LONDON -- Mikel Arteta rallied in defense of Jorginho after his error handed Tottenham their second equaliser in a thrilling North London Derby. One might question, however, whether the Arsenal manager could have done more to protect his midfielder during the game with the same ferocity he did in the Emirates Stadium media room.
Introduced as a half time replacement for the injured Declan Rice, Jorginho allowed the ball to get trapped under his feet as James Maddison applied pressure in the 55th minute. When Spurs stole possession they found themselves charging at William Saliba, who could do nothing when Maddison rolled the ball across to Son Heung-min to stroke past David Raya. Coming just 98 seconds after Bukayo Saka had restored the hosts' lead from the penalty spot, Jorginho's error came as an almighty momentum check for the Emirates Stadium.
Asked to reflect what had happened in that decisive moment, Arteta was forceful. "What happened is I love him and we love him," he said. "Errors are part of football. They're allowed to make errors because they play and we don't play. For us it's really easy, but if there is someone who is willing to help the team and do the most of it, it's Jorgi. We are all with him."
That backing was reflected by the Emirates Stadium crowd, who began chanting the Italian's name before play had even resumed. However, support on the field was particularly lacking for Arsenal's third-choice defensive midfielder, a player who was never particularly blessed with a burst of pace even before he turned 31. Leaving Declan Rice on the sort of island the No.20 occupied in the second half is one thing, he can cover ground in an instant and snaps into tackles. Hand the same task to Jorginho and your midfield is going to be run through in the fashion Arsenal's was. A veteran midfielder wouldn't expect to be let down by his technique as Jorginho was but it was also striking how few realistic options there were ahead of him.
Jorginho was not the only player to enter at the interval but while Rice's exit was due to a back injury that had been plaguing him in the first half, withdrawing Fabio Vieira for Kai Havertz was a tactical call. While the German, under the spotlight since his £65 million move from Chelsea in the summer, was eminently adequate off the bench, there is an argument to be made that placing him and Martin Odegaard ahead of Jorginho left altogether too much space for any defensive midfielder but the best of the best to cover. Limited as Mohamed Elneny might be, all the more so given he has not played since undergoing knee surgery in January, the more stable foundation that he might have offered next to Jorginho could have given Arsenal more of the final third control that they lacked for much of the second half.
Arteta will hope that he does not have to make such compromises in the weeks ahead. Though Thomas Partey is understood to be progressing well in his recovery from a groin issue, Jorginho may be the Gunners only option against Brentford in the EFL Cup on Wednesday. More concerning is the looming visit of Manchester City on October 8, a match which both Partey and Rice will be racing to recover for.
For now Arteta is hopeful that Rice's absence will not be a lengthy one. "He had some discomfort in his back. He was telling us during the first half that he was uncomfortable. When we assessed him at half time he could not continue so we had to change him.
"We have to assess him. It's strange that a player like him asked to come off because he was uncomfortable. Hopefully [he won't be out for long], but let's see."