Francis Coquelin red almost costs Arsenal the title at Tottenham
Arsenal averted total disaster when salvaging a 2-2 draw away at Tottenham in the north London derby despite being down to 10 men following a potentially ruinous red card shown to Francis Coquelin.
A fourth successive defeat in all competitions would not only have heaped pressure on Arsene Wenger and his team, it would also have sent Tottenham to the top of the Premier League with a six-point advantage over Arsenal with nine games to play. Alexis Sanchez's equaliser was vital in keeping their faltering title challenge alive.
Arsenal took the lead in extravagant fashion, Aaron Ramsey back-heeling past Hugo Lloris from a pass from Hector Bellerin. But the game turned in an instant when Coquelin picked up a brainless red card, sliding in on Harry Kane in reckless fashion to earn a second booking and undoing all of Arsenal's good work.
Tottenham punished the visitors ruthlessly, Toby Alderweireld scoring inside five minutes with a powerful finish after the ball fell kindly for him in the box, and Kane netting a stunning second just two minutes later with a sublime curling finish from a wide position after Dele Alli had outfoxed Per Mertesacker to keep the ball in play.
But just when it seemed their title challenge was vanishing in front of their eyes, Sanchez ended his five-month wait for a Premier League goal with a lovely finish across Lloris after the Spurs defence had been caught out.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK David Ospina, 7 -- In for the injured Petr Cech and looked comfortable from the start. Made a stunning reflex save to deny Erik Lamela after 26 minutes. Got lucky when he stood behind the line to make a save from a Kane shot, with the whole of the ball only just failing to cross the line, but was left with little chance with either Spurs goal as they took control. A fine display.
DF Hector Bellerin, 8 -- Looked unsettled by the threat posed by Spurs in the early exchanges, giving the ball away on numerous occasions and being booked for a pull on Danny Rose as the Spurs left-back tried to get away from him. Teed up Ramsey for the opening goal with a neat pass into the box and claimed another in the second half when threading a pass through for Sanchez. Made the difference.
DF Per Mertesacker, 5 -- A heavy touch early on to gift Spurs possession did not augur well for a player whose poor form has seen his first-team place come under real threat, but it was a composed first half for the German. He was badly caught out for the second Tottenham goal, though, trying to shepherd the ball out before Alli nipped in to tee up Kane.
DF Gabriel Paulista, 5 -- Was clearly inspired on derby day with a passionate and intense first-half display. He was seen screaming at teammates and putting in timely blocks and tackles, stopping a Christian Eriksen piledriver after 21 minutes. However, he could have done better for the Tottenham equaliser when being caught napping when the ball came into the box and almost scored a disastrous late own goal when he hooked the ball over his own bar.
DF Kieran Gibbs, 6 -- A slight calf injury for Nacho Monreal saw Gibbs make only his second league start of the season but he rose to the occasion with an acceptable performance which didn't show too many signs of rust.
MF Francis Coquelin, 4 -- His partnership with Ramsey wasn't functioning properly so a change was required, but Coquelin didn't quite hit it off with Mohamed Elneny either. He was booked for handball on 29 minutes when flailing around on the floor and then picked up an idiotic red card when making an unnecessary sliding challenge on Kane by the touchline. It was the moment which cost his side a potential win, and almost the title too.
MF Mohamed Elneny, 5 -- It was quite an occasion for the Egyptian to make his first Premier League start for Arsenal and it took him some time to settle into the match. He had to be sacrificed for Giroud with Arsenal desperately trying to get back into the game. It was hard to say that he merited his inclusion.
MF Aaron Ramsey, 7 -- Two self-indulgent flicks failed to come off in the opening minutes but it transpired they were merely practice runs for his outstanding back-heeled finish to beat Lloris. His tendency to come inside did leave Arsenal a bit open on their right flank on occasions and he was denied the chance to score a late winner when Kevin Wimmer made a last-ditch tackle. An improvement on recent performances.
MF Mesut Ozil, 6 -- Barely touched the ball in the first 20 minutes but his influence began to be felt as the match progressed. Bellerin took on the duty of supplying assists for the day so Ozil took more of a backseat and was removed with injury time approaching.
MF Alexis Sanchez, 7 -- Arsenal were beginning to wean themselves off a reliance on Sanchez as his Premier League goalscoring drought extended all the way back to October, but he brought them back level at 2-2 with a fine finish across the body of Lloris after being played in by Bellerin on 76 minutes. It was a crucial intervention.
FW Danny Welbeck, 7 -- Worked relentlessly and was Arsenal's best player in the first half, causing Spurs problems with his presence and pace. The opening goal came about as a result of his excellent vision, the striker finding Bellerin with a neat pass before the right-back played in Ramsey. Was taken off with six minutes left as Arsenal tried to cling onto a point.
FW Olivier Giroud (for Elneny, 75), N/R -- Arsenal scored soon after his introduction but Giroud didn't play a significant part in the goal. Made little difference.
MF Mathieu Flamini (for Welbeck, 84), N/R -- Helped to see things out for a draw.
MF Joel Campbell (for Ozil, 90), N/R -- Had little time to impress.
Tom is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @tomEurosport