Arsenal came back from two goals down to earn a point in a typically frenetic North London Derby, thanks to goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Spurs deliver sucker punch on the break
Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane had put Tottenham two up by 40 minutes but Arsenal- having created their own problems- did more than enough to earn a draw. In a curious game that often resembled two heavyweight boxers slugging it out, the visitors will have felt relieved to come away with a point after withstanding an Arsenal second half surge.
The game began at a fast pace as the hosts pushed forward, with Tottenham seemingly set on hitting on the counter. Arsenal enjoyed the better of the early possession, finding joy with Sead Kolasinac causing problems on Spurs’s right hand side with his overlapping runs.
The early pressure meant little though as in the tenth minute- in a move that would set the pattern of the game- Tottenham broke through Son Heung-Min who fed Erik Lamela on the inside right channel. His shot across goal was parried tamely by Berndt Leno into the path of the onrushing Christian Eriksen who tapped home to give the visitors the lead. Against the run of play perhaps, but straight out of Mauricio Pochettino’s gameplan.
Arsenal continued to target Davinson Sanchez, out of position at right back, as Kolasinac got in behind on the overlap no less than four times in the first 15 minutes. But Tottenham looked the better team once they took the lead, with a spell of decent possession that ended when Son forced Leno into a good save, cutting in on his right foot and curling the ball goalwards.
Arsenal, who for ten or so minutes looked shaken by Leno’s gift to Spurs, seemed to settle down after that Son effort and began to put the visitors under pressure again with a succession of set pieces. One in particular, a free kick from a deep position on the right that Nicolas Pepe curled in dangerously, was dealt with in not so convincing fashion.
Just as Arsenal would have began to feel like a goal was coming, with Sanchez really struggling to contain Aubameyang and Kolasinac, Tottenham were recipients of another gift. Son cut inside into the box and Granit Xhaka needlessly dived in to give Martin Atkinson a simple decision to point to the spot. Harry Kane sent Leno the wrong way, and the Spurs contingent in the far corner of the stadium into dreamland, for his eleventh goal in as many North London derbies.
Second-half surge sees Arsenal respond
That was as good as it got for the visitors though, as Arsenal continued to pile on the pressure in a desperate attempt to haul one goal back before the break. Eventually that pressure told. Pepe, having switched to the left flank, poked the ball into the path of Lacazette who took two delightful touches past Toby Alderweireld before firing home past Hugo Lloris.
Tottenham, despite their threat on the break, had been under the cosh for most of the first half and the second started in much the same pattern. A frantic opening five minutes saw Arsenal ramp up the pressure with half chances for Aubameyang and Lacazette, before Spurs broke and from the edge of the area Son forced Leno into a low save down to his right.
Then it was Lloris’s turn four minutes later- this time down to his left as he tipped away Matteo Guendouzi’s goalbound effort after Arsenal had worked the ball into the box nicely. The resulting corner was nodded on by Lacazette but Kolasinac at the back post could only touch it wide.
Just before the hour mark Tottenham will feel they could have put Arsenal almost out of sight. Another counter attack, and a slick one-two found Kane in on goal whose fierce effort struck the inside of the post from a somewhat tight angle.
This, alongside the introduction of Dani Ceballos for Lucas Torreira, sparked a 20 minute spell of Arsenal pressure that seemed to rattle the visitors. Just two minutes after coming on, the Spaniard let fly from 30 yards and forced Lloris to tip over, and instantly he seemed to settle into the absurdly high pace of the game, driving Arsenal forward at every opportunity.
A nervy end for Pochettino...
The hosts’ pressure paid off not long after as Guendouzi drove past a half hearted challenge in midfield, and had the presence of mind to execute a sort of cross from a central position into the path of Aubameyang. The striker- who was lively all afternoon- guided it with the faintest of touches past a stranded Lloris to bring Arsenal deservedly level, with twenty minutes still to go.
There was only one team looking like getting a third with Spurs on the ropes at this stage, struggling to cope with the intensity of Arsenal’s relentless pressing and attacking. When Xhaka let fly from 35 yards- a vicious, swerving effort that forced Lloris into a save- it signalled the Gunners’ intent to find a winner.
With 79 minutes on the clock Unai Emery’s side thought they had their goal, as once again Kolasinac found space in behind and his low cross was bundled home by Sokratis. Celebrations were cut short however by the assistant referee’s flag, Kolasinac correctly ruled offside.
Spurs, having taken something of a beating for the last 20 minutes, came out of their shell for the final ten and began to counterpunch as the game became a back and forth affair. Indeed in the last minute of five added on they countered one last time but Moussa Sissoko blazed high and wide after Kane had done so well to find him in the box.
Arsenal’s best chance in that time fell to Nicolas Pepe, who- after Sanchez had fluffed his lines with an attempted clearance and then substitute Henrik Mkhitaryan and then Xhaka had failed to capitalise- drove wide of the near post with more time and space than he realised.
Ultimately both teams will be reasonably pleased with a point, but Tottenham will feel they got away with a shoddy defensive performance. Meanwhile the Gunners will look at it as a missed opportunity to put one over their North London rivals.
Three takeaways from the match
Can Xhaka be trusted?
Unai Emery clearly sees the Swiss as a valuable part of the dressing room, and in the opposition half Granit Xhaka is a fine player. But in his own half he tends to struggle and he commits too many fouls to be trusted in a defensive role. The penalty he gave away embodies just why Arsenal fans have become frustrated with him, and perhaps why Emery should look to phase him out. With Dani Ceballos impressing already, and Mesut Ozil also now available, Arsenal have options in midfield and Xhaka may find there is not space for him as the season goes forward. He did improve in the second half, and was excellent in the period where Arsenal equalised, but those flashes of quality are too few and far between to keep others out of the side.
Guendouzi is a rough diamond.
After a first half in which Arsenal’s midfield struggled to protect the defence from Tottenham’s counter attacks, Matteo Guendouzi improved dramatically to grab the game by the scruff of the neck after the break. Aside from his brilliant assist for the equaliser, the 20 year old led the Arsenal press superbly and was a destructive force in midfield every time Tottenham tried to come out of their own half. His perfectly timed slide tackle on Harry Kane as the striker looked set to lead a Spurs counter was crucial and summed up his second half display.
Pochettino needs to trust Aurier.
In theory, Davinson Sanchez at right back was not a bad idea. He has the pace to play there, is sound defensively and can play out from the back. After today’s showing though, it’s clear that whatever the Tottenham manager’s problems are with Serge Aurier the Frenchman needs to be reintegrated. Granted, the combination of Aubameyang and Kolasinac down that Arsenal left would be a test for most full backs, but Sanchez struggled desperately and time and time again Arsenal opened Spurs up on that side. They got away with it today but Tottenham will not want to have to rely on Sanchez filling in for Kyle Walker-Peters again.
Stand out player
In a game played at a frightening pace it is difficult to pick out one individual, but Matteo Guendouzi’s titanic second half performance deserves special mention. He was at the heart of everything good about Arsenal and his sublime assist showed a polished side to a gritty performance.