Fool me once, shame on you: Howard Webb fails to spot Cesc’s handball against Liverpool. Phil Dowd did not repeat that mistake yesterday.
Two things stood out in the Spurs match.
The sight of Cesc Fabregas pulling up his and Marouane Chamakh’s hand in a suicidal attempt to deflect Rafael Van der Vaart’s free kick did not escape Phil Dowd’s attention. The resulting handball led to a penalty and Spurs equalizing the score obliterating completely Arsenal’s scintillating first half. To me it smacked off arrogance and sloppiness – having gotten off with the same infraction against Liverpool earlier this year, Fabregas thought he was above the law. It led to the execrable short cut instead of the harder act of the wall jumping to take care of the ball.
It was symbolic of Arsenal switching off for most part of the second half. Spurs deserve a lot of credit for not fading away but Arsenal threw down the drawbridge and practically invited them in.
Laurent Koscielny missing from point blank range with the goal at his mercy was the other. With the top teams struggling to break away, one cannot stress the importance of scoring when given such opportunities. He was also responsible for giving away the free kick which led to Younes Kaboul’s winner. Koscielny is a work in progress and has come off second best a number of times. Johan Djourou who has been impressive since his return should have been the preferred choice.
More to the point, this loss continues an annual ritual of mental errors and lapses in judgment which have very little to do with the technical aspects of the game. We can also do away with the perception of an Arsenal not being physical enough – it is not borne out with the number of yellows and reds dished out this season. Phil Neville acknowledged as much after the Everton game.
Arsenal’s inability to make a statement when needed is particularly befuddling. It is upto the gaffer to make sure that this team plays all 90 minutes plus and not choose when it wants to show up. It was simpler when there were players like Tony Adams. Wenger lacking personal ruthlessness had the comfort of knowing Adams and Martin Keown would take on the task of soiling their hands. There is only so much one can do exhorting from the sidelines or give barn burning half time speeches. There is a feeling that after five years without a title, the culture of what it takes to win one has gone. Winning is Hebbian. The problem with a blank slate is who gets to write what and when.
Having said that Arsenal have to find their endeavour once again starting against Villa next weekend because this title race just turned schizophrenic. Chelsea slipped up against Birmingham for their second defeat in a row and Man Utd although they won against Wigan have shown they are very capable of dropping points regularly. There is also pressure from Man City, Spurs, Sunderland and Bolton. The club with the most nerve and not necessarily talent or bottomless pockets will win this season’s title.