What Vicario did to David Raya and Ange Postecoglou was only half-right with Tottenham statement

A North London Derby with five goals should be an end-to-end classic yet somehow this latest edition of the grand old clash managed to be nothing of the sort.

All five goals arrived on Sunday without either side particularly needing to do much to get them.

First Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg headed an Arsenal corner into his own net, then Spurs got caught on the counter while expecting a penalty at the other end before gifting the visitors another set piece goal when Kai Havertz was handed the freedom of the box amid some dubious attention on Guglielmo Vicario.

The Gunners then showed their generosity to Ange Postecoglou's team. First David Raya booted a pass straight at Cristian Romero before Declan Rice kicked Ben Davies up into the air to hand their hosts a penalty that Son Heung-min dispatched.

Three shots on target from Arsenal and three goals, two shots on target from Tottenham and two goals. All the talk pre-match was that gung-ho Tottenham would fall apart as free-scoring Arsenal would run riot. That wasn't truthfully the case even if the scoreline might suggest it.

Arsenal created very little, with 38% possession - only 28% in the first half - and around half of Tottenham's passes and nine attempts at goal, while needing to make 26 clearances out of their own box. The problem for Spurs was that they didn't create too much either, Raya not having to make a single save. Vicario had to make one from Bakayo Saka, although there were suggestions that there might have been an offside in the build-up.

READ MORE: Tottenham player ratings vs Arsenal - Romero almost sparks comeback as Maddison struggles

READ MORE: Every word Ange Postecoglou said on Tottenham's set piece problems, Cristian Romero and Arsenal

Mikel Arteta admitted Tottenham had given Arsenal real problems in a first half that his team had found itself 3-0 up in.

"You can’t just pretend to come here, not suffer and play Spurs off the park. It doesn’t happen. You just have to look at their performances against the other top teams to prove that because they’re a really good side," he said.

"They forced us [to sit deep]. We had an issue with the high press. We gave so many balls away, simple balls, our ball circulation wasn’t good enough. [Then] the result also has an impact. When you’re 2-0 up you feel more comfortable doing that. We looked a real threat as well on the counter.

"They commit so many players so their structure forces you as well to have one or two more players in certain areas that provokes you to be a little bit deeper. We didn't really concede much there, but the second half, I think especially with the ball in certain situations was much better."

Spurs certainly had VAR gripes. Micky van de Ven had what they thought was a first half equaliser ruled out for a marginal offside by the remote officials, which brought with it questions over what exactly can be deemed 'deliberate' after two Arsenal players touched the ball, one moving his foot to block it, before the Dutchman stroked it home.

Whether you agree with the rules in this situation depends on whether you believe a block on a shot constitutes a clearance.

Then in the build-up to Arsenal's second goal, Leandro Trossard appeared to catch Dejan Kulusevski's foot and knock it into his other leg causing the Swede to go down in stages in the Gunners' box, while attempting to stay on his feet. VAR checked it briefly afterwards but deemed it not to be enough contact or a clear and obvious error from the on-pitch officials. It was the kind of accidental contact that had it happened elsewhere on the pitch would probably have brought a free-kick.

For the third goal, Ben White ran in front of Vicario at the last moment before ramming himself back into the goalkeeper to ensure the Italian was positioned almost behind his goal line when Havertz headed the ball into the net.

It was not the first time the Arsenal defender had targeted the Spurs stopper. For the first goal he could be seen trying to distract the goalkeeper, swatting at his gloves with some suggesting he was trying to undo them.

Then Michael Oliver somehow missed Rice unceremoniously booting Davies' leg rather than the ball, despite standing six foot from the incident with an unobscured view. On this occasion, VAR did intervene for Spurs in a manner that helped them.

When asked about the Kulusevski penalty claim, Postecoglou said: "Doesn't matter how I saw it. What matters is what I've said all along, games are not refereed in the stadium any more. They are refereed somewhere else and no one will convince me otherwise. It's not even re-refereed, it's refereed somewhere else.

"That's why I don't celebrate goals any more. I wait for somebody down the road. I just don't think referees in the stadium any more have that authority they used to make decisions. They just go 'you know what, I'll just wait and see what the bloke down the road thinks'. It's a shame, I don't like it but it's here to stay and I've got to accept it like everyone else."

Postecoglou knew that despite the gripes, his team had started the game positively only to hand Arsenal space in key moments.

"Disappointing. It was a disappointing day for us. It was a big game, a big game for the club, for our fans. We didn't get the outcome we wanted so obviously very disappointing," he told

"We wanted to win today for our supporters and for the club. We didn't do that and whatever I think about the performance it's still the outcome that sits on you. I thought our general football was good, it was decent. We controlled the game for long periods for the most part but we know that. We know we're a team that can do that.

