Perhaps it was the strange decision to put the best game of the weekend at midday on Sunday, a time and a day when nobody’s at their best. Maybe it was the lingering sense of existential dread that permeates the very air these days, as the Western world thinks to itself: Look, we tried it before and it ended badly, but what if we gave fascism another go? Or maybe, boringly, it was Mauricio Pochettino’s well-thought-through tactical shift.
Whoever or whatever the culprit, something ruined the north London derby, and we assume that the Premier League have put their top investigators on the matter. North London derbies are, after all, supposed to be profoundly stupid things, a kind of cross between a high-level football match and a primal scream therapy session. The players are supposed to tear into the occasion – and occasionally, into each other – without pausing to engage their brain, so ensuring that the watching neutral is given what they want. Which is to say: red cards, footballers falling over each other, good goals, bad goals, and general chaos.
We did, it’s true, have the honourable efforts of Kevin Wimmer. The ‘finish that looks like a proper finish’ is one of the most enjoyable sub-genres of self-inflicted goalscoring, and Wimmer delivered up a fine example. He had to overcome interference from the opposition, stretch his neck, twist his muscles and try, really try, to get just enough contact with the ball to guide it past Hugo Lloris.
Too much, and he’d have cleared the thing; too little, and it would be with the keeper. It was a masterclass of applied athletic precision and, while his initial response was to look disgruntled and complain to the ref, we hope that he’s since been able to quietly congratulate himself on a difficult job well done.
But beyond that goal, we got a tight, tense, largely competent, broadly unspectacular affair. Arsenal were quiet for a bit, then good for a bit, then mostly quiet with moments of goodness. Tottenham, by contrast, were good for a bit, then quiet, then mostly quiet with moments of goodness.
Both teams hit the post, both could have won, and both will presumably be quite happy not to have lost. Even the penalty was a underwhelming thing: Soft contact, a bit of a tumble, some mild objections for the sake of form. And Harry Kane absolutely failed to blast it into a low orbit, or ricochet the thing into the net off Petr Cech’s head.
We could, perhaps, conclude that there’s a salutary lesson here, something about managing expectations and controlling hype. But instead, we’re going to accept the spirit of the age and conclude that this game, like the bird flying backward just outside your window and the horses eating one another in your stables, is another sign of the coming apocalypse. And in the final days before the Last Trump sounds, there shall be a North London Derby, and it shall be sort of okay, nothing special. And it will fill the land with dread. And only Kevin Wimmer can save us now.
Still, if the world does end, then it might be doing Alan Pardew a favour. Pardew’s teams have always been swingy things. First he’ll oversee a run of excellent victories and clamber up the table; then, just as the eight-year contracts and the big team rumours start to appear, his side will lose 14 on the bounce and he’ll be chased out with sticks.
So the fact that Crystal Palace have taken just one point from their last seven league games shouldn’t be a huge surprise; what goes Pardz, must come Pardz. What’s deeply unfortunate is that they’ve decided to have their bad run just as the England job lies temptingly open. And while Pardew has always been a little bit coy regarding any interest in the Job of Jobs, one look at his eyes, his swagger, his demeanour and his little dances confirms that there has never been a man keener to become England’s number one. Except Sam Allardyce. Oh, Sam.
Palace, though, are a rabble. Against Burnley they defended with all the coherence, structure and solidity of a rotten melon, and their game ended in spectacularly ignominious fashion. A team getting caught on the break as they chase an equaliser is, broadly, an acceptable way to concede a goal.
Getting caught on the break after the equaliser has been secured, and when the unlikely point is almost there for the taking, is frankly embarrassing. Palace will presumably start winning again at some point, but by that time, it may be too late for Pardew and the Big Job. Football’s all about timing, and Pardz is making a complete Kevin Wimmer out of this one.