The debate surrounding a succession of contentious decisions will prolong the fallout from the latest North London derby yet while Arsenal left Wembley Stadium convinced they would have been worthy recipients of all three points, it was Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur side who gained most from the stalemate.
Had Spurs suffered a third successive Premier League defeat having lost at Burnley and Chelsea, ambitious talk about their chances of winning the title would have been replaced with mutterings about their ability to hold on to their place in the top four inside the space of a week.
Instead, Hugo Lloris’s save from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty in the final moments of the game means Pochettino’s side can go into the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Borussia Dortmund tomorrow knowing they have a four-point cushion to Unai Emery’s Arsenal who sit in fifth position.
This has been a testing period for Pochettino’s side.
The way they maintained progress in the absence of first Son Heung-Min and then Harry Kane and Dele Alli by putting together a series of resilient victories strengthened the belief they could remain on the coat-tails of the top two heading into the final weeks of the season. Alli remains out, but with the club’s two main strikers back in the fold, their challenge has faltered and the distinct sense of relief that followed Saturday’s draw confirmed targets have quickly been reappraised.
“We’ve had a tough week, two disappointing results against Burnley and Chelsea and it was up to us to bounce back, show some passion and we did that, especially in the second half,” said Kane, the scoring of his side controversial 74th-minute equaliser.
Moussa Sissoko maintained the theme. “We’ll take the draw and have to be confident about the next game,” said the midfielder. “We have just lost two games in a row so this will be good for us. I think it could be crucial at the end of the season.”
Crucial, that is, in the sense of fending off the growing challenge from Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea behind them, and not in terms of pipping Manchester City and Liverpool to the title. Should Arsenal fail to finish in the top four, they will undoubtedly view this game as a turning point. Having established a first-half lead through Aaron Ramsey’s fine run and finish, they considered themselves to have been the victims of an injustice when referee Anthony Taylor awarded Spurs a penalty for Shkodran Mustafi’s push on Kane.
The contact was clear, as was the fact Kane was in an offside position. The match official, though, adjudged the Spurs forward had not yet made an attempt to play the ball and awarded the penalty that was converted by Kane. It was Spurs’ turn to feel aggrieved when Davinson Sanchez was adjudged to have brought down Aubameyang, but Lloris saved the resulting penalty, and Jan Vertonghen, having encroached into the area, blocked the follow-up attempt.
To add to Arsenal’s frustration, Lucas Torreira was sent off for a high tackle in added time.
Unai Emery’s side, however, could be satisfied with a display that suggested they have made great strides in recent weeks in addressing the defensive problems that threatened to undermine their season.
Next weekend’s meeting with Manchester United is hugely significant, but they will go into the game with more confidence.
“It’s not the last game we will fight like this,” said Granit Xhaka, the midfielder.
“We have a good spirit and a good mentality and we fight altogether. In the end with a little bit of luck we could have won this game.
“Two weeks ago Tottenham were 10 points in front of us. Now they are four. If we won today it would be one. That’s life, that’s football. We have to keep working, keep improving things, the good and the not so good. We are there, and third and fourth place is not so far away. We are there, other teams are there as well, so we have to think game to game.”
The top four and a place in the Champions League is clearly the aim, but Xhaka admits progress this season will be measured in other ways as well.
“After Arsene Wenger left a lot of things changed at this club,” he said. “We are happy with the coach and we have improved a lot, and we work a lot. It will be a big step if we return to the Champions League. We want to. It’s not easy but we will keep working.”
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (3-4-3):
LLoris 7; Alderweireld 6, Sanchez 5, Vertonghen 7; Trippier 5, Sissoko 7, Wanyama 5 (Lamela 59,6), Rose 7; Eriksen 7, Kane 7, Son 6 (Llorente 79, 5).
Gazzaniga, Aurier, Lucas, Davies, Skipp.
Leno 7; Mustafi 5, Sokratis 7, Koscielny 7, Monreal 7; Guendouzi 5 (Torreira 46, 4), Xhaka 6; Mkhitaryan 7, Ramsey 7 (Ozil 72,6), Iwobi 6; Lacazette 5 (Aubameyang 56,5).
Cech, Suarez, Maitland-Niles, Kolasinac.
Antony Taylor 6
Talking Point: How good are Tottenham?
With the title now a pipe dream, where do Tottenham stand? Former manager Harry Redknapp believes the club has gone backwards over the last two campaigns.
“I honestly think Tottenham were better two years ago when Kyle Walker was playing right-back and absolutely on fire, Danny Rose was in his pomp absolutely flying and Dembele was top drawer,” Redknapp said.
“They were absolutely incredible then. Rose has had his injuries and has not been quite the same, Walker obviously moved on and Dembele has moved on.
“If they bring in two or three outstanding players in the summer, certainly they will be challenging again next year, maybe good enough to win it next year if they get the right players in. But it’s all about the players they bring in.”