"It's about now over the course of time getting from where we are to where we want to get to. To do that we're still not absolutely laser focused on the details, the small things that get you from where we are to become a team that contends. Credit to Arsenal, they're there now. They're a team that does deal with the details well and we don't."

When quizzed about exactly what those details were at Spurs, he responded: "Mate there are thousands. I'm not going to sit here [and go through them all] but it's the little details like you can't give time and space to the opposition, you can't make decisions or lose focus in any given moment.

"Even with the transition goal we were focused on a decision at the other end when we should have been thinking about the danger that was potentially at the other side."

There are some details though that can be focused on this season even if Postecoglou does not seem to agree.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg of Tottenham Hotspur (obscured) scores an own goal, Arsenal first goal during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg of Tottenham Hotspur (obscured) scores an own goal, Arsenal first goal during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium -Credit:Clive Rose/Getty Images

Those set-piece issues

There was a certain contrast in watching Arsenal's set-piece coach Nicolas Jover constantly bellowing from the perimeters of Arteta's technical area, and occasionally outside it. You would be forgiven for thinking he was the visiting manager at points.

The Gunners poached the German-born coach in 2021 from Manchester City, with Pep Guardiola having taken him from Brentford in 2019. Jover works with the Arsenal players on both attacking and defending set-pieces.

There's no doubting his success this season. Arsenal have scored 16 goals from corners in the Premier League this term, the most since West Bromwich Albion managed under Tony Pulis seven years ago. In all the Gunners have scored 20 goals from set-pieces and just as crucially, they have conceded from only six, the joint-second best total in the competition.

Postecoglou, a former defender himself, does not believe in the merits of a specialist set-piece coach in his system. Antonio Conte had one in Gianni Vio, who only focused on attacking set-pieces, but the Italian's freelance status at Tottenham ended when last season did.

It was Cristian Stellini who worked on Spurs' defending at set pieces under Conte. Under Stellini, Tottenham started off with a hybrid system between man-marking five or six opposition players from set pieces with the rest marking zonally before the Italian switched to a complete zonal system when issues with the team's strength in man marking became clear.

"I've never had a specific set-piece coach. I’ve always had someone who's responsible for that," Postecoglou said last month. "I always think it’s better if that's somebody who's a part of the coaching staff because then that’s an extension of how we play our football. I don't separate set-pieces from everything else we do, in terms of the team we want to be. It all hopefully links in.

"Here we’ve split the roles between Mile [Jedinak] and Ryan Mason in terms of defensive and attacking set-pieces (Jedinak is on the former and Mason on the latter) and they put a lot of work into it with the analysis staff.

"I'm sure every club does. Some have gone down the specialised route which I understand. It’s just it's not how I work. I always try to create a collective environment for everything we do, so that nothing is separated. I wouldn't feel comfortable bringing in specialists for one particular area. Just for the way I work more than anything else."

The problem with those statements is that Spurs have conceded 12 goals from set-pieces this season - the joint-sixth worst tally in the Premier League with Manchester United - and that total does not include own goals, such as Hojbjerg's on Sunday. The total for goals conceded around set pieces is 14.

At the other end of the pitch it remains to be seen whether Mason's work on attacking set-pieces ends up matching Vio's work last season. Spurs have currently scored 11 goals from such situations and with five more games to go are five behind last season's total under Vio. They will need improved deliveries from James Maddison and Pedro Porro to reach it.

It is the defensive side of the set-piece work, which Postecoglou says Jedinak is in charge of, which is the more concerning. Spurs have already conceded four more than the total from last season and two more than the previous campaign. It's perhaps worth noting that while Jover was on the touchline barking instructions at set pieces, Jedinak is up in his usual spot the stands with the analysts rather than on the bench, unable to remind his players of their instructions. It could be countered of course that the players should know their jobs without the need for reminding.

The zonal marking has been a chaotic mess at times and they have missed out on the underrated presence of Harry Kane as the first line of defence in getting his head to opposition crosses. Richarlison had played a similar role but the Brazilian has only started around half of their Premier League games this season.

For Sunday's third goal, Havertz was handed the freedom of the Spurs box with nobody picking him up, and for all of White's antics for both set-piece goals, all Tottenham needed to do was have a player of their own getting in the way of his attempts and simply drawing the attention of the referee to it.

Maddison was utilised in such a role after the period at the turn of the year when Vicario was being targeted by the likes of Everton and Manchester City, but for some reason that tactic appears to have vanished.

