Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal played out 90 scintillating minutes of football last night as the respective races for the Premier League and Champions League tilted towards the Manchester clubs. For the Gunners, however, the 3-3 draw came in the shadow of comments by Spaniard, Cesc Fabregas. Arsenal’s captain told a Spanish magazine that Arsenal’s lack of experience is holding them back and that manager Arsene Wenger must decide what he wants to do: “[Either]
Last night’s draw with Tottenham contained plenty of evidence pointing to the inexperience lambasted by Fabregas: drawing 3-3 after being ahead 3-1; the rash challenge by Johan Djourou on the edge of the area that drew a yellow card; and Wojciech Szczesny’s dash towards Aaron Lennon that gave away a penalty. But perhaps it also demonstrated signs of growth among the green Arsenal players.
If twice giving up a lead is a sign of immaturity then, conversely, to regain it must be considered a sign of growing maturity. Having to do that over the course of a season, however, is not only exhausting but also bound to cause frustration and disappointment, as voiced by Fabregas this week. It is also a great strain on the young players Wenger is so keen to develop, mentally as much as physically. The ups and downs of Arsenal’s season – indeed, just last night’s match – are shattering for supporters alone. When adding the physical strain of regular, high-level football on a young body, the weight can be massive.
For yesterday’s match Wenger dropped Jack Wilshere to the bench and recalled Alex Song in his place, who, at 23, passes for experienced in this youthful Arsenal roster. Song has been part of the Arsenal first team since 2005, with only four players of longer tenure in the squad; two of the same duration and Jens Lehmann, a 2003 addition who spent three years away between his first spell in North London and the current, unexpected return. In his time at Arsenal, Song has played 100 games but has yet to win any senior trophies. The Cameroon international, as well as Fabregas and Abou Diaby, are Wilshere’s role models every day in training, but tangible domestic success is as alien to them as it is the newly crowned PFA Young Player of the Year.
Song’s presence was perhaps more tactical than anything else, giving Arsenal two ball-winners in front of the defence and behind Fabregas, as well as offering a more substantial presence for defending set pieces. The withdrawal of Diaby before the hour mark for the introduction of Wilshere removed both those benefits. Wilshere was brought on 20 minutes before Spurs equalised for the final time. For much of the 40 minutes the England international was on the pitch, the hosts were on top. Ordinarily, a point away at a top five side – and your local rivals – is a decent return. It is only in the context of the title race it becomes a disappointment, but that is exactly where Arsenal’s inexperience costs them the most.