Spurs start to become Stalemate Specialists
It might have been another draw for Spurs but this one was finger-biting game which could have ended with a win for either side, though truly, the net result based on overall play was very fair. It was a result that will delight the impressive Liverpool, the efficient Chelsea and the quality packed Manchester City squads.
After a terrible display at Wembley Stadium last Tuesday in the Champions League against Bayer Leverkusen, Spurs could not afford to be that disjointed and lax against Arsenal, especially at the Emirates Stadium where they have only won one once in the last 26 years.
The good news for Spurs was the return of Harry Kane having missed 10 games in all competitions. Players need some time to get back to match fitness, so a game against Arsenal was not an ideal scenario for Kane, but his contribution off-the ball and in back-tracking to help his team in midfield is something Spurs have missed, never mind his goal-scoring that made him the top scorer in the league last year, and second best striker in his sensational breakout year. What matters for Kane is that he got the rest he needed, having played game after game for two years for both Spurs and England.
The first half an hour had all the makings of a 0-0 game, with Spurs passing well but toothless in front of goal and Arsenal not finding their killer-instinct rhythm. If Arsenal began playing like Bayer Leverkusen with harder pressing game than Spurs, a repeat of Tuesday's 0-1 loss would have been far more predictable.
At the half-hour mark the danger signals from Arsenal began to be telegraphed, as a couple of shots threatened some damage including a terrific counter-attack from Arsenal that Iwobi should have finished off but tamely shot at Lloris who had an easy save to make. Kane's shot was in hope but Iwobi was clean through.
Like Tuesday night's woeful performance, Spurs continued to create pass pretty passes, while Arsenal increasingly looked the team to break the deadlock, Spurs fans could be thankful that Arsenal were not at all sharp in their finishing. This was a game that Spurs needed to win to stay in touch with the league leaders.
Yet again this year there is no runaway leader and this year might even become a six team contest for the title between Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United (that is if United get their act back together with recent slips).
Arsenal's lack of luck exposed itself when Theo Walcott suddenly came alive and nearly scored a wonder goal, which crashed off the corner of the crossbar and post, and the follow up from Ozil was badly scuffed. It was an uncomfortable 15 minutes for Spurs who threatened to rip Spurs into shreds, albeit that Arsenal were still not playing anywhere near their best.
At 42 minutes Kevin Wimmer did score a wonder goal, but straight into his own net. Wimmer is a bit part player who got his first start for Spurs the season and how Spurs fans did not want to see that. At that moment the fears of an all out Spurs collapse was only tempered by the fact that a couple of minutes of the half remained. What was clear is how costly the absence of Spurs defender Toby Alderweireld has been in recent weeks. His injury made worse that Ben Davies was also injured, thus Wimmers own-goal made those injuries more poignant.
At half-time Pochettino had decisions to make but while credit is due to him for blooding youngsters in the Spurs squad, his management skills are still work-in-progress and once his team has to change strategies, his B-Plan and C-Plan is not anywhere effective as it one day will certainly be. If anything in the young managers with a future, I prefer the young 29 year old manager of Hoffenheim - Julian Nagelsmann, for the simple reason that he manages more like Liverpool's Klopp than Pochettino.
The possession stats were meaningless at half-time with Spurs owning 59% but football is way more than a ball played with the foot. At some point if the game continued to fall away from Spurs, the fear was that Pochettino would blood more of his kids, but that is like sending out young fisherman out to fish, without telling them that it is sharks who will be biting at that bait. As things stood at half-time, the last thing Spurs fans wanted is to happen was a win for Arsenal that would temporarily move their well-despised local rivals to first place in the league.
Spurs fans are used to be the bridesmaids for decades to Arsenal, but will accept a brave defeat if the assembled team was capable of being competitive. The only reason Spurs were still in the game at half-time was a below-par Arsenal team.
The opening five minutes of the second half were same old same old, and then something really nice happened from a Spurs fan view, Koscielny gave away a foolish penalty and one does not need to give a gift of a penalty to Harry Kane, who is making a regular habit of scoring against Arsenal. That also put new life into Tottenham, the 50th minute of the game thus changed everything that was to follow, so long as the Spurs defense did not offer more gifts of their own. At this point Spurs fans could dare to believe that not only were they back in the game, but maybe even nick a win.
