On Thursday, Arsenal were presented with an opportunity to guarantee Champions League qualification for the first time in five years by winning away at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. But instead, every possible thing went wrong. Referee Paul Tierney awarded Spurs a penalty softer than 1,000-thread count cotton sheets. Rob Holding went overboard with his aggression and got sent off. Gabriel sustained an apparent hamstring injury and is in danger of missing Monday’s trip to Newcastle. The match ended as a 3-0 loss and Spurs are now only one point behind Arsenal in the race for top four. Below are the Hits and Misses from an awful derby result.
If anyone was going to make something happen on Thursday, it was the Brazilian. Martinelli proved a handful for a weak Spurs defense on Thursday, blitzing past Emerson Royal on multiple occasions and creating some dangerous situations for Arsenal’s biggest rivals. He was unhappily substituted for Emile Smith Rowe in the second half, but this suggests he’s in contention to start at Newcastle. Hopefully he can prove a difference-maker in the final two matches.
Tomiyasu performed as probably the best player on the pitch for Arsenal. He started at left-back and kept Dejan Kulusevski quiet for much of the match before having to play center-back when Arsenal went a man down. Particularly significantly, he blocked a dangerous shot from Harry Kane that could have made matters worse. The Japanese international continues to rank among the most reliable players at the club, and his performance on Thursday made it all the more regrettable he hadn’t matched up against Son.
Odegaard was one of the few Arsenal men who played like he had a sense of the occasion. The acting captain looked relatively composed on the ball as usual. Additionally, the Norwegian took advantage of a mediocre defense and got into some good goalscoring opportunities. However, he was unable to put his chances away. But his late runs into the box and increased willingness to shoot are encouraging.
With Ben White unavailable, Holding reprised his role as right center-back from the Leeds match. Unfortunately, the Englishman proceeded to self-destruct at the hands of Heung-min Son. Holding attempted to give the South Korean winger the Diego Costa treatment, but ended up getting conned into two successive yellow cards. In perhaps the biggest game of Arsenal’s season, Holding lost his head and cost his side dearly — not just in this match, but the next one. And while one could argue he got the short end of the stick for the first yellow card, for the second he selfishly stopped defending and made a hit on Son, for no reason other than to get the Spurs man back for an admittedly dirty elbow to the head Son had given him. Instead of being savvy, Holding decided to let his emotions take the wheel. And in the space of thirty minutes, he went from hero to zero.
Holding would not have been isolated against Son if it hadn’t been for Cedric needlessly pressing Ryan Sessegnon in Spurs’ half. The Portuguese right-back abstained from defending for much of the night, letting his man come inside to wreak havoc. He also had some bad misplaced passes and looked generally shaky all night. Lastly, although the penalty call was harsh and likely wouldn’t have been made if the tables had been flipped, he needlessly made contact with Son in a dangerous situation.
The manager got his team selection wrong for the derby. By placing Cedric and Holding together on the right side of the defense and starting Tomiyasu at left-back, Arteta weakened the back four in the worst area. It was really the only significant mistake Arteta made leading up to the match. But it allowed Son to run rampant on his flank. Arteta’s team selection for Newcastle will likely be forced by injuries and Holding’s suspension. But today, he did not play the best team he could against Spurs.
Paul Tierney and the PGMOL
Talking about officials gets truly boring. But today was yet another instance of a referee in the biggest, richest, most competitive league in the world taking the unprofessional action of unnecessarily making themselves the main character of a match. Paul Tierney, at the first possible opportunity, decided the match himself. He saw Son make the slightest contact with Cedric and throw himself to the ground in dramatic enough fashion to be more worthy of a Speedo sponsorship than most Olympic divers, and rushed to award a penalty kick. He rightly sent Holding off for fouls on Son but failed to notice the Spurs winger quickly fling an elbow into the Arsenal defender’s head earlier. He allowed Kane and Kulusevski to wrestle Gabriel to the ground on multiple occasions. Whether he performed his duties like this on purpose or because of incompetence, Tierney committed a theft. He robbed us of what should have been an epic spectacle, one of the season’s most titanic clashes. He stole the players’ opportunity to decide this match themselves. He needlessly pilfered the beauty and passion from the game we love and dedicate so much of our lives to. It has long been time for the PGMOL to start punishing this kind of indiscretion against top-flight football.
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