LONDON — Sunday’s north London derby was an encounter between two bitter rivals who will be challenging for the Premier League title this season.
It was also a game which showcased the reasons why both teams may falter with their title aspirations despite extremely positive starts to the season.
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With Liverpool and Chelsea flying, plus Manchester City and Manchester United also around at the top, in what is predicted to be the tightest of title races in living memory the north London rivals know they have to improve.
In the 1-1 draw, Arsenal first struggled to break down a stubborn Spurs side who were set up for a draw and then the Gunners’ lack of a Plan B came to the fore. As for Spurs, their over-reliance on Harry Kane was clear again today, just as it has been for the past two seasons, and missing key players has already shown their weakness of a small squad coupled with European competition.
Speaking after the point, which leaves Arsenal on 24 and Tottenham on 21 for the season, Arsene Wenger believes his side didn’t shown enough fluidity in the final third to break through against Tottenham.
“It was a game of high intensity. I felt in the first half we always looked like we could score, every time we crossed the halfway line. In the second half we looked a bit more flat physically and less sharp. We couldn’t find the creativity and fluency around the box, nor the vision we are used to. I think our level dropped and we were a bit too stretched as well.” Wenger said. “We were unlucky with the penalty decision. Spurs defended well on some crosses in the final 10-15 minutes. Some balls with the fact with three tall players we couldn’t make the most of corners. We missed some crosses as well. Overall it was high intensity, technically our level dropped in the second half and the desire was there. Maybe the result was fair.”
Arsenal’s lack of creativity in the final third was down to their own lack of drive and also Spurs setting up in an unexpected 3-5-2- formation with a three-man central defense and the excellent Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama in front of them. Arsenal has won seven of their last nine and is unbeaten in that stretch, but when teams come to sit in against them, they find it so tough to break them down.
That remains to be the case and even when somewhat of a predictable Plan B arrived via Olivier Giroud from the bench, they couldn’t get long balls and crosses into the box. They just aren’t set up to do that and it could be a case of the same old story for the Gunners as when their wonderfully creative play fails to click, they run out of ideas.
Suffering from injuries to key men and a taxing week following their UEFA Champions League defeat against Bayer Leverkusen at Wembley Stadium, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino set his stall out for a point against Arsenal and the Argentine boss got it.
He is now unbeaten in five league games against Arsenal, the first-ever Spurs manager to do that. Spurs are also unbeaten in their opening 11 games of the season — winning five times and drawing six games — and he is a happy man.
“In all the teams, you have during the whole season good and bad moments. If you have some bad moments like we suffered that much and you are still unbeaten, I can smile. I am happy,” Pochettino said. “We had many small problems and now we have two weeks to try and recover the players. When you compete in Champions League and Premier League, they are both the toughest competitions in the world, you need all the squad fit. We are a small squad, we’ve suffered some issues. We cannot rotate the way we like to rotate to give freshness in a better condition. That was maybe a bit of the problem. Very happy in the way we finished now. The feeling is fantastic.”
Pochettino may be feeling happy his side have weathered a period of 10 games in all competitions without Kane, plus the loss of influential center back Toby Aldweireld and others like Dembele struggling with knocks, but it is clear that without Kane their lack of goals will hinder their title chances.
Spurs have now scored just four goals in their last seven games in all competitions. Even though they remain the only PL team still unbeaten, they are fast becoming the draw specialists.
Kane, 23, hadn’t played since September 18 but started for Spurs and although he looked rusty, he tucked home a penalty kick and improved as the game wore on. He lasted 70 minutes and Spurs will be hoping almost two months on the sidelines will keep Kane fresh and raring to go as the PL’s leading goalscorer last season is key in their title aspirations.
The bragging rights were shared in north London on Sunday, but fans of both teams will go home scratching their heads as they try to figure out if their teams are legit title contenders as familiar problems arose.