football

Mourinho's plan of sitting deep and winning with a rabona comes unstuck | Barney Ronay


They may have finished with no points, 10 men and a familiar sense of entropy reasserted. They may have spent the opening quarter of this game in a state of neurotic all-out defence that looked at times like a brilliantly sarcastic parody of mature Mourinho‑ball. But Tottenham Hotspur did succeed in posing a fascinating conundrum during this north London derby.

How is it possible to play such a deep defensive block, but still concede a penalty via a flailing challenge by the last man desperately haring back to cover a breakaway? How is it possible to face off against a team with a defence that seems to be held together by brown string, and still approach your task like Floyd Mayweather trying to dodge his way through 12 rounds against some terrifying Mexican slugger?

Perhaps José Mourinho will continue to dispute the award of that match-winning penalty just after the hour, with the score 1-1, as Davinson Sánchez came storming back to intercept a long pass to Alex Lacazette. Lacazette missed his shot at goal. Sánchez came barrelling right through his man all the same.

Yes, it didn’t actually affect the game. But this was a foul in any sport you care to name – ice hockey, karate, Shrove Tuesday midden-ball.

Lacazette smashed the kick low into the corner and Arsenal preserved that 2-1 scoreline to the end. They deserved it too, against a team who came to the Emirates Stadium pre-terrified, hunkered from the first seconds into a fearful deep block, and apparently set on trying to win this game walking backwards.

It was a double puzzle given the Spurs selection. Mourinho has a reputation as the king of pain, master of the deep block, but he picked a team geared to attack with Tanguy Ndombele, Gareth Bale (a semi-interested spectator), Lucas Moura (busy but vague), Son Heung‑min and Harry Kane (angrily peripheral) making up five parts of the front six.

It had seemed a simple enough equation at kick-off. Pressurise Arsenal’s defence and they are likely to make a mistake. And yet faced with this possibility Spurs offered: no pressure, no possession, no David Luiz comedy opportunities.

Instead there was an open invitation for Arsenal’s own fine young fine attacking trident to settle, run the game and generally take out of the 90 minutes large amounts of real estate where Bernd Leno might have been bicycle-kicking the ball into his own net and all the rest of it.

This is to focus on Spurs’ failings. For long periods Arsenal were zippy in possession and fearless in their attacking overloads. Emile Smith Rowe, given time and opportunities, had a wonderful first half. He spanked a dipping shot on to the bar. He gave Pierre-Emile Højbjerg a constant, neck-swivelling problem, with Matt Doherty overwhelmed by his movement and offered zero cover by Bale.

With 20 minutes gone Son made his first forward run and promptly left the field with a muscle injury. This was careless. Son should have been encouraged to warm up properly before attempting anything so expansive.

Mourinho critical of decision to give Arsenal winning penalty against Spurs  – video
Mourinho critical of decision to give Arsenal winning penalty against Spurs – video

Arsenal snapped in hungrily whenever Spurs did try to break, stemming the flow at source. Thomas Partey, watchful and powerful in the challenge, knows this game. With 25 minutes gone Arsenal had taken six shots to Spurs’ zero. Kane had touched the ball five times.

At which point – and from nowhere – Erik Lamela produced a moment of mind-boggling brilliance. This wasn’t the greatest rabona goal you’re ever going to see. We know this because Lamela has already scored that rabona goal, seven years ago against Asteras Tripolis, a blockbuster sent ripping into the top of the net.

This was more measured. Best of all you could see Lamela conceive and execute the goal in real time, sharing that little flash across the synapses as he saw the opening, snuck his left foot behind his right heel, then executed the finish with jaw-dropping grace.

It was the kind of finish that makes you leap up and laugh, point, grin. But the funniest part came afterwards. Scoring a hall‑of‑fame goal with our first actual attack changes nothing! Instead Spurs fell back instantly into that terrified double-bolt, shuffling back and forth in front of their own goal like a troupe of comedy silent film policemen.

Arsenal’s equaliser came from their weight of pressure. The shot from Martin Ødegaard – who was neat, smart and decisive – took a deflection. That kind of thing is going to happen when the game‑plan is to sit deep and try to win it with a once‑every‑seven‑years rabona.

The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email

Arsenal continued to press. Lacazette tucked away the penalty. And with 75 minutes gone Lamela was off, given a second yellow for slapping Kieran Tierney in the face. It felt apt. Lamela embodies this kind of phase in a Mourinho team: all trapped talent, moments of skill expressed though a prism of hustle, fear, shithousery. It was an approach that spiked itself here as Spurs’ late pressure suggested what might have been.

For Mikel Arteta this will be a hugely encouraging performance, driven by Smith Rowe, Ødegaard, and a team that, for all their defensive fragility, have found their own attacking gear in the past few weeks.



READ SOURCE

Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more