Welcome to the Premier League. That was the message to all of Tottenham’s new signings after the defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates. Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue and Roberto Soldado has performed adequately in their introduction to English football against Crystal Palace and Swansea but in the north London derby the stakes had stepped up considerably.
Last season Jan Vertoghen discovered the intensity and competitiveness of the Premier League. He had arrived from Ajax, having led his team to the League title in Holland and winning the Player of the Season award and with a reputation as a cultured, footballing central defender. For the first hour of his debut against West Bromwich Albion, he strolled through the game but the introduction of his Belgian colleague, Romelu Lukaku, showed him a different side of the Premier League. Faced with the power of Lukaku he struggled to cope and as Tottenham’s defending in the final ten minutes fell apart West Brom scored a late equaliser. It was a lesson Vertonghen learned quickly and for the remainder of the season he stood up to the challenge and was Spurs best signing of the season.
The central midfield power was missing at the Emirates. Arsenal hassled them when in possession, they were in their faces every time they had the ball, there was on time to dwell on the ball as Arsenal frequently put a foot in to dispossess them. Then when Arsenal gained possession they attacked with a directness that Spurs lacked. Spurs midfield play was ponderous – they didn’t have anyone prepared to run at defenders with confidence to force them into mistakes. More often the ball went sideways or back towards their own goal. It was only in the last ten minutes after the introduction of Sandro who replaced Capoue who was stretchered off with an ankle injury. The Brazilain has learned the lesson of the Premier League in his three seasons with Tottenham and Spurs became more forceful and purposeful in their play but by then it was too late and Arsenal were prepared to fight tooth and nail to preserve their one goal advantage.
Tottenham enjoyed the greater possession, 57%, had more shots and won more corners, according to the stats on the BBC website. In the first half, before the goal which had been unexpected and came against the balance of play, Spurs had a period of controlled possession and passing inside the Arsenal half but without really troubling their defence. Arsenal when they gained the ball were more direct and the goal lifted them further while Spurs play lost its impetus.
After the experience of the Emirates, the new Tottenham signings have had an early indication of the level they have to achieve and the endeavour and commitment that’s required to achieve it. It was a good lesson for them to learn early on and they’ll be better prepared to meet the future challenges.
Andre Villas-Boas commented after the match on the Tottenham web-site,
It’s very fine margins. Arsenal did well because they closed the spaces down and in the end, it was difficult for us to break through. I think bearing in mind the way we finished, we should have got something out of the game.
Tottenham can take encouragement from the game and once a few early difficulties have been ironed out and the balance of the team has been sorted, there are signs of promise for the season ahead.