A rollicking and feisty North London Derby produced no winner. But somehow, Spurs felt like the loser in a 2-2 after giving away a commanding lead.
And Spurs badly needed a good weekend.
It started out so well. Real Madrid, and any other interested party, missed manager Mauricio Pochettino’s Saturday deadline to poach his star playmaker Christian Eriksen, meaning he should be staying in North London at least until his contract runs out next summer. Then his Spurs traveled the four miles south to arch rivals Arsenal and took a 2-0 lead, threatening to win a Premier League match there for the first time since 2010 and just the third time ever.
But Eriksen’s early goal and Harry Kane’s penalty were undone by Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. A win would have rocketed Spurs from 11th to fourth place in the standings and remedied a lot of anxiety around the club. Instead, just more questions.
But let’s start with Eriksen, because when you take the long view of things, that’s the bigger deal. True playmakers, number 10s who can create cohesion within a team and unlock a defense, yet who also have the requisite engine and range to function in today’s supercharged pressing game, are so rare now that Eriksen is irreplaceable to Spurs.
And so it really doesn’t matter what kind of money the club would have gotten for the 27-year-old Dane. Because its chances of landing someone like him were nil. It would have had to find a raft of alternatives to address the myriad things he did. He has so often been both the starting and end point of a Spurs attack. He is the intersection through which all traffic must pass.
Eriksen’s departure would have underscored a general sense that this Spurs team peaked with last year’s miracle run to the Champions League final, which was lost to an imperious Liverpool. Pochettino’s men made a flat start to the season. A win vs. newly promoted Aston Villa, yes, but accompanied by a flattered tie at Manchester City and a loss to a previously dire Newcastle United. The key players, together for so long now, looked burned out. Maybe things had gotten stale. There had long been rumblings that the players were growing tired of their manager’s demanding methods.
After the high of last year, a bad hangover. Maybe it had all been an illusion. Spurs had barely squeaked through the Champions League group stage, and benefited immensely from VAR to make several escapes against City in the quarterfinals. A comeback against Ajax in the semifinal will be remembered for decades for its improbability. Had it all been a fluke? Were Spurs now simply reverting back to their mortal selves?
Set against that narrative, Sunday’s derby was timed either perfectly or disastrously, depending on the outcome. Neither, as it turns out. And if anything, it was closer to the latter for the emotional blow of having the game under control, only to capitulate completely.
Arsenal had the better of the chances in both quality and quantity and applied enormous pressure to the visitors in the second half. Both teams trade on the movement and inventiveness of their attacks and hope for the best when it comes to their defense. And it showed.
In the 10th minute, Son Heung-Min went on a run through the Arsenal half before dispatching Erik Lamela. His shot was parried by Bernd Leno but rolled right to the feet of Eriksen, who skipped away from a David Luiz driven to distraction from his most elementary marking tasks:
Leno redeemed himself on Son’s splendid effort a short while later.
But Spurs had all the big chances just then, and a second goal felt inevitable. Granit Xhaka obliged by clattering through Son in his own box with the ball long gone. Kane never seems to fail on penalty kicks and didn’t on this occasion either.
On the brink of halftime, Arsenal finally asserted itself. Record signing Nicolas Pepe, who had another strong afternoon on the flank, found Lacazette in the box.
His fellow Frenchman wormed through Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld and smashed his finish past Hugo Lloris in magnificent fashion:
Arsenal’s equalizer was deserved for its dominance of the second half, which produced flurries of chances for the home team.
Eventually, in the 71st minute, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang got a toe onto Matteo Guendouzi’s cross to tie it up.
And even though a tap-in from Sokratis was disallowed because Sead Kolasinac was offside, an Arsenal winner seemed but a matter of time – in spite of Kane's rocket off the far post on a flowing Spurs move. It’s just that time ran out before the goal materialized, sparing Spurs the ignominy of squandering a two-goal lead entirely.
All it had to show for its weekend, in the end, was more disappointment and a point. Well, actually, disappointment and a point and Christian Eriksen.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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