Arsenal miss chance to go top as Tottenham fight back for derby draw
LONDON -- Three points from the Emirates as Arsenal and Tottenham played out a 1-1 draw that saw the Gunners miss the chance to go top.
1. Honours even in compelling derby
Arsenal could not quite overhaul Chelsea at the top of the Premier League but nobody involved in a tense, compelling north London derby had too much cause for complaint. Harry Kane's penalty six minutes after half-time, his fifth goal against the Gunners, equalised Kevin Wimmer's 43rd-minute own goal and for the third successive season this fixture finished 1-1.
Tottenham began at speed despite the hosts' attempts to press their new-look three-man defence. Son Heung-Min should have done better in the fifth minute after rolling Shkodran Mustafi far too easily on halfway, firing across goal when the amount of open grass available to him promised more. They were a yard sharper than Arsenal early on and came closer midway through the first period when Kane, back from six weeks on the sidelines, glanced a header narrowly wide of the far post from Christian Eriksen's delivery.
Perhaps Arsenal had been surprised by Tottenham's change of shape. It took them half an hour to get a foothold but then the direction of travel reversed. Alex Iwobi should have done better than sidefoot at Hugo Lloris after superb work from Ozil and Alexis Sanchez; Theo Walcott could barely have improved on a ripping 18-yard effort that struck the post and then, with the hosts well on top by now, the opener arrived.
Wimmer had to get something on a virtually undefendable delivery from Ozil to prevent a certain goal for Laurent Koscielny -- although the Arsenal player looked offside. He could only crane his neck to nod past Lloris and the Arsenal had their lead at the perfect time.
Tottenham had to respond, and did so with the second half's first serious attack. Mousa Dembele, outstanding despite being an injury doubt before the game, surged into the box from deep and was tripped by Koscielny. The offence was clear enough; so was Kane's sharpness as he easily beat Petr Cech from the spot.
Eriksen saw a volley shoveled wide by Cech, then Kane was somehow denied at the far post by a last-ditch Nacho Monreal challenge and an Iwobi cross almost drifted in at the other end. Nineteen minutes from time, Lloris made a smothering save at the feet of Ozil and the match looked ripe for either side to steal. An 83rd minute Eriksen free kick beat everyone and bounced off the far post, while substitute Olivier Giroud headed at Lloris, but the end result was justified.
2. Tottenham back three provides glimpse of the future
There was not quite enough to suggest three is definitively the magic number for Tottenham but, equally, there were signs that it is a system worth persevering with. Chelsea's searing form under Antonio Conte has put back threes firmly in the spotlight but it was a surprise to see Pochettino line Tottenham up with a comparable formation for the first time on such a high-stakes occasion. They are hamstrung by injuries but it seemed to be a purely tactical decision that saw Kevin Wimmer handed his first Premier League start -- and only his second appearance in all competitions -- of the season, slotting into the back line between Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier.
It was a bold move although, on paper, Tottenham have the players to make this setup work. Danny Rose and Kyle Walker certainly thrive in advanced positions and combined within three minutes, the former crossing for the latter to ghost in and head over at the far post.
An early yellow card for Wimmer, crashing in late on Francis Coquelin, hinted at fragility but Tottenham looked compact and organised for half an hour, with plenty of options for Lloris to choose from when distributing short and regrouping quickly when out of possession.
Yet there were occasions, particularly in a 15-minute spell before half-time in which the 3-4-3 distinctly looked a work in progress. Dier and Vertonghen were too frequently pulled apart whenever Arsenal managed a quick succession of passes through the Tottenham midfield, catching the wing-backs upfield, while Wimmer does not look a reliable enough figure to anchor a defence from the middle. It was a tough ask for the Austrian to come in cold for a game like this, but the position looks more suited to Toby Alderweireld and the merits of a back three will be better measured when he is fit.
Wimmer did, however, hold firm with his teammates as Arsenal turned up the tempo again in the last half-hour, standing up well enough to marshal a number of deliveries aimed at Giroud
This was Tottenham's best performance since the 2-0 win over Manchester City a month ago -- and that is likely to mean we see plenty more of Pochettino's new configuration.
3. Santi Cazorla absence means Arsenal lack control
Arsenal sacrificed a measure of control, profited through their speed and produced a performance that got the outcome it deserved. They did not do enough to win but did, at times, attack with the pace and verve that, when things click, makes theirs the most compelling front line in the league.
Both sides were missing players through injury, but it was perhaps the absence of Santi Cazorla that influenced this game the most. The Spaniard dictates things from the middle but Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin were unable to exert enough influence to dominate a midfield policed brilliantly by Dembele.
Wenger seemed to have taken a risk in selecting Iwobi and Walcott from the start, and Arsenal were certainly less compact that a Tottenham side that also missed Dele Alli. But both players could have scored and it was a spell of quick, electric passing that built up the momentum from which Arsenal took the lead. Quick, direct passes between the lines were what did the damage here: for long periods, Arsenal banked on slick transitions rather than command of the ball.
That is not necessarily a positive. Xhaka, in particular, would have hoped to exert greater influence in a match like this and Arsenal still do not appear to have the physical clout in the middle that might complement their other gifts. They remain well poised in the Premier League's most tightly-bunched title race in years, but the impression remains that they should be capable of a little more.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.