Francis Coquelin sees red but Alexis Sanchez rescues Arsenal at Spurs
LONDON -- Three quick thoughts on Tottenham's 2-2 draw against Arsenal in the Premier League.
Title race takes another twist
In previous seasons, Tottenham would have been content with a draw against their great rivals, but this feels like two points dropped; a missed opportunity to finish off Arsenal's title chances. Harry Kane's outstanding strike put the home side 2-1 up following Toby Alderweireld's equaliser after Aaron Ramsey's opener, but 10-man Arsenal held on. Coquelin's red turned the game briefly in Spurs' favour, but Arsene Wenger's men battled back.
Spurs coach Mauricio Pochettino will be disappointed at the sloppy nature of Arsenal's goals, particularly Sanchez's equaliser to make it 2-2. The last time Tottenham conceded twice in the Premier League was in a 2-1 defeat to Newcastle at White Hart Lane in December, when Hugo Lloris got a hand to Ayoze Perez's late winner, but couldn't keep it out.
The same was true of Sanchez's late equaliser here, and while Lloris has kept Spurs in plenty of other games with outstanding saves this season, he's made two big errors at crucial moments. The title will be won or lost by a couple of points, and those moments might prove decisive at the end of the season.
Arsenal badly needed a victory but after Coquelin's red card and Spurs' turnaround, they were eventually pleased to collect a point. Wenger's late decision to introduce Mathieu Flamini in place of Danny Welbeck showed he was keen to shut up shop rather than push forward for a winner. Against a relentless Spurs side, there was no point keeping the game open and risking the defeat.
Ultimately, the biggest winners were Leicester, who saw both their rivals for the Premier League drop points in the latest twist to this fascinating race.
Coquelin has control, then loses it
Wenger's major selection decision was to beef up his midfield to compete with Tottenham in the first half but Coquelin's dismissal put Arsenal on the back foot for most of the second.
Tottenham outmuscled Arsenal in the reverse fixture and Wenger responded by handing a first Premier League start to Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny. This meant Aaron Ramsey played a more attacking role, starting from the right flank but alternating positions with Mesut Ozil.
This worked well. Although Tottenham had the majority of the ball in the first half, they weren't anywhere near as dominant and rarely found space between the lines. Elneny and Coquelin played closely together, patrolling the centre of the pitch aggressively in a manner rarely seen from Arsenal in recent years.
Neither were particularly useful in possession, getting rid of the ball quickly rather than playing ambitious passes into attack, but that was probably the right approach in such a high-tempo game.
It also freed Ramsey to play further forward. Although he dislikes being played out on the right, it means he's able to concentrate more upon bursting forward into goalscoring positions, which remains his outstanding quality. This worked perfectly for Arsenal's opener. Hector Bellerin overlapped into space, and his driven low cross was flicked brilliantly into the far corner by Ramsey.
Arsenal dominated the remainder of the first half and started the second period quickly. The game changed significantly, though, when Coquelin was shown a second yellow card for a needless foul on Kane in the right-back position.
Both bookings were given for disrupting counter-attacks, and while his destructive style has often proved useful over the past year, his indiscipline has consistently been a problem.
After going behind to two quickfire goals, Arsenal equalised shortly after Wenger gambled by introducing another forward as Olivier Giroud replaced Elneny. Shortly thereafter, Sanchez sprinted through the defence and collected a neat through-ball from Bellerin, before slotting into the far corner.
Spurs lack a spark
Tottenham's performance summarised their style neatly under Pochettino. They're highly physical and combative, press excellently and remain compact. Without the ball they're extremely well-organised and it was this quality which ensured they were generally on top.
They recovered the ball quickly and kept it calmly -- but what was their approach in the final third?
They concentrated primarily on long-range shots and crosses. With Eric Dier covering, Kyle Walker pushed forward on the overlap and his whipped cross into the box midway through the first half found Erik Lamela in a good position but David Ospina made a smart stop. Danny Rose then flashed a ball across the box shortly before half-time, but no-one was making a Ramsey-style run to provide the finish. Kane rarely received the ball in the box, but had a powerful long-range deflected over. There were few clear-cut chances.
This is the one remaining question about Spurs -- how do they actually create opportunities? Their chief playmaker, Christian Eriksen, was quiet, starting from the right and instructed to drift inside to allow Walker forward on the overlap. The midfield was congested, though, and Eriksen rarely had time to pick a good pass.
There was, essentially, a lack of individual magic. Spurs' attackers are highly talented footballers, but not quite world class. They're relying on collective organisation to win games and sometimes in the biggest matches you need individual brilliance to penetrate the opposition.
Tottenham, though, consistently find a way to get goals. Ahead of this game, they'd collected 17 points from losing positions this season -- more than any other Premier League side. By the end, it was 18. Their turnaround in this fixture last year was prompted by Kane turning in a set-piece and this time it was Alderwiereld's turn, smashing in from close-range after Arsenal didn't clear a corner.
Then came the moment of individual magic -- and perhaps the goal of the season. Dele Alli chased a long, hopeful ball into the corner and outwitted Per Mertesacker, back-heeling the ball cleverly to Kane.
He cut inside and from an incredibly tight angle, sent the most incredible bending drive in off the far post. It briefly looked set to be the season's defining moment, but this incredible 2015-16 constantly keeps us guessing.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.