LONDON — Tottenham and Arsenal battled out in a thrilling 2-2 draw on Saturday in the North London Derby.
[ POCH: “One team was best. Spurs” ]
Arsenal led, then Spurs rallied back to go ahead but the Gunners equalized late on to keep their own faint title hopes alive and put a dent in those of their nearest rivals.
Here’s what we learned from a wild encounter at White Hart Lane.
WENGER’S TACTICS SPOT ON
When the teamsheets were handed out around the press lounge at White Hart Lane, there was some surprise. Mohamed Elneny was selected in central midfield alongside Francis Coquelin and Danny Welbeck was the lone forward. Turns out that surprise turned to admiration. Wenger, 66, is an old hand. He’s been at Arsenal for 20 years and has finished above Spurs for every one of those seasons. He used all of his nous to set the Gunners up when it looked like they would snatch all three points up until Coquelin’s red card.
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On Saturday, in a game his team simply had to win they started slowly and struggled to soak up the pressure from Spurs, however, the decision to play Welbeck up top on his own was an inspired one. The England international — who has been out injured for nine months up until his return in late February — was sharp, powerful and gave Tottenham’s defense a torrid time. He teed up Hector Bellerin beautifully in the build up to Arsenal’s opener and using him as the lone man seems to be the best way to go going forward. The decision to start with Elneny and Coquelin in midfield also worked well… until Coquelin was sent off and then things changed.
[ MORE: Wenger unsure on title hopes ]
The Gunners showed spirit, they showed grit and they battled back late on through Alexis Sanchez to deny their bitter north London rivals a win which would have seen them fall six points behind them. A point wasn’t good enough for either team but for Arsenal, they’ll be extremely happy to come away with something after going down with 10-men. Had all of their players remained on the pitch, I find it hard to see how they would’ve slipped up and not won this game. Wenger got his tactics spot on.
KANE DOES IT AGAIN
“Harry Kane he’s one of our own” was belted out as Spurs’ fans caught their breath following his sensational strike which came just two minutes after Toby Alderweireld‘s equalizer. Spurs smelt blood in the water following Coquelin’s red card and Kane looked to have marked a pivotal few moments in the title race with a stunner.
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The local lad — he loves playing against the other London PL clubs with 14 goals in 18 games — scored the winner in this game last season and looked to have done it again this season. His strike to put Tottenham 2-1 up was sensational. He picked the ball up on the far left side of the box and with nothing on he curled it on off the far post. Sublime. It was one of those moments where time seemed to stand still and it felt like the lad from North London was destined to be the hero.
Kane, 22, had another chance but dragged it wide and the glory was grabbed from him by Sanchez’s late equalizer. The hero headlines were taken away from Kane but we will never be able to take away that moment from him.
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Look at the video above to see it all play out.
MAGNITUDE OF THE MOMENT NOT SEIZED BY SPURS
As Sanchez wheeled away in delight after making it 2-2, Spurs boss Pochettino threw his water bottle to the ground violently as the rain poured down at White Hart Lane.
It was a huge opportunity missed for Spurs.
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They knew it. The atmosphere and noise levels at the Lane were incredible in and around Coquelin’s red card and their two goals. The fans and players smelt blood in the water. They sensed that this was it, this was the moment they could jump six points ahead of Arsenal with nine games to go and all but end their title hopes in one fell swoop. They could, too, finish above Arsenal for the first time in 20 years. Then Sanchez struck with 15 minutes left and a familiar sinking feeling started to creep over the home fans and it was actually the 10-men Gunners who finished the stronger. If Leicester slip up later on Saturday against Watford, Spurs will be just two points off the top with nine games to go. They’re in a great position to win their first-ever PL title but they missed a huge chance to all but end Arsenal’s title hopes as they Gunners sit four points off Leicester.
The magnitude of the moment seemed to get to Spurs as they let their guard down when they were going for the knockout blow. They got caught up in the emotion and instead of managing the game against 10-men, they went for the jugular and were undone. The youthful exuberance of their young team hurt them, but experiences like this will hold them in good stead in the future. If they learn from this.