Pochettino suffers system failure as Arsenal roar back
This should have been the reboot moment for the team manager Mauricio Pochettino has labelled Tottenham Hotspur version 6.0, but, as so often has been the case at the Emirates, the computer said “no”.
Two goals up and with the Arsenal fans ready to lynch captain Granit Xhaka, Spurs were motoring towards a first league victory in their rivals’ backyard since 2010 and only a second in 27 games.
But Alexandre Lacazette pulled one back on the stroke of the break and Tottenham suffered a system failure, as Pierre-emerick Aubameyang levelled the scores and Arsenal finished disappointed not to complete the turnaround.
Sokratis thought he had with 11 minutes remaining, but Sead Kolasinac had been offside when he received the ball on the left before crossing for the Arsenal defender.
Already billed as a “best of the rest” encounter in the race to finish behind Manchester City and Liverpool, this entertaining north London derby only really confirmed what we already knew. For all their firepower, Arsenal remain capable of defensive calamity, while Spurs have not strengthened enough to trouble the top two.
A draw at the Emirates is by no means a bad result for Tottenham, following a home defeat by Newcastle United, and there was encouragement to be taken for Pochettino.
Yet this will still feel like a missed opportunity to kick-start their season and there is little to disprove the feeling that Spurs are still relying on the same set of star names to show that, as a collective, they have not already peaked.
For all the talk of this being the latest incarnation of the Pochettino era, there were nine players involved yesterday who also drew at Arsenal during the Argentine’s second season in charge in 2015. Harry Kane netted for Tottenham four years ago and his 40th-minute penalty that gave this Spurs side a two-goal lead was his 10th goal in 12 north London derbies.
Christian Eriksen, another veteran of Pochettino’s reign, was brought back into the team and responded with an impressive performance and his 50th Premier League goal to open the scoring.
The Dane looks likely to stay at Tottenham for another campaign, with the European transfer window closing today, and, on this evidence, Pochettino will lean heavily on him again.
Arsenal had started the brighter and threatened through Nicolas Pepe and Ainsley Maitland-niles before they were caught cold.
Kane beat Sokratis to a header and Son Heung-min pulled David Luiz out of position as he darted across the Brazilian before passing to Erik Lamela. Goalkeeper Bernd Leno should have dealt with the forward’s low shot, but he palmed the ball tamely into the path of Eriksen, who could not miss.
All of a sudden this was the Tottenham team who had won Pochettino so many admirers. The home defence could not cope with the direct running of Son, who had a curling shot well saved by Leno and almost set up Kane with a cross that was cut out by Matteo Guendouzi.
Danny Rose had produced a brilliant headed block to stop Pepe’s effort at the back post from an Aubameyang cross, but it was not a surprise to see Tottenham double their lead – even if Kane’s penalty owed much to the stupidity of Xhaka. There were plenty of bodies between Son and the goal as the South Korean tried to find space for a shot and yet Xhaka took him out with a late, wild challenge.
Kane made no mistake from the spot and the Emirates exploded with anger towards Xhaka.
Had they made it to half-time, it is hard to imagine Tottenham would have given up their lead, but they let the hosts back in and Arsenal seized the momentum. Alexandre Lacazette received Pepe’s pass, touched the ball past Jan Vertonghen and blasted it into the net.
Lacazette’s goal transformed the mood among the home players and fans, and they came straight back out on the front foot with Pepe forcing Hugo Lloris to save from his header. The Frenchman did even better to tip Guendouzi’s shot around a post, and from the corner, Kolasinac poked Lacazette’s flick agonisingly wide.
Arsenal looked certain to equalise and yet Kane almost buried them with a brilliant move on the break. He played a one-two with Eriksen before beating Leno with a shot only to see the ball bounce back off a post. There was a blow for the home side when Lacazette was forced off with an injury in the 67th minute. But Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s introduction allowed Aubameyang to move into the middle and he was in just the right position to divert Guendouzi’s pass into the net four minutes later.
Arsenal sensed a winner and they thought they had got it when Sokratis put the ball in the net, but Kolasinac was offside. There was still time for some late controversy, as Kane was accused of diving under a challenge from Sokratis and Pochettino punched the ground in frustration when Moussa Sissoko blazed the last chance of the game over the bar. Had that gone in, then there would be more optimism that Tottenham 6.0 will be a genuine upgrade on past releases.
Missed opportunity: Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino