Sky Sports’ Gary Neville has warned that the disappointment of losing the north London derby 3-1 to Arsenal may be the least of Tottenham’s problems after a display he branded “appalling” during the game.
Spurs were swept aside at the Emirates, conceding three goals within 34 minutes to an Arsenal side that had previously scored just twice in five Premier League games this season.
“Arsenal had a far better application to the game, but Tottenham’s game plan looked really basic. It looked like they just wanted to knock it forward at any cost, and they were playing aimless balls forward. Spurs’ courage to play, their appetite to win the ball back and get forward was completely different from what it was against Chelsea last week, and Arsenal ran all over them. It was a really poor first half,” said Neville.
“In the second half, you could say Harry Kane should have scored two or three goals and could have had a penalty. But Harry Kane is not right, there is something obviously not right with him at the moment, he doesn’t look happy at all.
“That’s a bad day for Nuno and those Tottenham players because their fans will have left the ground thinking there are more problems than just losing 3-1 to Arsenal.”
New Tottenham boss Nuno Espirito Santo took his share of responsibility for the defeat by admitting his “gameplan was not good” but added: “The decisions were not according to the gameplan.”
Asked whether his side had failed to carry out his instructions, Nuno told Sky Sports: “I wouldn’t say they are not doing what l am telling them to do. They were not able to do it.”
After hearing Nuno’s admission, Neville responded: “Kane, Moura, Son and Dele Alli pressed high at Tottenham for years and it looked to me that they didn’t respond to the gameplan, like they didn’t believe in it – that was my feeling.
“I think the Tottenham players loved Mauricio Pochettino. I think he was innovative, he was front foot, proactive, they loved him. Those players look to me as if they want a high-pressing, Pochettino-style coach who plays out from the back rather than one that sits back and plays on the counter-attack.”
Tottenham’s bubble bursts after flying start
Since topping the table in August, Spurs have lost to Crystal Palace, Chelsea and Arsenal – and are now behind the Gunners in the league table despite 20 places separating the two sides less than a month ago.
“The first-half performance will have been a real worry,” said Neville during commentary of Sunday’s derby. “You have to ask questions beyond football when you see the body language of the players. The real problem is that they got to a Champions League final a couple years ago playing exciting, proactive football. They were always on the front foot and it was a group of players who looked like they were enjoying it.
“Some of those players are still out there now but in the last couple of years they have become very basic to watch compared to that [the Champions League final] team of a few years ago.”
In-game statistics showed Tottenham bottom of the chart for distance covered by any side in the Premier League this season.
“That is a real worry – to go from where they were, which was one of the hardest-running teams in the league to the worst. Tottenham cannot be the team which runs the least in the league.”
Neville hails Smith Rowe and Saka – but Dele Alli’s decline is a warning
Emile Smith Rowe scored the opening goal and created another to earn the man-of-the-match award from Neville, but the former England defender’s post-match observations also contained a poignant warning to the Arsenal youngster and his team-mate Bukayo Saka.
“Smith Rowe and Saka have been a joy,” said Neville. “Everything Tottenham didn’t have, those two had in abundance.
“But if they want a warning sign they should look at Dele Alli. I had him with England three or four years ago and l would have said that he would go on to become one of the top midfielders this country has produced. He had everything. And now look at him. He was subbed at half-time today and he’s a shadow of what he was in terms of application and work ethic. I said last year he needed a shock, but he needs to sort himself out, and I love him as a kid.”
Nuno scathing, but ‘won’t name individuals’
Spurs boss Nuno was scathing about his side’s performance, inferring that some of his players failed to implement his game plan.
Tottenham attempted to stem the flow at half-time by bringing on Oliver Skipp and Emerson Royal for the tormented Japhet Tanganga and anonymous Dele Alli, but it didn’t work
Nuno told Sky Sports: “The performance was not good. The game plan was not good. The decisions were not good. It was not a good day for us. Definitely not a good day.
“I’m going to be honest. When you have a game plan you have to make the right decisions in terms of who you want on the pitch to develop that game plan. I won’t name individuals who didn’t play the game plan right but the game plan was not right according to the players who were on the pitch.
“We were not aggressive enough to control Arsenal in midfield. We suffered when we wanted to go in front an we allowed Arsenal to come to us. Bad decisions.”
He added in his post-match press conference: “A lot of things went wrong, starting with the decisions I made. It’s not easy to expand so I just ask you a bit of respect if I don’t go too much into it. But the gameplan didn’t work out. I will not judge my players in front of you, I refuse to do that.”
“We want to be a team that is faster, stronger, dominant, solid, we are not being that team. First we recover the players, find them, help them find the right solutions for them to develop the way we want to play better.
“I didn’t take the right decisions, and I refuse to go much further than that. All that I have to say, I will say it directly to the players among us. We must solve the problem.
“We are disappointed, because it was a special game for all of us, our fans. We didn’t achieve the standards our fans deserve every day. So my message is I promise that we will try to fix it.”
Arsenal now go to Brighton in the Premier League on Saturday Night Football, live on Sky Sports Premier League at 5.30pm, while Spurs host NS Mura in the Europa Conference League on Thursday at 8pm before welcome Aston Villa in the Premier League at 2pm on Sunday.