We were all thinking the same thing for those split seconds where it appeared that Kane’s free-kick might find the far corner and the rebound from Davinson Sanchez surely was going to find it anyway. Highway robbery at The Emirates. The point would never have been deserved but who cares? Alas, we got the fair result on a day when Arsenal dominated us from beginning to near end—as only after Lamela was sent off (harshly) did we really come to life.
The whys and wherefores can be boiled down to three simple things. Matt Doherty is an incredible liability against a team with pace and the wherewithal to break down a flank, Heung-Min Son should have been rested at some point in the past two weeks but wasn’t, and neither our defence nor our midfield was capable of matching their intensity from the opening whistle.
Mikel Arteta knew Doherty was our weakest link, and that Sanchez next to him wasn’t much better, and they attacked that flank mercilessly, aided by Gareth Bale’s passivity and a curious non-performance form Tanguy Ndombele who was a passenger as Gunners ran down the channel inside of Doherty at every point and who also watched the cross go by him to Odegaard for the equalising goal.
On one hand, without Son’s injury we don’t get Lamela’s goal but if there were ever a clearer case of why the squad must be rotated more and why we do miss Giovani Lo Celso it was when Sonny sat down, done for the day. One can only hope his absence won’t extend beyond the Zagreb and Villa games in the next week.
As for the rest, our weakness and lethargy was evident from the very first minute. Never did either Hojbjerg or Ndombele assert themselves in the middle; neither fullback looked comfortable although at least Reguilon is capable being defensively solid; other than Lucas slaloming, there was nothing coming from the front four.
Lamela’s rabona was the ultimate tease—totally against the run of play and it appeared as if we might just, after they had hit the woodwork twice, make it to halftime ahead and able to regroup. The second booking was harsh and Oliver, who I thought was poor throughout and giving an aggressive Arsenal every opportunity to foul with impunity. The penalty was technically the right call but of course superfluous to the play as Lacazete had already kicked the ball dead before Sanchez made contact. But let’s be fair—it should/could have been 3-1 at least before that call. We played hard at the end but the miracle didn’t come.
What does it mean? Top Four? Fantasy. Everything would have to break right—we’re not good, lucky, deep or healthy enough to make that happen. Europa League? Well we may every well draw Arsenal or Man United in the next round and either one will be a war. Let’s hope Jose can figure out a way to field a lineup that can get the away goal we need in Croatia—without Son and with Bale and Kane clearly needing a night off, this game becomes much tougher. But the deeper meaning is the harsher one, and it has been staring us in the face for months now.
This team is not anywhere near solid enough in the back to achieve our true ambitions. Whether it can be made so over the summer, and whether this manager will be given the chance to direct that effort, and whether the majority of our current front line are here to witness it—are unknowable questions that cast a significant shadow over this entire club. So we lost a point—but we are losing a bigger point in other ways—the club has become far too fragile over the past two seasons since Madrid—it will not be simple or cheap to solidify things again.
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