There was a certain irony that when Vicario asked if he could go up for Spurs' final corner of the game, while most goalkeepers use their height to try to get a head to the ball, the Italian instead sought to get in his opposite number Raya's face and cause him problems. He wanted to do unto others what had been done to him.

"The way we played was really good, we dominated the game but conceding three goals like this is painful," said Tottenham captain Son after the match. "These kind of games we really need to step up on it, especially in set pieces.

"Collectively we have to be really strong. I know they've scored a lot of goals in the Premier League this season but I think we need to do so much better, especially in the first half in the way we played."

The captain added: "You need to be strong in the basic things, like set pieces and duels. That does include me as well. We've got to do much better."

Postecoglou has been asked frequently about the team's set piece troubles and dismisses it by saying that he's looking at a bigger picture while others are only looking at recent trends. asked him on Sunday whether after two more set-piece goals conceded he could see that it was part of a wider season-long trend rather than anything recent.

"No because it's understanding where you are as a football team. If I thought fixing defensive set-pieces was the answer to us bridging the gap then I'd put all of my time and effort into that, but that's not where we're at," replied the Australian.

"For us it's about, when I was focused on the details of, not just set-pieces but a lot of moments in games where we don't sense that you give good opposition the time and the space to do things then they're going to hurt you. I think they maybe had four attempts on goal in the first half and they conceded three.

"I don't think it's about one part of it, I think it's a bigger, broader picture than that, but our defensive set pieces for those two goals were very poor. But there's a lot more than that to fix."

There's a strand of logic to Postecoglou's response. There is plenty to work on when it comes to Tottenham's adaptation to his system and blueprint but his answer simply begs the question - why can't you work on both?

Why can't he and his coaches work on imprinting his philosophy into the players while also improving their ability to defend set pieces? Why do they have to be mutually exclusive?

Postecoglou wants his team playing his way with fast, aggressive attacking football, which is great, but none of that takes place while defending a set-piece. It can happen after the ball is won and that transition can be worked on, but it does not mean that everything before that can't be concentrated on to a larger more focused degree.

For Tottenham to have two weeks to prepare to face the Premier League's most dangerous goalscorers from set-pieces and then concede twice to them, with 'poor' defending in Postecoglou's own words, suggested a failure to properly prepare.

The second-highest scorers from set-pieces are Everton. In February, both of the goals Spurs conceded at Goodison Park were from, yes you guessed it, set-pieces. asked Postecoglou about set pieces that day and whether he was particularly disappointed to concede two such goals when Tottenham knew that was the Toffees' biggest strength beforehand.

"Just as disappointing to concede any goal. It's not like they've had two set-pieces and scored two goals. They've had about 30 set-pieces and it's just stuff you've got to deal with," was his response.

There is a lot to admire in the determined way Postecoglou goes about things and his belief in his way and to suggest it never changes is not true. He has evolved it over the years and the way he works. He admitted early this season that he would learn about the Premier League and tweak aspects of what he does as he comes up against new challenges.

That may end up having to be the case when it comes to defensive set-piece work. Manchester City and Arsenal are high-scoring, attacking sides but both have seen the benefits in specialist set-piece coaches.

It may not require a specialist at Tottenham, perhaps just more focus on it as a problem within the team. It might not be the difference between them bridging the gap to the top clubs as Postecoglou says, but it has certainly become an issue this season that can derail whatever he's trying to do elsewhere on the pitch.

Romero the leader

If there's one positive that came out of Sunday's performance it was the display of Cristian Romero.

The Argentine, who turned 26 the day before, was not having the scoreline. He was not settling for a derby defeat and he was not going to let Arsenal get the better of him. He played with his head up, looking to drive forward or find a pass up the pitch at every given opportunity.

Romero has really taken to the Postecoglou way and looks to be its physical embodiment when he's on the pitch.

He boomed into tackle after tackle, one in particular on Takehiro Tomiyasu producing a crunch of boot to ball and man that was so loud it probably even made Spiderman flinch as Spurs fan Tom Holland sat in the stands for the match.

Romero loves a wander around the pitch. Sometimes it's to his detriment but often its helpful and when he gets his aggression perfectly held on the side it needs to be then he can dominate opponents.

In the second half, the World Cup-winning defender began to take matters into his own hands. For a spell he was even playing as a centre forward, looking across to Postecoglou for validation before later either seeming to thank the Australian for allowing him to do it or to Yves Bissouma who had filled it for him.

Romero pressed high up the pitch, hunting down Arsenal players with the ball, and eventually his efforts ended with Raya passing a ball straight at him. The wandering Argentine took the ball down expertly on his chest before rolling a calm finish past the goalkeeper and inside the left-hand post that any striker would have been proud of.

