In the 90th minute of yesterday’s match I had the thought that this was “one of those games.” It was one of those games that you’re supposed to win but that you just don’t. A bigger club goes to a smaller club and through a combination of errors and mistakes, plus hard graft by the home team, fueled by fervent support in the stands, the plucky underdogs pull out a shock result. We’ve all seen these games. We saw one the other day when Liverpool was held to a 1-1 draw to Luton and to a lesser extent their 2-2 away to Brighton. These kinds of results happen but – as I sat there watching Arsenal hammering the Luton box trying to get a last gasp goal, I thought – if you want to win the League, you almost have to win them.
In modern parlance we talk about “xG” and how unlucky a team is to allow three goals on 0.5 xG. That’s what happened to Manchester City v. Tottenham and Arsenal v. Luton. A single error at our level can let even the tiniest of Totts score on a big club.
As an aside it’s been remarkable this week watching the pundits fawn over Ange and Spurs. Listening to Football Weekly and The Totally Football Show, you’d hardly believe it if I told you that Spurs have secured a whopping 1 point from their last four matches. Or that they had two red cards, that they’ve conceded 11 goals, and that they were incredibly lucky to get away with a point in their 3-3 draw with Man City. All the talk was about how Ange is “sticking to his principles” and how we all just don’t get it. I totally get it. As someone who watched Arsene Wenger play a stupid high line and very little defense for the best part of a decade I absolutely get it. What we didn’t get in that time were any trophies and we also didn’t get to keep any of our best players. I often come across as a Wenger apologist and I have things I will defend Wenger over but one of the things I won’t defend him from is the criticism that he was too wedded to a playing style which usually beat up on small teams but got shredded when we played against anyone with any mettle. Losing 10-2 to Bayern Munich over two legs? Not for me, mate. Getting eviscerated by Jose Mourinho 6-0 on the anniversary of his 1,000th game? I remember my preview blog for that game. I begged Wenger to play any other way than our set way. Everyone knew what Jose was going to do. Everyone knew what Wenger was going to do. It was infuriating. I was virtually on my knees begging him to shock the world and play counter-attacking football or literally do anything but play his bog standard high line, no-press football. He didn’t change a single thing. Jose and Fabregas ran rampant. But at least Wenger had his principles. So, I totally get it. And if Spurs supporters are happy to have Ange at the club, to routinely take 1 point from four matches because they are sticking to their principles, then I am too. (Rant off)
Against Luton I was reminded a bit of Arsenal’s famous comeback win over Aston Villa in December 2001. A bit of difference in the particulars, Luton never took a 2-0 half-time lead over Arsenal like Villa did in December 2001. Luton also didn’t play play Paul Merson against his former club like Villa did back then. It was at Highbury. And Arsenal didn’t need three 2nd half goals to comeback and take all three points this weekend. But! The important bit is that we got a last-minute winner in both games.
Of course it doesn’t always mean that a game with a last-minute winner will equal a Premier League title. Last year we saw Arsenal win in the 97th minute at home to Bournemouth thanks to Reiss Nelson and we all know that a month later we lost the title in a spectacular collapse. There are tons more games to play and lots of ups and downs ahead.
But I do like the belief I see in these players. I think they know that they are good enough to win the League. I think they are hungry to win the League (especially Declan Rice) and that they will push us all the way.
But to win the title, you need more than heart and motivation, skill and preparation, you also need a bit of luck. You need things to go your way. And with the referees squarely against giving Arsenal any penalties (we had 2 very clear pens denied and 2 that I’ve seen given) for the remainder of the season, I think we are going to have to make our own luck.