Tottenham are a different side with Harry Kane leading the line and were good value for their point at The Emirates. The Englishman looked more likely to score from open play in his 73 minutes of playing time than Vincent Janssen has for the past 7 weeks. Despite lacking match fitness, and looking exhausted by early in the second half, his combination with Heung-Min Son up front gave Arsenal serious food for thought.
A header on 21 minutes from a Christian Eriksen cross was the best chance for either side in the opening stages. Whilst Kane placed it just centimetres wide of the net, it is these sort of opportunities that have gone begging in recent weeks. Kane gets into goal scoring positions, and the goals will come for him. And should do so for Spurs now that he is back in action. Where Janssen connects teammates and relies on their creativity to find a way through, Kane is clearly the more complete and dangerous player.
It was a risky move from Mauricio Pochettino to implement a completely new system for a contest of such epic importance. And it very nearly worked. It’s hard to see how Spurs could have come away with anything had they persisted with tried and tested tactics. A change-up was needed for their own psyche and as a surprise method it also appeared to make Arsenal more cautious than at any other stage during their run of terrific League form.
While Kevin Wimmer was the culprit for Spurs’ own goal before half time, it was certainly not a fault of the system. The threat Tottenham offered going forward was far greater than anything seen since the victory of Manchester City. That they had been creating less and less, week by week, meant Pochettino simply had to come up with something new. And that he did.
Spurs previously deployed three central defenders in December last year, with Eric Dier dropping back in between Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. But that had been to combat the dual threat posed by Watford’s powerful strike combination of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo. The difference here was the additional striker that Pochettino added too.
It would be interesting to know what (if any) changes Pochettino would have made to this system had Dele Alli been fit. Perhaps Alli could have slotted in to his regular advanced midfield role, with Wanyama dropping deeper and Wimmer reverting to the bench. Whilst it may have looked a defensive-minded approach by the manager at first glance, it appears that with Alderweireld still sidelined, it did in fact have a positive attacking benefit on two fronts.
Firstly, that Spurs’ midfielders were more inclined to get forward in the knowledge of having greater support at the back. Christian Eriksen in particular made a series of threatening runs into the box; this has been missing completely from his game of late. Mousa Demebele too was able to get forward, as he demonstrated to perfection in his run that awarded he and his team a penalty for the equaliser.
Secondly, it freed up both full backs in Danny Rose and Kyle Walker. As they so often like to do as attack-minded players, starting slightly higher up the pitch they were able to commit to these runs forward on a more consistent basis. Add that to the addition of Kane to the side, which was the most significant difference along with Dembele’s all-action display, and it is easy to see why Arsenal suddenly had more to worry about.
It wasn’t perfect for Tottenham, far from it in fact. But there is hope that this slump in which they have found themselves could finally be on the wane. Still no goals from open play, but the threat was there. And that was the most worrying aspect of recent displays; it was hard to see where a Spurs goal was even coming from. That they could and should have scored two or three on Sunday (though Arsenal may well have done the same) certainly bodes well for fixtures to come.