We have put in impressive displays against superior (on paper) opponents in the last month or so – Southampton, Liverpool, and Manchester United – so it’s a shame that we blotted our copybook so emphatically in a 4-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.
Before getting stuck into my team though, I have to hold my hands up – Spurs are pretty good. Their quality going forward is one thing, but the way they relentlessly press is hugely impressive and exhausting to watch. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to play against.
Tottenham never stopped
Tottenham’s non-stop running is best summed up in something that happened in the 88th minute of the game. As Simon Francis prepared to make a standard clearance down the wing Son Heung-min instead came flying in to block and see the ball go out for a goal kick. Francis’s face of utterly exhausted surprise that such energy could be displayed by his opponent after the game had been won said it all.
It could have even been more than the four goals in fact, and I found the game very hard to watch. We did ourselves no justice at all with a display lacking in fight or creativity though. With a 4-4-2 formation we should have at least created some opportunities, despite being open at the back. Sadly, I only saw the latter from th
The game started slowly, but it was clear the ball wasn’t sticking up top for us despite both Benik Afobe and Josh King being on the pitch.
Afobe continues to flatter to deceive
Benik Afobe scored twice in his last four games heading into the match this weekend, but that can’t cover up what was a truly awful display in North London. Severely exposed as a complete liability this Saturday, he was a complete passenger throughout. His harrying was half hearted, and his attempts to win any kind of ball in the air embarrassingly limp.
One of the rare forays we made going forward saw Junior Stanislas put in a great ball across the box, but Afobe was too slow to react and didn’t even get close to poking it in. If he’s to keep a place in this team he needs to show a poacher’s instinct, but he doesn’t even seem to have that at this time.
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King also struggled, but looked more lively than Afobe – although that’s very much damning the Norwegian with faint praise.
Our forward line was hampered by our severely overworked midfield however, and that’s probably an understatement. Harry Arter desperately tried in vain throughout to harry and keep working the ball through Tottenham players which possessed the physiques of nightclub bouncers.
Having four across the midfield was, quite simply, suicidal. Jack Wilshere didn’t have the engine or build to compete with some of the bruisers Spurs had in the middle of the park. He looked lost as to what to do for most of his time on the pitch, and was at fault for overplaying as Tottenham scored their second – which came so soon after the first that it killed the game as a contest.
Lewis Cook looks promising
Wilshere went off injured after 56 minutes, but that could turn out to be a blessing if it gives Lewis Cook more match minutes. Our summer signing from Leeds looked composed on the ball in his cameo, and was looking to play the ball forward whenever possible. Alongside an industrious Junior Stanislas he was one of the few highlights from a match which saw us have just a solitary effort on target and just eight touches in the Tottenham box.
Although hindsight is a wonderful thing, I would have much rather seen us play 4-5-1 this weekend – with King as the lone forward and Cook joining Arter and Wilshere in midfield, casting Afobe out to the bench. It would have been closer in form to the team when we played Spurs at Dean Court earlier this season, where we put in a very combative display and drew 0-0.
Yes, we probably would have still lost the game this weekend with that set up – but we would have put in a better showing in my mind, not one where we simply looked like lambs to the slaughter.