Former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson blamed Gunners boss Mikel Arteta for their north London derby disaster and predicts results in the final two games will cost them a Champions League spot
Gunners great Merson, who won five major trophies with the club as a player, reckons Tottenham are now favourites for the top four. They crushed Arsenal 3-0 on Wednesday night for their biggest ever win against them in the Premier League.
Arteta accused referee Paul Tierney, who sent off Rob Holding and awarded Spurs a penalty, of destroying the game afterwards. But Merson insists it was not Holding’s red card or Tierney’s performance that was to blame for opening the door to Spurs in the race for a Champions League spot.
The former England forward wrote in his Daily Star column: “Blame Mikel Arteta’s fatal flaw. He wants to be Pep Guardiola and play Pep Guardiola football all the time but he just doesn’t have the players. And that came back to bite him against Tottenham. I got sacked by Walsall for not being a very good manager but even I know how to play against Spurs.
“I like Arteta but he’s not Pep. He hasn’t got Pep’s team. So play to the strengths of your team. It’s his biggest flaw. The game plan he needed was obvious for all to see. But he got it horribly, horribly wrong. He had no pace at centre half with Holding playing there. So drop deep, play on the edge of your box. Don’t give Harry Kane any space to drop into, don’t give Heung-min Son any space in behind to run into. Simple.
“But Arsenal did the opposite! Arsenal didn’t even have to win the game and they went out hell for leather with a high line and blew it. Holding is not good enough. But I’m not blaming him. They should have given him a chance. Not make him defend a high line when he hasn’t got the pace. That’s why the red card came. One hundred per cent. Because he had to try and stop Son getting a run on him.
“It was a stonewall sending off. Just bad decision-making by the manager. You come on to Tottenham at your peril. Manchester City did it, and Spurs did the double over them! Arteta lost the plot. To come out afterwards and say the ref destroyed the game. No. He needs to take a look at himself because his tactics were wrong. He should have shut up shop and kept it tight. But that’s not pretty football is it? So we’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing because that’s how football should be played. Really?
“Honestly… Arsenal should have dug in and made it difficult, sat back, made them nervous and waited for their chance. I could not believe what I was watching.”
Merson reckons Spurs will now win their last two games – and fears the Gunners will not, missing out on a return to the Champions League. He said: “They have opened the door and I’d be shocked if Tottenham don’t win their last two games. I can’t see Arsenal winning their last two games. Newcastle in their last home game of the season is a difficult game because they will have a point to prove.
” Everton at the Emirates? You’d take that. Everton have picked up results lately. But Jordan Pickford has had to make a load of top class saves. If Arsenal win their last two games then fair play but for a young team like that to come back from a derby defeat and do it, that would be a big feat. I just don’t see how Arsenal handle the pressure.
“They didn’t handle it at Spurs. They will be two points behind because Spurs will be Burnley.”