The North London derby ended in a draw. Draw number 50 in the North London derby history. But nothing to celebrate, despite the round figure, because both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have failed to make the most of the opportunity to propose themselves as a plausible competitor to win the Premier League.
First of all, this was Harry Kane's comeback game, in all senses. He has been lined up for the first time after six weeks out with injury; and subsequently scored the goal to draw the match.
Arsenal started with their usual 4-2-3-1, with Alexis Sanchez as center forward, Mesut Ozil behind him, and Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott wide as wingers. Arsene Wenger chose not to using a real center forward like Olivier Giroud, but played with a false number nine like El Niño Maravilla to give Arsenal's playing style more unpredictability. But this choice has become a disadvantage, as we can clearly see from the statistics – nine shots off the target and only two shots on. This fact reveals how Arsenal have suffered for the lack of a real striker, capable of converting good chances, in the middle of the box.
On the other side of the pitch, Mauricio Pochettino opted for a sort of revolution in formation, using a 3-4-2-1 that, in the attacking plays, turned quickly in a 3-4-3, thanks to the important job made by the two wingers Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen. Kevin Wimmer got his chance to debut in the starting eleven, but in the 42nd minute he deflected the ball kicked by Ozil in his own goal, giving an unexpected advantage to the Gunners in a match that, until that point, had seen Tottenham dominating on the pitch with a substantial ball possession of 59 percent.
But this territorial control was barren overall, if we consider that most of the attacking plays in the first half were from the hosts' feet. And only the lack of a real center forward, as already mentioned, together with a good shape of Hugo Lloris, prevented Arsenal from scoring. All of this before Wimmer did it himself, of course.
But the young Tottenham side had the strength to take the draw, obtaining a clear penalty when Laurent Koscielny committed a foul in the box on Mousa Dembele in the 50th minute, with the returning Harry Kane scoring.
Another reflection that can be easily made is that it can’t be only a coincidence that the Spurs haven’t won a match without their best striker and haven’t scored a goal in open play in the last six matches. It continued in this derby as well, even with Kane on the pitch.
Nothing to be worried about, if we consider that things have really changed in Tottenham’s house: they are a very different team compared to the one that fought for the title with Leicester last season and finished third. They are younger, as already mentioned, and inexperienced, and they need time to find the way to project themselves to the top of the table.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are always the same Arsenal – the classical team from whom you’d expect that something more, a definitive breakthrough. But they always disappoint you, because they fail at the crucial meeting with the fate to gain a new dimension, a new ambition, that could help them to play for the top positions. Or for the real top, the number one.
What does Arsenal lack? It’s not easy to say, but the way in which they leave the responsibility of making the game to their opponents for too long, without dictating their own rules on the pitch, could be a limit. And that was evident just four minutes after Kane equalised, when Shkodran Mustafi committed a big mistake in the box, losing the ball to Eriksen that threw the ball on the goal, but his effort was turned behind by a great save by Hugo Lloris. In five minutes, Arsenal took the risk of going from 1-0 to 1-2, lacking concentration and the right mentality to keep the game in their hands. The mentality that Antonio Conte is instilling in his Chelsea: and we can already see the fruits from his tree.
In six minutes, from the 65th to the 71st minute, Arsene Wenger tried his best to overturn the destiny of the match in his favor – three substitutions to change the attacking strategies completely. Out Francis Coquelin and in Aaron Ramsey, with the Welsh midfielder more capable of launching himself into attack; but, above all, Olivier Giroud took the place of Iwobi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came in replacing Walcott. A central forward like Giroud, with Alexis and OC on the wingers means a completely different attacking line and mentality.
Talking about Tottenham, the real regret was that the two biggest scoring chances happened to Christian Eriksen. The Danish winger, in fact, has the worst strike-rate for his team in the current Premier League, together with Moussa Sissoko. He has scored no goals from 33 shots on the target, with a harsh 0 percent rate. The one with the best rate, instead, is the other winger Son Heung-min: the South Korean has a conversion percentage of 18.2, with four goals scored from 22 shots on target. At the second place, as expected, is Harry Kane who has played, unluckily, only 422 minutes. But he has a percentage of 16.7.
Of course the changing of formations by Pochettino reveals that he is trying to find new solutions to solve the problem of scoring that is affecting his Tottenham. But that doesn't worry him so much: he expects a lot from the return of Kane and from the fact that Eriksen has all the skills to improve his pitiful 0 percent.
The next month will be crucial to prove their ambitions, to understand what kind of targets they would be able to compete. They will face West Ham and Chelsea in Premier League and Monaco in a Champions League match that could, in an unexpected way, turn in something very interesting for the Spurs.