As in derby thriller, Arsenal are still playing catch up in title race

After moving to within two points of the top with a last-gasp win over surprise leaders Leicester City three weeks ago, Arsenal could end the weekend eight adrift of the summit, Greg Lea writes from White Hart Lane.

It has not been the best of weeks for Arsenal. Three Premier League matches have yielded just a single point, defeats to Manchester United and Swansea City followed by a 2-2 draw in what was billed as a must-win game against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.

After moving to within two points of the top with a last-gasp win over surprise leaders Leicester City three weeks ago, Arsenal could end the weekend eight adrift of the summit.

In a season in which traditional heavyweights Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United have all been off the pace, failing to triumph this term would feel like a massive missed opportunity for Arsene Wenger’s side.

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And yet if Arsenal do fall short, their performance and result at White Hart Lane will not be considered one of the moments where they threw it all away. A team who have been criticised for a lack of character and mental strength in recent days turned in a display full of resilience and commitment against a fellow title contender away from home.

Despite all that, it may not be enough.

“I believe we have shown great spirit all game,” Wenger told BT Sport afterwards. “But we have big regrets because it looked as if we were in complete control. Overall, it’s difficult to take.”

Tottenham also came into this game on the back of a midweek loss, West Ham United running out 1-0 winners in the pair’s meeting at Upton Park on Wednesday. The general mood surrounding the club remained positive, however, with Mauricio Pochettino’s men still very much a part of the title picture as the final few weeks of the campaign approach.

While the hosts came roaring out of the traps, pressing Arsenal high up the pitch and affording them very little time on the ball, the visitors’ game plan gradually began to pay dividends.

For all of their early possession, Tottenham only really went close once, with Arsenal becoming increasingly threatening on the counter-attack as the half wore on. After Aaron Ramsey opened the scoring with a delightful flick from Hector Bellerin’s pass, Wenger’s side had a couple of excellent opportunities to grab the game’s second goal as Tottenham looked short of ideas at the other end.

The same pattern continued in the opening few minutes of the second period, but football matches are decided on individual moments as much as they on a game’s general flow.

When the already yellow-carded Francis Coquelin slid in on Harry Kane and made no contact with the ball, Arsenal knew they would be up against it. Tottenham took advantage of the extra space available against 10 men to turn the clash on its head soon after, a wonderful strike from Harry Kane giving Pochettino’s side the lead after Toby Alderweireld had levelled the scores just two minutes previously.

The chance to go on and kill the game was there for Tottenham, but Arsenal dug in to find a route back into it.

Their showings against Manchester United and Swansea were characterised by a lack of drive and conviction, but their response to going 2-1 down with a man fewer offered a fine riposte to the oft-aired suggestion that they lack the mentality to go alongside their considerable technical qualities. After Alexis Sanchez grabbed the equaliser, Arsenal may even have won it had they been able to take full advantage of some favourable openings on the break.

It has been a common feature of the past few seasons for Arsenal to overturn a hefty margin in the final few matches of the campaign, but the club’s supporters will be extremely frustrated that their side have failed to stamp their authority on this year’s title race when they had a chance to do so a few weeks ago.

Once again, Arsenal are playing catch-up. The danger is that they may have given themselves too much to do this time.

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