Gabon striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s predatory instincts helped Arsenal power back from two goals down and share the spoils with Tottenham in a pulsating north London derby.
An error-strewn first 45 minutes for Sunday’s hosts at Emirates Stadium twice received punishment. A litany of defensive mistakes in the 10th minute ended with Germany goalkeeper Bernd Leno spilling a limp, low shot from Argentina winger Erik Lamela into the grateful Christian Eriksen’s path.
Rash Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka then inexplicably smashed through South Korea forward Son Heung-min inside the penalty box. Skipper Harry Kane stepped up and converted to become the joint-top scorer in this heated fixture.
Hopes of a revitalising second Premier League win of 2019/20, however, began to slip away in the first minute of first-half stoppage time. The visitors spurned several chances to clear, allowing outstanding striker Alexandre Lacazette to produce fine footwork and send an emphatic close-range finish past compatriot Hugo Lloris.
This momentum stayed with the Gunners – stung by last week’s humbling 3-1 reversal at Liverpool – after the interval. They gained just reward on 71 minutes when French youngster Matteo Guendouzi picked out Aubameyang’s dart and a half-volley made it 2-2.
Here are the taking points:
3 - Since Mauricio Pochettino took charge ahead of the 2014-15 season, Spurs have only won three of their 27 Premier League away games against fellow "big six" opponents (W3 D9 L15). Shortfall. pic.twitter.com/X5z0Tin6SZ— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 1, 2019
This undulating 199th meeting highlighted joyous strengths and worrying weaknesses.
The “6.0 MP software” update that Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino memorably equated his side’s staccato campaign to pre-match proved it is still undergoing BETA testing. A return of just five points from 12 is not redolent of the talent within the ranks.
Scything runs from Son and Lamela into the spaces, curiously, vacated by Arsenal’s three defensive midfielders oozed promise, so too the influential Eriksen whose second top-flight start of the season comes a day before the close of the European transfer window.
A helping hand, however, from errant centre-back David Luiz and Xhaka – more on that later – bore all the hallmarks of last weekend’s mood-sapping loss at Anfield for Arsenal. Yet the change in tempo and mood from Arsenal that followed Lacazette’s sumptuous lifeline detailed the potential in Unai Emery’s side.
Carried onwards by an impassioned Emirates, the Gunners dominated after the break. In the process, it strengthened arguments about how 2018/19’s defeated Champions League finalists have grown stale.
Substitute Dani Ceballos showcased why he should have started, while Guendouzi’s burgeoning talent was undeniable.
Arsenal ended up with double their opponents’ attempts on goal, 55-per-cent possession and with 10 more tackles made. They, ultimately, just couldn’t get the job done.
This was a showcase of why these sides will not lay a glove on champions Manchester City or Liverpool, but remain favourites to finish third and fourth.
DITCH THE DIAMOND
Emery’s reputation took a hit on Merseyside with the introduction of an ill-fitting diamond formation.
A forensic analysis of that clash, though, would show a competitive team let down by egregious moments. Luiz was particularly culpable.
Sunday’s return to a 4-3-3 was welcomed. The second-half retort, as well, will extend patience from a support now immune from Spurs jibes until next April.
But much remains in the balance in this make-or-break second season. Real Madrid loanee Ceballos appears an opportune pick-up, while record-buy Pepe adds unpredictability.
This cannot excuse the spaces vacated by three starting defensive midfielders, or Luiz’s exposure in a four-man defence.
Cut out the errors and a contract extension will be Emery’s. If they don’t, the exit door beckons.
A PERFECT ‘10’
10 - No player has scored more goals in games between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in all competitions than Harry Kane (joint-most with Emmanuel Adebayor and Bobby Smith). Occasion. pic.twitter.com/7GeXJg7J3o— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 1, 2019
Final word on this game must go to Kane, no matter the unfulfilling result.
This had not been a perfect start to 2019/20 by the stratospheric standards expected of World Cup 2018’s Golden Boot winner. Only two shots on target had been recorded in three preceding matches – both of them goals in the opening comeback versus promoted Aston Villa.
He was an uncharacteristic passenger in the fortunate 2-2 draw at City and chastening 1-0 home loss to relegation-candidates Newcastle United.
Yet, the 26-year-old remains a big-game hunter of rare repute. A 10th north London derby goal in 10 league run-outs moved him level with Emmanuel Adebayor – who crossed the divide – and Spurs’ Bobby Smith on the all-time scoring list.
Reaching the landmark figure was never in doubt once Xhaka’s lunacy gave referee Martin Atkinson no other option. Contrast the disorder that precedes a penalty at Manchester United with the serenity that follows an awarding for Spurs.
Only the woodwork prevented him from joining a class of his own. Sensational technique to slice through the ball in the second half left Leno stranded, but went without just reward.
The only blot, perhaps, was his theatrical tumble late on under the attentions of Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the penalty area.
This sterling return from a youth product of which little was expected after several innocuous loan spells reinforces football’s wondrous ability to surprise.
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