Derby reveals shortcomings

Top: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrating Arsenal's equaliser against Tottenham, his third goal in the Premier League this season. Arsenal's Granit Xhaka ploughing into Son Heung-min to give away a penalty that Harry Kane converted to put Spurs the
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrating Arsenal’s equaliser against Tottenham, his third goal in the Premier League this season.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Top: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrating Arsenal's equaliser against Tottenham, his third goal in the Premier League this season. Arsenal's Granit Xhaka ploughing into Son Heung-min to give away a penalty that Harry Kane converted to put Spurs the
Arsenal's Granit Xhaka ploughing into Son Heung-min to give away a penalty that Harry Kane converted to put Spurs the visitors two up.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

See-saw battle between Arsenal, Spurs show up both sides' inability to control proceeding

LONDON • It was undeniably thrilling, but was it any good? Sunday's north London derby, which ended 2-2, swept from one end to the other, was replete with thrills and spills, shots and saves, big tackles and defensive errors, but in the anarchy and the fun lay the reason neither of these sides will seriously challenge for the title this season.

Ultimately, neither Arsenal nor Tottenham could enforce anything resembling control.

Spurs are in a strange place at the moment with question marks over the futures of several key players. But with Mauricio Pochettino apparently reconciled with his squad, they will return for the real business after the international break.

The Argentinian said: "The most important for us is not the table, not the points, it's the performance. I am so optimistic we have the quality to build again because in our three previous games this season we didn't show our quality.

"We need that togetherness. The team wasn't settled and I told you from day one of pre-season that I wasn't happy. The most important is to be all on the same page; that the players have a clear idea of how we need to move."

The doubt about Tottenham so far this season has been their slight stodginess, the sense in the first hour against Aston Villa and the whole game against Newcastle that they were not quite at their sharpest, that they were very reliant on Christian Eriksen for creativity.

But here they did not have to be creative. This was a formation designed to sit back and wait for a mistake and, with Arsenal, mistakes were rarely far away. Granit Xhaka and Sokratis Papastathopoulos both jumped for the same ball and were beaten to it by Harry Kane for Tottenham's opener in the 10th minute even though Bernd Leno will take the bulk of the blame.

The goalkeeper was sloppy and could only parry Erik Lamela's weak shot into the path of the Dane Eriksen, who knocked the ball into an empty net on the rebound.

TOGETHERNESS

I am so optimistic we have the quality to build again because in our three previous games this season we didn't show our quality.

MAURICIO POCHETTINO, Tottenham manager, on their improved showing after a poor start to their league campaign.

GUNNERS' COMEBACK

We played more with our hearts than our heads for the first half... At 2-0 down, we can be proud of our response.

UNAI EMERY, Arsenal manager, drawing positives from a fighting comeback.

Tottenham were then awarded a penalty for a clumsy foul by Xhaka on the lively Son Heung-min and Kane converted in the 40th minute to put Spurs on track for a first league win on enemy territory in nine years.

Yet even at 2-0 there was no sense of Tottenham cruising, no sense they could just shut the game down. That is perhaps what was most disappointing for them.

Perhaps there is no player in the world at the moment so effective at playing on the break as Son. Again and again, Spurs found space behind the full-backs and yet that was not enough to win the game.

Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette halved the deficit right before halftime with an emphatic strike after controlling an exquisite pass from the club's record signing Nicolas Pepe.

The equaliser duly arrived when Gabon striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang prodded a lofted pass from Matteo Guendouzi into the net in the 71st minute, scoring a third goal in four Premier League games this season.

And that was striking about the second half. In the declining years of Arsene Wenger's reign, Tottenham always outlasted Arsenal. Not any more. Here, it was Arsenal who looked the fresher in the closing stages.

Arsenal, without question, have become a fitter side under Unai Emery.

The regular double sessions Pochettino has insisted on, almost as though working out his transfer-window frustrations on the squad, has left his players drained.

"We played more with our hearts than our heads for the first half," Emery said. "And the second is frustration after the first goal. At 2-0 down, we can be proud of our response. We deserved more. There were more positives than negatives in the 90 minutes."

It is a truism that modern football is about transitions, whether from defence to attack or attack to defence, but this was a game that seemed to consist of nothing but said transitions.

At no point was either side willing to, or perhaps capable of, putting together a sustained spell of possession, of calming the game down, of taking control. Relish the tumult, revel in the pandemonium, but let nobody pretend this sort of harum-scarum, this frenzy of attacking, is the football of title challengers.

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2019, with the headline 'Derby reveals shortcomings'. Print Edition | Subscribe