Arsenal’s top-four pursuit could be decided by Nuno Tavares’ mayhem

an apartment arsenal had little momentum against West Ham but grace is hardly a necessity when trying to clear the hurdles in between Mikel Artetaside and a place in the top four. “In England they say ugly to win,” said the manager, with a touch of pre-permascowl Mourinho. “But I’m very happy when a team wins ugly.”

They have taken another precarious step towards a coveted Champions League spot due to good defense and unlikely Goalscorers by Rob Holding and Gabriel Magalhaesbut there can be no doubt that a measure of clemency was accorded to a West Ham side weary from their Europa League campaign.

Arsenal need to improve their game against a Leeds side who are struggling for survival with Tottenham ahead of next weekend’s crucial derby in north London. In this phase it is a question of attitude and courage as well as tactics or individual quality. It’s like two boxers, both insecure and with gaps in defense, going into the championship rounds and draining their reserves while rocky music is overlaid in the background. What these montages fail to explain, however, is that Nuno Tavares attempts to storm the ring while only managing to get tangled face first in the ropes.

There may not be a player in the First League just as gripping as Tavares. His mere presence seems to turn the pitch into a powder keg, steaming out of position with impressive aplomb before standing in mock horror after the space he’s cleared is promptly exposed. That’s exactly what happened against West Ham, when the full-back fell into a daydream just before half-time. When Tavares woke up and realized that Vladimir Coufal had danced after him once again, instead of throwing himself bravely into a block, he dallyed half-heartedly into no man’s land. He already knew how the nightmare would end long before Jarrod Bowen struck to equalize.

After all, in the game before, Tavares had managed to score and concede a pointless penalty against Manchester United as if it were nothing but the standard prize. It is somewhat bizarre that, despite all the scouting and analysis of modern football, a player with such a wild streak, prone to moments of such mad decision-making, should have been deemed suitable by Arteta, a man whose evening could be ruined if he discovers, that someone had tampered with the order of his bookshelf.

And yet it is now Tavares who could decide the fate of Arsenal’s season. Arteta has never been shy about his reservations, first evident when Tavares was ignominiously substituted off in the first half against Nottingham Forest. Then, with Kieran Tierney ruled out for the remainder of the season, Arteta sought to shift Granit Xhaka to left-back rather than use his willing deputy against Brighton. That experiment proved a costly mistake, with Arsenal’s midfield hopelessly unbalanced and Xhaka lacking the pace to fear. Tavares may maraud up and down the wing with a detonator in hand, but perversely it also seems to cause an implosion when not playing against him.

It’s that predicament that every Arsenal game now rests nervously on. Arsenal centre-backs have been strong, with Holding providing an exceptional replacement for the injured Ben White at the London Stadium. Takehiro Tomiyasu, who made his first start since January after returning from a calf injury, is the kind of old-fashioned, header-strong, no-nonsense defender that has Martin Keown emitting a gritty purr into a mic. And that leaves Tavares, the vulnerable target line for any enemy attack. The thought of Son Heung-min dashing towards him is a bit like a nature documentary about a big cat chasing its lumbering prey. You don’t want to watch, but you can’t help but peek through your fingers.

Thus, Arteta appeared for much of Sunday’s game each time Tavares and Gabriel Martinelli’s axis was injured, with both players tending to drift inside. Despite the latter’s obvious potential, it’s no coincidence that their last three starts together before the weekend ended in defeat. Striking a balance between the sense of adventure that makes Tavares a real threat for the future and eliminating his tendency to wreak havoc at every turn is a task few Trainers would envy.

It’s not a transformation that can be accomplished overnight or over the course of four games. It’s more of a knockdown conversion than an extension of Tavares’ natural play. The raw materials are there and it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 22, in his first season away from Portugal and adjusting to far more than just the pace and punishment of the Premier League. But the effort leaves no room for error and Tavares won’t be immune to the sense of fear that now seems to haunt him around the stadium, overshadowing his every touch.

Perhaps the only option is not to fall into fear and wait for disaster, but to light a fire under Tavares, hoping that the good can outweigh the bad, that the flame can burn before the ashes are scattered . It’s not the kind of blind faith Arteta likes to indulge in, but if these are the championship rounds, suspect Tavares will come out swinging no matter how detailed the instructions he’s given in the corner, most likely with his eyes closed. and he either lands an Ave Mary or Arsenal hits the canvas. Arsenal’s top-four pursuit could be decided by Nuno Tavares’ mayhem


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