Tim Sherwood appears reluctant to make substitutions when Tottenham are in need of a change to alter the course of the game. Against Arsenal they came too late and had no impact whatsoever.
Successful managers make bold, brave decisions when their team needs a lift to turn a game in their favour. Jose Mourinho has frequently made double substitutions at half-time when he wants a reaction from his team but at Tottenham the substitutions of Tim Sherwood have been cautious and had little bearing on the outcome of the game.
Against Arsenal, with the visitors having got off to the the worst possible start from Tottenham’s perspective, they were prepared and able to defend their lead comfortably for the next ninety three minutes. While Spurs dominated possession and territory, they huffed and puffed without creating any clear cut openings. The players on the pitch worked hard, Sherwood’s team selection had worked well but with time running out, it needed fresh ideas and something to unsettle Arsenal and change the game in Spurs’ favour.
Instead, Sherwood’s use of his substitutes was very conservative. The first substitutions came with just over 20 minutes to play.
- Paulinho replaced Sandro (68 minutes): some would have preferred Nabil Bentaleb to have been the player to be replaced in Tottenham’s midfield. To be fair to the manager, Sandro had been booked just after the interval and with Tottenham chasing the game and more susceptible to an attack on the counter-attack, Sandro could have been exposed to another yellow card.
- Gylfi Sigurdsson replaced Nacer Chadli (69 minutes): I can only speculate that the reasoning behind Sigurdsson coming on was that he might have provided a goal breaking forward from midfield. In reality, he contributed little while Chadli had been more involved in the game. With Spurs needing to unsettle the Arsenal defence, it would surely have been better to introduce Aaron Lennon for the final minutes to take advantage of the fact that both Arsenal fullbacks had already been booked. Lennon and Andros Townsend should have been encouraged to run at Sagna and Gibbs forcing them to commit to a tackle. Rather the cautious substitutions allowed Arsenal to sit deeper and defend. If Sherwood didn’t want to use Lennon, Harry Kane might have been a better option as he’s prepared to run directly at defenders and commit them to the tackle – that might have been more productive in the final minutes.
- Roberto Soldado came on for Christian Eriksen (82 minutes): This substitution is wrong on two counts. Emmanuel Adebayor had worked hard throughout the game trying to create an opening but without any support. He needed a support player much sooner and bringing Soldado on with 8 minutes to play was far too late. By that time Arsenal had already made two defensive substitutions and were determined and content to ‘hold what they had’. Soldado should have been brought on earlier but Eriksen should not have been the player to go off. Not having the best of game, the Danish international was still the Spurs player most likely to create an opening so should have seen through the final minutes of the game.
With Arsenal happy to sit back and defend it would have been worth the gamble to make a more adventurous substitution and take off a defensive-minded player.
With Spurs possession and territorial advantage Tim Sherwood was drawn into the mistaken belief that through time, Spurs would get a breakthrough. He was reluctant to make any changes as the team as a unit was working well but chances were limited and so something should have been done earlier.
In previous matches, Spurs have been slow to make changes and at Hull there was a shot of Sherwood and Les Ferdinand considering what they should do to get Tottenham back into the game. I’m being unfair to them, I know, but the look on their faces suggested that they had no idea what was needed. Management is a tough game and it needs brave decisions, thinking outside the box to turn a game and spring a surprise on the opposition. That only comes with experience.