern of this game it can, regardless of those numbers.

  10. I watched the game again and I completely disagree that Ramsey and Xhaka were overrun in midfield. If anything, they were the more dominant of the midfields. Some of the missed tackles were decent fouls to make. And for the most part, they were in decent enough position that Spurs had to go long rather than be able to go through the middle. I’m sure the stats demonstrate something, and maybe Xhaka and Ramsey can do better, but I thought both had a good game. Also, Ramsey’s stamina is just freaking incredible, even if his choice of boot sucks.

  11. Well, it is official. We’ve gone out and brought in Dortmund’s scout Sven Mislintat. Good news by all accounts.

    I’m also loving the hilarious reaction from many esteemed members of the press to an innocent, if witty, gif posted by the Arsenal twitter team. Quite literally a storm in a teacup.

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