LONDON — Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur battled to a tough 1-1 draw at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday in the latest tense edition of the north London derby.
[ MORE: Weaknesses arise in NLD ]
Here’s what we learned from a nervy encounter at the Emirates.
SPURS’ BLOCK HALTS GUNNERS
When the teams were announced, it was clear Spurs had gone with an unexpected lineup and formation. In came Kevin Wimmer to partner Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier in a three-man central defense, while Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama sat just in front of them in a 3-5-2 formation. It was perhaps predictable following Spurs’ uncharacteristic shoddy defensive display against Bayer Leverkusen in their UEFA Champions League defeat in midweek.
For the opening 35 minutes, Spurs’ block of three central defenders and two holding midfielders worked. They stifled Arsenal’s creative talents and forced the Gunners wide. Pochettino looked like he’d figured out a way to shut the Gunners down. Aside from Wimmer’s incredible own goal (really, it looked like he meant to do it and it was a textbook attacking header) Spurs coped rather well with the threat of Sanchez and Ozil.
However, as the first half wore on Arsenal’s intellectually gifted stars worked out a way to get in-behind Spurs’ solid unit. Ozil and Sanchez dropped deeper, Iwobi and Walcott started to drift in side and as Spurs stepped up, gaps appeared. It looked like Arsenal would run away with it but then Spurs were handed a gift as Dembele was brought down and Kane dispatched the penalty kick.
That played into Tottenham’s hands as Arsenal had to come out an pour forward and in turn Danny Rose and Kyle Walker could pour forward from wing back positions. Spurs got what they came for, a draw, and Arsenal were left frustrated as they failed to break down Spurs reinforced backline.
RUSTY KANE CRUCIAL
Perhaps it was to be expected but Kane looked incredibly rusty in the first half after spending the last seven weeks out injured. In the first half he looked rusty, flicking a header just wide from a glorious chance. His touch looked off and he was getting back into the swings of things.
He made his mark in the second half though. Kane, 23, first scored a penalty kick to make it five goals in four north London derbies and the local lad looked livelier down the channels and in the box. He should’ve had a second in the 60th minute when he met Rose’s cross at the back post but his finish was just off as the ball deflected wide.
Kane’s touch will return, but what we saw was the man who makes everything tick for Spurs. He held the ball up, won flick ons and brought Heung-Min Son into the game and he provided a mobile focal point for Spurs’ attack despite only looking about 75 perfect fit. Kane’s importance to Tottenham is clear, even if he hasn’t quite shaken off all the rust from his lengthy layoff and when he came off for the final 20 minutes, Spurs started giving the ball away cheaply and piling pressure on themselves. There’s hope that Kane’s first real break in two years will see him refreshed and get the best out of him long-term.
SPURS CONTROLLING NORTH LONDON DERBY
Pochettino is the first Spurs manager to not lose any of his first five NLD’s in the league. Arsene Wenger has never gone five games in the PL without beating Tottennham.
This is no coincidence. The gap between these two teams is closing all the time.
Yes, we all know Arsenal has finished ahead of Spurs for 21-straight years but under Pochettino, Tottenham has never been closer to their bitter north London rivals on and off the pitch. Spurs’ new home at White Hart Lane will be ready in 2018 and they’ll have their own 60,000 fortress to help increase revenue and challenge north London’s perennial top club.
Both teams will challenge for the Premier League this season but both teams showed their limitations on Sunday. Arsenal’s was the lack of a Plan B after Spurs’ lineup halted their fluid, attacking play. Spurs was their lack of goals, which was only saved by Kane’s penalty kick. They’ve now scored just four goal in their last seven games in all competitions but with Kane back, Pochettino will be happy Spurs still look rather solid at the back, even without their best defender in Toby Alderweireld, and they sit just three points behind Arsenal (and four points off the top) after 11 games of the season.
Pochettino will also be happy that he keeps his hoodoo over Wenger.