I came into this weekend wondering how it would all turn out for Arsenal. After 3 defeats in a row in the league and in Europe, the North London Derby could have become either a dream or a nightmare. Lose and the league title was effectively out of reach, win and all the worries about the last two weeks would be dispelled.
The build-up to the match was spoiled for the Gunners with the news that talismanic goalkeeper Petr Cech and star defender Laurent Koscielny were injured and out for up to four weeks. Replacements were drafted in in the shape of David Ospina, who hasn’t played since the start of the season, and Gabriel Paulista, who is prone to massive errors of judgement. Aside from a goalscorer, Arsenal really couldn’t lose two more crucial players.
Tottenham Hotspur were in fine form and had muscled their way into the title picture on the back of some really strong performances and some well-deserved victories. Dele Alli was earning plaudits that have put him on England manager Roy Hodgson’s radar and star striker Harry Kane was in the kind of form that had the papers drooling with transfer speculation of the summer.
Come kick off and Spurs took the game to Arsenal, who looked very much like being marginalised and overrun in the early exchanges. Despite having the lion’s share of possession though, Tottenham couldn’t create much to trouble Ospina’s goal. They were made to pay for their profligacy when Hector Bellerin picked up a Mesut Özil pass and fed Aaron Ramsey who flicked the ball past the fingertips of Hugo Lloris and into the net. One-Nil to the Arsenal.
Then the team in red began to assert themselves on the game. They had the better of the possession towards the end of the half, and manager Arséne Wenger went into the tunnel at half-time much the happier of the two bosses. His happiness was short-lived however.
During the first half the usually reliable Francis Coquelin was felled and, believing the ref would blow up for a free kick, handled the ball whilst on the floor. Referee Michael Oliver did finally blow his whistle and yellow-carded Coquelin, who was then on shaky ground.
Early on in the second half Coquelin further earned the referees attention, and the away fans’ ire, when he was outstripped on the wing by the impressive Harry Kane. Coquelin went to ground when the ball was well past him and brought down Kane. Referee Oliver knew what was coming, as did everyone in the stadium, and he was shaking his head as he walked up to the French International and brandished a second yellow, promptly followed by a red card. No arguments from any player was forthcoming and Coquelin left the field. Then Spurs were right back in the game. Within 7 minutes of Coquelin being sent off Spurs had equalised with goals from Toby Alderwiereld, who fired home at close range off a corner, and Harry Kane himself, who picked up the ball on the Spurs’ left, drifted inside and spanked home a frankly ridiculous goal. Ospina was left stranded as the ball curled past his acrobatic dive and a Goal Of The Season contender hit the post and ricocheted in.
Things looked dire for the Gunners and tempers started to fray with Alexis Sanchez seeing yellow for a push on Érik Lamela. Spurs’ stranglehold on the game got tighter and tighter until Sanchez showed some of the quality that made Arséne Wenger pay £35m for him when he stroked a classy finish past Lloris and Bellerin registered his second assist of the game. It ended 2-2, to the relief of Gooners the world over, but the title picture has changed a little.
Leicester City’s win at Watford pushes them five points clear at the top of the league. With 9 games to go you have to start thinking that maybe they will hold on and win the Premier League for the first time.
After a season this crazy it would be a fitting finale, but Tottenham and Arsenal will need to believe they still have something to say before May comes round.