The centre-back was Spurs' most dangerous attacker on the day. He had four efforts on goal, sending one header against the right-hand post and another couple just off target.

At the other end of the pitch Romero made four tackles, two clearances and blocked two shots as well as winning five aerial duels, with a pass success rate of 97% from his 67 attempts. He even put one cross into the box for Tottenham in a wide-ranging role.

This is the best version of Cristian Romero. Full of energy, belief, leadership, skill, strength and most importantly, using his aggression in the right way.

After the game he posted on social media: "Head up and carry on, this is what it’s all about sometimes. I am more than ever with this team @SpursOfficial. We will work and finish this season in the best way. Thank you for always being fans. All together always."

Postecoglou told that he wished he had more players on the day with the desire of Romero.

"He was outstanding. He's a World Cup winner and I've just got to get some of what's in him into some of the others," he said.

It was a rare moment, hearing Postecoglou question the desire and drive of the players he often seeks to shield and it came on a day when the other leaders in the team struggled to make their mark.

James Maddison was near anonymous inside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium after doing so well in the reverse fixture in September while Son Heung-min struggled to make an impact until dispatching a well-taken penalty late on - only Spurs' second spot kick of the season.

Vicario has also been labelled a growing leader within the team but he mostly had a day to forget.

It was left to Romero to lead the way this time and he almost managed to galvanise the team into an unlikely point after their first-half horror show. He will take responsibility for some of that as well, the organiser on the pitch in a back line that conceded three times; but he also showed how much he can bring to the team.

Next up is Chelsea, the scene of Romero's worst display of the season, a chaotic game which marked the end of the fine early run under Postecoglou and could have seen the Argentine sent off twice had that been possible.

He knows he will need to be on his best behaviour without curbing the enthusiasm that makes him special.

Romero can be the figurehead of the Postecoglou side, the rock it is built on. The Australian loves the sometimes wild Argentine and the feeling appears to be mutual. Together they need to sort out what comes next.

Problems to fix

Ten months into Ange Postecoglou's time at Tottenham and the past fortnight has shown him, and hopefully the club, just how much remains to be done.

"That’s what I've been saying all along. That's where I want us to be. When it gets to this time of the year, I want us to be one of the ones fighting for that ultimate prize," the 58-year-old said ahead of the game. "Right now we are 10-15 points behind that. That's your measure.

"We can win on Sunday but it doesn't mean we are title contenders this year. To be title contenders you've got to do it over the course of the whole year. That's how I'm measuring ourselves. So we know we've still got some work to do. At the same time, we're in a better position than we were 12 months ago to build on that.

"That has to be our aim, that in 12 months' time we're in a position where we are one of the contenders rather than trying to disrupt them."

The past two defeats provided a reminder of just how much still needs to be improved to get there. Postecoglou has got the team higher up the table than they were last season and they will finish with more points, barring a complete horror show in the remaining five matches, despite the well-known circumstances around this campaign.

Those final five games will also answer any last questions Postecoglou might have about which players he wants to keep this summer, who needs to go and where the squad needs to improve. has previously reported the Australian's desire to bring in a new No.6 to provide competition to anchor the midfield, and Sunday's team line-up showed that Yves Bissouma has managed to loosen his hold on the role with his declining displays over the course of the season.

The 27-year-old was all set to become the main man for Postecoglou but has undone much of his good work from the opening months of the season. Sunday was the first time Bissouma has been dropped from a Premier League starting line-up - not counting his first game back after flying in from the Africa Cup of Nations - this season.

That Postecoglou turned to Hojbjerg, a man he clearly does not see as part of the team's future, shows how disappointed he is in Bissouma's stuttering displays - something he rightly points out has afflicted a number of his players.

For Hojbjerg, this latest defeat under his watch continued his dreadful run this season when he starts for Spurs. They have won only once in his nine starts and lost all but three of them. The Dane has been a super sub this term but as a starter it has not worked for him within the Postecoglou system. Bissouma may earn a reprieve against Chelsea through default.

Postecoglou has been unable to find a midfield trio that brings the blend of what he wants at both ends of the pitch and in that engine room.

Rodrigo Bentancur is still not back in his pre-injury groove but he appeared to be one of Spurs' more progressive players before being unexpectedly sacrificed at the interval for Pape Matar Sarr, who was admittedly bright in the second half.

Perhaps the most worrying drop-off in impact has come from Maddison. One of the signings of the summer for much of 2023 and a major part of the new Postecoglou system, the England international has struggled to rediscover his form since returning from his long ankle injury absence.

The 27-year-old's first 17 games for the club in the Premier League brought 11 goal involvements with seven assists and four goals, but he has not contributed in either column in the six matches since a smart finish at Aston Villa a month and a half ago.

