For all the weariness with Wembley, the place was rocking for the North London derby. Even the 12.30 kick-off, usually guaranteed to subdue the occasion, couldn’t stop the life crackling around the stadium as the two old rivals went head to head again.
At least the early start meant we avoided that slow build-up of tension that usually makes derby day the most stressful of fixtures. This game always matters, and losing on your own patch is unthinkable. There’s no denying Spurs fans were worried coming into this game — since the team took a 10-day break they’d turned in two performances, against Burnley and Chelsea, in which they’d looked mentally and physically tired. From looking, a little ambitiously maybe but still looking, upwards to the top of the table to looking down at the chasing pack — a week is a long time in football.
Spurs seemed to have the better of the opening stages but couldn’t make it count, then saw their high defensive line blown apart by a slide pass from Lacazette and a run and finish from Ramsey that sent him running along the front of the home end gesturing provocatively. Still, it’s good to see a bit of passion for the badge in these modern football times. I’m sure they’ll still be talking about that one when he’s settled in Turin.
The home crowd responded with a wall of noise, urging their team back into the game. The positive chanting does the trick, the vile stuff about former central defenders needs canning. But we all became tenser and more absorbed as the game became a real 1980s-style derby slugfest. Referee Anthony Taylor didn’t seem to have much of a grip and subsequently the tackles got wilder. But there was quality out there too, as you expect from these two teams.
If you wanted an indication of how things have changed in the power balance, Arsenal began to try running down the clock after they went 1-0 up, rather than going for the jugular, with Bernd Leno dragging out every goal kick. That wouldn’t have happened five years ago. But just before the break, Leno pulled off a stunning double-save to deny Spurs an equaliser.
Spurs seemed to have clicked into gear, and played well enough to warrant a share of the points through the second half. So it’s a pity the way they did draw level was through a soft penalty. Kane won it, but you’ve still got to convert amid the tension as he prepared for the kick — not helped by referee Taylor allowing a gaggle of Arsenal players to conduct a prolonged argument with him on the penalty spot — a not-so-subtle attempt to unsettle Kane. But Harry doesn’t get phased and made no mistake — that’s nine in nine against Arsenal.
It was all set up for a rumbunctious finish, and observers wanting drama weren’t disappointed. Right at the end, Aubameyang won a penalty even softer than Kane’s to prompt delirious celebration in the away section. But this time it was Lloris’s turn to shine, saving superbly to show he’s still as good a keeper as he ever was, despite the troubles he’s had this season. Vertonghen, resolute in recent weeks as others crumbled, flew in to block a follow-up and that was that.
The first draw for Spurs this season, but a point gained that stops any developing crisis narrative.
There’s been much talk recently about how Pochettino and his team have achieved more than could reasonably have been expected, and by extension how the stupid and ungrateful fans need to give more credit. This team is loved, and rated, by those who watch it regularly, and we know the measure of what has been achieved. But if praise is given, as it should be, there can also be constructive criticism when standards fall — as they had done over the last two games. It is possible to express concern without writing everything off and that’s at the heart of the conversation among supporters.
It’s been an unusual season in many ways. Spurs have ground out results more often than they did, without replicating the thrilling football of the last two season as often.
Moussa Sissoko, our man of the match just ahead of Danny Rose, has become the team’s lynchpin. Oh, and we’re still not home. We’re all still adjusting to new realities but, for now, it’s honours even in this long-running local dispute.