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I am going to deny Mike Dean the lede. Three plus hours of effort at Old Trafford and the Emirates, and nary a goal. That is the biggest takeaway from a disappointing defeat that almost certainly removes Spurs from serious contention for the Premier League title. How much the injuries to both Kane and Dele played a role can’t be fairly judged, but give credit to Arsene and Arsenal—their setup and defending were impeccable throughout this game. But the truth was our best two chances came with both of those stars removed from the pitch, and that perhaps says it all.
As for the referee, well it was pure Dean, wasn’t it? Davinson Sanchez with a brilliant tackle after a scuffle between he and the other Sanchez, and somehow the referee sees a foul. Mustafi was clearly offside on the free kick, but then again Trippier/Real Madrid—it happens. Give him credit for a gorgeous header into a place Lloris had no chance to parry it. And of course the game then changed though the second was poor defending and both the keeper and Trippier were a split second late to react before Sanchez cleaned up. Arsenal had been the better side for most of the first half, breaking free down either wing several times and testing our defence. Eric Dier almost gifted them goals twice, a reminder that Toby Alderweireld’s absence was felt as much for his distribution as his defensive work.
But the truth is we were beaten by a better side. Arsenal denied us scoring opportunities throughout the game—there always seemed to be an extra body in red in the box. Christian Eriksen after his master class in Dublin was almost invisible today. And, sadly, one has to wonder if Mousa Dembele’s time as a major contributor to this squad is near done—he simply seemed a step slow today and rarely produced anything of quality. And the other Moussa was unequivocally a mess throughout—yes, he fights for the ball, but once he acquires it, then what? Today it seemed as if the ball went backward as much as forward as he and Trippier and the other forwards were out of synch. Poch, for all his quality, has now been beaten by three of the four major league rivals Spurs have faced this season, with the toughest yet to come. His team was simply not good enough today, and particularly on the attack. Whether the answer is Lamela or Rose on the wing, or some combination of Winks and Son in the starting XI, he has to figure out a Plan B.
The one bright light—the only bright light for me—was Davinson Sanchez, who has in just a few months time become our most trusted defender. He is not only physical but agile and deft with his touch. Without him, it could have been even worse.
The focus must shift, and quickly. A win or even a draw in Germany on Tuesday sets up Spurs to win their group and avoid any of several brutal matchups in the first knockout round. It’s a trophy, after all.
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