Spurs Erikson should have done better with his chance if that win was going to be possible and Kevin Wimmer had Spurs fans holding their hands on their mouths as he yet again headed the ball over his own bar. At the hour mark the presence of Giroud on the touchline was a cause for concern for Spurs fans because they liked the fact that Arsenal were not at all firing on all cylinders.
For all the fanfare of Harry Kane's return, he was still feeling his way into the game. Had Kane been fitter, he would have scored from Rose's cross, but his miss hit off his heel was telling. Spurs fans may settle for an "evenly poised" game but what they want to see is a crushing defeat of Arsenal, some fans would consider that the next best thing to winning the title. That speaks to the inferiority complex that has arisen from Arsenal's dominance over Tottenham teams for nearly three decades.
It was good to see that Arsenal brought on Ramsey instead of Giroud because both midfields were still matched, whereas Giroud would give the Arsenal midfield another point of attack, for a Spurs fan that was good to see. At this point Spurs could believe that a rare second win at the Emirates was possible, but it would depend on finishing power, which has been Spurs weakness and affecting the Arsenal players also.
Then at 70 minutes Giroud appeared again on the touchline while Spurs gained a free-kick. Spurs wasted that chance and now Giroud was on, along with Chamberlain - that is the kind of fire power and speed that Wenger had at his disposal on the bench, while Pochettino has a bunch of young kids apart from Vincent Janssen, yet Janssen has only being playing professional football in the big leagues for two years and that in a weaker Dutch league.
Harry Kane made his way off the field for Janssen, and if Vincent Janssen was going to start paying back his big money move from Holland, this game was it. Like Kane, Janssen does hold the ball off well, but unlike Kane, Janssen lacking confidence isn't making the kind of runs into the box that produces goals. The good news is that both sets of fans were watching an absorbing encounter taking shape, though it will never go down in the history books as an all-time classic.
The Arsenal defense was firm again after the penalty mistake, while the Spurs defense at times were playing more pin-ball then defense, but they were getting away with it. What was clear that the Spurs players began to slow things down and try to be a little more composed and thoughtful about playing through the Arsenal back line. That is what contained what otherwise usually this season has been a fiery Arsenal attack.
Ramsey did what was expected which was to make bad decisions but with 12 minutes to go, Kyle Walker was injured and Walker is paramount to Pochettino's high press tactics, his replacement Kieron Trippier is not as effective in his wing-back play but at least Trippier had a fresh pair of legs. Trippier immediately got into the game but mainly because Arsenal were not pressing and the Arsenal fans deservedly heckled their team. Arsenal fans have notoriously been a group that can quickly turn on their team, as well as their manager, but for today there were no "Wenger Out" signs. These fans should learn to be far more grateful to Wenger.
With seven minutes to go Erikson's crossed free-kick hit the post and that would have aggrieved Arsenal fans even more, but the story of this game to this point was goals fashioned out of nothing but player errors. Both set of fans were waiting for one moment of pure magic. It nearly came but for a great headed clearance by Vertongen. In the last five minutes Arsenal decided to press, though one could sense that they were afraid of Spurs ability to counter very fast, at least they were now listening to what their fans wanted to see.
Now Pochettino was bringing on his kids, as young Harry Winks came into the game and Spurs fans could not be faulted for counting down the remaining seconds of the game. This is never a good idea because time then stands still for the team that is expected to defend. Giroud should have won the game on the 90th minute mark but he headed straight to Lloris. Janssen had one moment of promise but his shot needed a bit more luck to break his nervous start to life in the always tough and high standard Premier League
Five minutes of extra time were called, that would have Spurs fans count the seconds even more. Both sets of players were now snatching at chances rather than be clinical. A point for both teams looked likely, especially since Arsenal sat back in the final minutes. That is a measure of how much they trusted that the Spurs attack will remain toothless. They were and the game ended in a 1-1 draw and Spurs fans were the happier bunch, for not losing to Arsenal for them is considered a win. That in itself rules out a title bid this year, but for Arsenal, they could only give teams like Liverpool and Chelsea more confidence in their own title bids.