Passing the buck

This week it would be remiss to start anywhere other than arguably the biggest game of the season so far, the North London derby. Yet despite the fire and brimstone affair that was played out on the pitch, the post-match press conferences were decidedly more measured. Starting with the home side, Mauricio Pochettino struck a familiar tone by saying that ‘We have to be cold in our assessment.’ This calm, analytical approach has become a staple for Spurs this season and been influential in the way they have surged up the table.

Yet you can’t help but feel that there will have been a few regrets knocking around that home changing room after the finalPocchetino whistle. The boss alluded to that in his comment, ‘We showed that we were better,’ as he clearly wrestled with the frustration of letting a goal lead and man advantage slip, in such a big game. Truth be told, Arsenal began to look the more impressive team in the closing stages with Spurs running out of steam and being unable to blow the Gunners’ house down. That’s not to say that they weren’t impressive earlier on, with David Ospina pulling off a string of saves to keep Arsenal in touch, though the final result may stick in Tottenham’s craw.

The view from the other side of the dugout was not too dissimilar. Arsene Wenger once more talked of character, spirit and attitude though on this occasion his players were certainly more deserving of those words. Unusually the Frenchman proved particularly observant from the touchline, admitting that he actually saw Francis Coquelin’s digression that earned him a second yellow and, that he had no complaints. While I was still reeling from the shock of this statement I was comforted somewhat by Wenger’s immediate counter-attack, questioning why Eric Dier didn’t get sent off. Good to see he hasn’t completely lost his marbles. Beyond the action itself, Wenger was still, of course, optimistic about Arsenal’s title chances, despite a damaging seven days. He seems to be struggling with the laws of the game however as he tried to lay the blame at the door of every other Premier League club, for Leicester sitting top of the league; ‘Just to remind you, we have beaten Leicester twice so we have done our job against them. People have to look at other teams more, not just us on that front.’ Errrmm, that’s not quite how it works, Arsene. It’s the sort of playground logic that fans of lower league teams use to claim their club is the best in the world. Along the lines of, ‘Well we beat Chelsea and then they beat Barcelona, therefore Accrington Stanley are the best team in Europe.’ Not really the sort of argument you would expect from a seasoned Premier League manager, but maybe that’s Arsenal’s excuse for such a long gap between titles; they’ve been playing by a different set of rules all along.

Talking of abiding by your own laws, another handful of managers again attempted to redefine the rules of Association TFBadgeFootball over the weekend. They were led notably, by Louis van Gaal, who claimed that Juan Mata shouldn’t have been sent off because he’s generally a good egg. ‘The referee has to know the person who makes the tackle,’ the Dutchman commented. ‘Mata never hurts an opponent.’ I can’t remember hearing anyone saying he went out to hurt an opponent with his two bookings but that’s not the only way you can get booked. After all, the diving he was complaining about last week doesn’t hurt anyone but can warrant a yellow card. Unsurprisingly, Alan Pardew was following a similar script after another disappointing loss for Crystal Palace. The contentious penalty given against Damien Delaney in the last minute, clearly riled Pardew, who once more showed his tendency to reinvent the rules of the game to suit his side. Just a couple of weeks ago he was claiming Watford shouldn’t have had a penalty as an offence happened early on in the game, while this week he snapped, ‘In the last second of the game, are you going to give a penalty then?’ Maybe we should just ask Alan when the officials should be allowed to give penalties then we can avoid this tiresome carry on after every game. Or better still, why not let some of these managers ref the game – now that would be taking the game back to the grass roots.

Michael Creane

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