Opinion: Three points but Conte still sent a Spurs transfer message to Levy

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Davinson Sanchez
Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

I am going to dispense with the specifics about this game pretty quickly, because I think the bigger story lies with the tactics, selection, managerial mindset and true quality of our squad. Suffice it to say that in football, life can be very unfair.

Arsenal played about as well as they are capable of playing in the first game yesterday, but some bad fortune and stupidity on their part cost them anything to show for it.

And we were largely ponderous and bereft of ideas against a Watford side that had virtually no interest in winning the game, but yet there came a late goal by Davinson Sanchez from a perfect Son cross and we get all three points.

So two things about the game itself. They were content to let Emerson have the ball in space, and he pretty much proved why that was with a slew of unproductive and often inaccurate crosses.

And until near the very end, Oliver Skipp was our best outfield player, which is fairly damning for both the failures of our forwards to create much and the manager for not devising a more effective formation and game plan.

As to the second point—in a game where both dogged pressing and incisive passing, and perhaps better aerial play, seemed to be a premium, neither Tanguy Ndombele nor Dele Alli were called upon.

That speaks volumes to me. This was not a rotation game with four days until we play at Chelsea and a cup game against a League One side following on the weekend. This was his preferred XI (but for Cuti Romero over Sanchez, ironically, once he is fit to play again).

And the unwillingness to sub either of them in was, to me, a statement to both Levy and Paratici that these were his best players, and if they aren’t good enough to break down Watford playing deep at the low block, well then he needs some more players.

As I believe he/we does/do. Some are romanced enough by mostly favourable results under Conte to think we are good enough to best all three of our close rivals for 4th place.

Some might take the opposite tack and wonder after a game like yesterday (or the draw v the Saints) if we aren’t still actually closer to a 6th or 7th place side in terms of talent as we have been for the past three seasons. Who is our Partey? Smith-Rowe? Saka? Rice? Antonio? (not saying Kane is worse—but Antonio brings a particular skill set we cannot match) Ronaldo? Fernandes? McTominay even? 

I am not all gloom-and-doom here—we have the best manager of the four clubs. If we won our games in hand we would be a clear fourth. But it would be a near-run thing. We need more creativity in the midfield, particularly once Ndembele is sent along his way, whether this month or in the summer.

We desperately need a better RWB who can take advantage of the space Emerson was given and which our system of attack will create. And we will need another CB at some point.

The fascinating thing will not be the end product—and whether either next season or, if we are lucky, the one following, Spurs might mount a serious challenge for a title or a deep European run.

The fascinating thing is whether Conte can buy all sorts of goodwill, time and probably resources by winning the immediate battle ahead.

Arteta has finally turned Arsenal around, but the red cards continue to be a question. Rangnick is still a bit of a question mark, but his acumen is unquestioned. Moyes is getting everything he can out of his players—does he have enough good ones?

And now we play the team with the most annoyed manager in English football—not once, not twice, but three times in the next three weeks. Chelsea will be a great barometer to see just how magic Conte can produce over the next five or six months. 

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