Bacon. The belly of the beast. I need bacon. Bacon and brioche French toast.
I’ve been laid up all week with a chest cold. The kind of cold where the rales in my lungs sound like the last sips of a milkshake. I deserve bacon.
Football is a lot like bacon. Streaky bacon. There are layers of white meat, which most of you would call “fat”, and layers of dark meat. The dark meat is the space occupied by the defenders. The white meat is the free space.
Most people who buy bacon look for as meaty a slab of bacon as possible. This is obvious eating. Not me. I like a lot of white meat on my bacon. I don’t eat bacon every day. I want lots of space. Space is where the flavor lives.
Football is all about the white meat. It’s a game of space. Creating space, closing space, controlling space, controlling the white meat, making your bacon as fatty as possible.
Arsenal opened the scoring against Tottenham by picking a piece of streaky bacon that was full of white meat. Giroud did well to collect a ball deep in midfield, then Welbeck sizzled past Rose, from there, the amount of space between keeper and the Arsenal three forwards was mouthwatering.
Welbeck hit a great dragback into the red meat, and Giroud hit a one time pass/shot that fell to Özil. Özil, who is slicker than bacon grease, popped in a goal of the season candidate.
From there out, Arsenal looked to pack the bacon in. In fact, Arsenal’s bacon resembled all red meat at times, with just space conceded down the wings. Take British rashers, pile them into pancakes, pour over sticky syrup, bacon pancakes that’s what Arsenal tried to make.
It would have worked too. In theory, packing in the defense leaves the whole hog to run into. But Arsenal struggled to exploit Tottenham’s back fat and instead resembled at times a lower table team, desperately holding on to a 1-0 lead.
At half time I cut my brioche. I wanted it to dry out a bit before I made the French toast. Worryingly Kyle Martino and the other Kyle were on TV singing Arsenal’s praises. But Arsenal only had two shots in the first half. It looked like the same game plan as against Man City but in terms of executing the counter attack swiftly, Arsenal looked like they were running in cold treacle rather than warm syrup.
It wasn’t that Spurs were much better. They kept flying into tackles and missing completely. Arsenal were gifted numerous chances to exploit Spurs spaces.
It was more that Arsenal looked like a team whose attack hadn’t played together much. Özil kept finding fatty places to run into but Cazorla couldn’t find him. Giroud kept flicking, and flicking, and flicking, and flicking, on to Welbeck but Welbeck was rarely in the fatty places where Giroud thought he should be.
Meanwhile, Arsenal were doing everything right defensively. They were frustrating Spurs, forcing them into long range shots. Long range shots that kept producing corners.
You would think that corners would be difficult to score from and they are. The amount of space available to exploit is exceptionally small but because the ball is so close to goal, any amount of space is deadly. It was at the moment that I was singing one-nil to the Arsenal that Spurs scored.
Corner. Ospina gets a hand on the ball and pushes it toward the far post. Coquelin leaves the far post in order to try to head clear the ball that Ospina palmed away. Ramsey realizes he’s been napping, and Harry Kane, Citizen Kane, the most dangerous man in the publishing business, ghosts in behind Ramsey to score an easy goal.
It was shambolic defending from Ramsey. Gunnerblog blamed Ospina but I think the diminutive keeper did his best to get to the ball. If Ramsey is at all aware of the white meat he’s giving up, Kane doesn’t get a foot on that ball.
Spurs were sizzling and spitting from that point on. In the first 55 minutes, Spurs took just the one shot from prime areas. In the last 40 minutes, they took three. They were getting into dangerous positions, exploiting the Arsenal spaces well and getting in great crosses.
But it was a moment of madness from Walcott which proved Arsenal’s downfall. In theory, Walcott was brought on to exploit space behind Spurs as they went forward in search of a goal: they play high up the pitch, Arsenal counter by putting on their fastest player. But Walcott. But Walcott had 6. Walcott had 6 touches. 6 touches. 6 touches in 20 minutes. And Walcott played a Podolski on the throw in. A throw in. A throw in. Walcott on the throw in. Bentaleb in so much space and time. Almost like a free kick. Walcott on the throw in. Walcott not closing space on the throw in. A throw in.
Walcott switched off. Koscielny didn’t challenge. Bentaleb puts in a decent cross. Kane overpowered Koscielny. Kane looped a header into the far corner. Ospina had no chance.
Arsenal’s problem throughout the match was a lack of fluency in the counter attack. It’s one thing to sit back and soak up pressure but quite another to string together the necessary passes to counter attack efficiently. Efficiency is the key to this defense first approach that Arsenal have been rolling out the last couple of weeks. And Arsenal simply lacked it.
Cazorla and Ramsey were outplayed by the Spurs midfield duo of Mason and Benteleb. They were forced into turnovers and couldn’t get the ball forward to Walcott who had a pittance with just 6 touches.
In the end, we saw one of the truths of football: no matter how well drilled your defense, you need an efficient counter attacking unit in order to play on the counter. Tomas Rosicky couldn’t save Arsenal, Theo Walcott couldn’t save Arsenal. Harry Kane may have gotten his start at Arsenal but he was always a Spurs fan. And with two goals against Arsenal in the North London Derby, he had his Rosebud.