Maddison's performance against Arsenal was so underwhelming and quiet, spending more time trying to win free-kicks than showing his undoubted ability with the ball. Like Bissouma has found, Maddison could not complain if Postecoglou decides to bench him for the first time this season.

Dejan Kulusevski returned to the starting line-up for the first time in a month and he was generally positive in his play, both down right and then moving into Maddison's position after the hour mark.

Feeling he has competition for his spot might not be the worst thing for Maddison, although it is a big call for Postecoglou to drop his most creative midfielder this season for the trip to Chelsea.

One player who must come into the side if fit enough to start is Richarlison. The Brazilian's arrival provided a focal point for Tottenham up top even if he managed to only touch the ball seven times.

He was just a general nuisance and it's no coincidence that both of the home side's goals came after his arrival as he created space for others.

Richarlison's introduction also helped Son back to the left flank where he was able to have more of an impact than through the congested centre of the pitch. That in turn also freed up Brennan Johnson to switch to his more dangerous right-hand side and the Wales international gave Tomiyasu plenty to think about with his pace.

Spurs lost Timo Werner after just 30 minutes to what looked like a hamstring injury. The German looked downcast as he left the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium after the game.

If it proves to be a bad enough injury that his season is over and therefore his loan at Tottenham, then the 28-year-old might not have done enough to convince the club to make his move permanent.

He had shown glimpses of what he can provide but needed a strong finish to the campaign to really make his case otherwise his high wages could prove difficult to argue for a squad player.

Postecoglou wants more attacking talent across the squad this summer. Lucas Bergvall will provide plenty of excitement when he makes the switch from Djurgarden on July 1, and there will be a hope within Tottenham that he could make a similar impact to the one Dele Alli made when he arrived from MK Dons as an 18-year-old.

From within Spurs, an even younger talent, 16-year-old attacker Mikey Moore has been wowing the staff and the head coach in recent weeks.

"Mikey has been really good. Look he's a very talented boy and for him, he's had a fairly disrupted season, he's had a couple of injuries, but when he's performed, he's performed really well," Postecoglou told on Friday.

"The reports I've had on him have always been outstanding. It's been good to have him. Obviously we've had a couple of weeks without a game and it's been good to get him involved in the first team. Again, to be fair to him he has adapted really well, he hasn't looked out of place and it's great for him. Hopefully it gives encouragement to him and some of the other guys who are coming through."

Moore was taken with to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday for the experience as the 21st man and would have come into the squad had there been injury or illness in the warm-up.

That's a big deal for a 16-year-old and the teenager could well find himself on the flight to the post-season match in Melbourne against Newcastle and then the summer tour to Japan and Korea before he turns 17 in August.

Bergvall and Moore are exciting talents for the future. Postecoglou also needs more experienced players to arrive this summer for the now.

Tottenham are expected, like a number of well-placed clubs, to get some of their key business done as early as June because those sides struggling to remain within the Premier League's profit and sustainability rules must bring money in through sales by the June 30 deadline.

Clubs across the continent involved in European competition must also comply with UEFA financial fair play regulations.

Spurs took advantage last season with their moves for Maddison and Vicario while Nottingham Forest have been left to count the cost in deducted points of allowing the deal for Johnson to drag out across the summer and all the way to deadline day.

Tottenham's move for Richarlison the previous summer came before the deadline but was not enough to save Everton from a points deduction. On Monday, Premier League clubs are also set to discuss a potential spending cap coming into the competition, with a proposed transfer fee and salary total of five times what the lowest club's broadcast revenue is, with Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool believed to be in favour of the move.

Spurs will look to make early moves where possible this summer, also to help Postecoglou with his pre-season bedding in of new faces, but most important is getting in the exact players he wants across the team.

One player the north London club have looked closely at in the past couple of seasons is Feyenoord's free-scoring Santiago Gimenez. The 23-year-old Mexican striker was present at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium watching the derby on Sunday, although whether that means anything more than that remains to be seen. Many players from other clubs around the Premier League and Europe do visit the ground as agents get them and their families tickets.

The number of current Tottenham players reaching the final year of their contracts will naturally lead to a big overhaul in the squad this summer and the Australian is looking for new arrivals in every department, with the attacking areas where he is looking for the most improvement.

There is still more than 450 minutes of Premier League football that needs to come first though for Spurs and four days ahead that bring trips to two fellow stuttering sides in Chelsea and Liverpool.

All three clubs will be looking to show a response to recent results. Tottenham have some apologising to do to their fans and victories are the best bunch of flowers available right now.

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