Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood was adamant following his side’s 0-1 loss to Arsenal on Sunday: Spurs deserved to win the North London derby.
“I think we were better than them, we deserved to win,” Sherwood said.
The difference in the match, according to the Tottenham manager, was a wonder strike by Tomas Rosicky.
“I’m willing him to shoot from that distance,” Sherwood said of the Czech midfielder. “But he sticks it in the top corner and there is nothing we can do about that.”
One week after questioning his squad’s ‘character and guts’ following the 4-0 shellacking by Chelsea, Sherwood credited his side’s mentality while dealing a dig at his triumphant rivals.
“We showed character, absolutely,” Sherwood continued. “If you give me that between now and the end of the season, no problem. We will be where we are meant to be. The result for Arsenal will paper over a lot of cracks. They were outplayed today and they’re title contenders.”
So did Spurs deserve to win that game?
A look at the match stats suggests that Tottenham was, in fact, the better team. Spurs dominated possession (59/41), had 10 more attempts on goal (17 to 7), three more corners (5 to 2) and 27 more crosses from open play (27 to 0). Tottenham’s efforts also passed the site-test as Spurs spent the majority of the match in the opposition’s end, and poured forward late in a desperate attempt to find an equalizer.
That said, ‘deservedness’ is in the eye of the beholder. Arsenal entered the match struggling with a number of key injuries to their midfield with Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott all sidelined. That situation, combined with Rosicky’s early goal, allowed Arsenal to adopt a defensive, counter-attacking approach to the match.
Choosing such an approach was unusual for manager Arsene Wenger but hardly surprising given the circumstances. In the 77th minute he removed winger Lukas Podolski for a defender, Nacho Monreal, and eight minutes later he made another defensive switch subbing off midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for center-back Thomas Vermaelen.
With a healthy squad, it’s doubtful Wenger would have adopted such a strategy. But recognizing the desperate need to take all three points in order to remain in title talks, it was a plan that Wenger was unapologetic to make. “We were under pressure to win and it was a huge result,” Wenger said. “To stay in the title race we knew it was vital to win. The early goal influenced the way we played too much. We wanted to protect the lead.”
What Sherwood failed to recognize in his post-match interview is that ‘being the better side’ and ‘deserving to win’ do not go hand-in-hand. Spurs were the ‘better side’ on Sunday. But when you fail to score and can’t point to stone-wall penalties or red cards that haven’t been given, and circumstances required the opposition to adopt an unusual defensive approach the proved to work, labeling yourself the ‘deserving to win’ is a bit rich.