Result: Sp*rs 1-1 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 2nd March 2019
Starting XI: Leno, Mustafi, Koscielny, Sokratis, Monreal, Guendouzi, Xhaka, Mkhitaryan, Ramsey, Iwobi, Lacazette
Subs: Cech, Maitland-Niles, Kolasinac, Torreira, Suarez, Ozil, Aubameyang
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed a 90th-minute penalty as Arsenal had to settle for a point against Sp*rs as the North London derby ended 1-1 at Wembley.
Harry Kane’s penalty cancelled out Aaron Ramsey’s first half strike setting up a frenetic finish that saw Lloris save his side and Lucas Torreira receive a straight red card.
The Gunners put in a creditable performance, especially before the break, but they were undone courtesy of generosity from the officials who should have flagged Kane offside before Mustafi’s poor decision was penalised.
Despite having Stephan Lichtsteiner, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Carl Jenkinson as possible options, Emery made the bold decision to pick Shkodran Mustafi at right-back as he lined up Arsenal in a 4-2-3-1 formation for the 185th North London derby. The experience of Nacho Monreal was preferred ahead of Sead Kolasinac at left-back with Sokratis and Koscielny in the middle. Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka were charged with anchoring midfield while the responsibility of creating chances for Alex Lacazette fell to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alex Iwobi and Aaron Ramsey. In total, there were five changes from the side that beat Bournemouth.
Alex Lacazette might have opened the scoring inside two minutes but his snatched effort, following a deflected pass by Iwobi that looped over the Spurs defence, went wide. That opening gambit aside, it was a relatively low key start as the sunshine bathed Wembley.
We looked up for it. That was immediately obvious. Koscielny and Sokratis, in particular, were vocal as they offered early encouragement to their teammates. We were happy enough to let the home side have the ball, but as soon as they got to the box we did our best to crowd them out.
Spurs probed and posed questions but they couldn’t get space to shoot. Harry Kane who was full of his usual hustle and bustle and the Arsenal tactic seemed to be to harry in him pairs. It worked. Even better than might have been expected. On 16 minutes, Koscielny grabbed the ball off him, Xhaka cleared long and suddenly we were ahead.
Aaron Ramsey will get the plaudits for a fantastically composed bit of football, but Alex Lacazette’s work in the build-up was equally impressive. The Frenchman held the ball, waited for the Welshman to make a run and then fed him a perfect pass. Off Aaron went. With Wanyama chasing him, he bound towards Lloris, took the ball around the keeper and tucked home into an empty net. The Arsenal fans went ballistic. “This is my fucking pitch,” yelled Rambo. Legend. (1-0)
The home side continued to dominate possession, focusing their attention on Nacho Monreal’s flank. The game was fraught and frenetic. Players on both sides snapping into challenges and giving a bit to the officials when decisions didn’t go their way.
We survived a scare on 24 minutes when Kane thought he’d equalised. His header from a Trippier free-kick crashed into the top corner but the flag went up. Offside. Correct decision. Leno took it upon himself to slow things down whenever possible, it earned him a warning from referee Anthony Taylor, but it was well worth it.
Monreal stopped Son from wriggling through the defence. Eriksen hit a low shot just wide and Vertonghen flashed a long-range shot wide. At the other end, Iwobi cut in on his right and forced a good stop from Lloris, who flung himself to his left.
Mkhitaryan’s willingness to collect the ball, often from Guendouzi, and then carry it, jink inside markers and play simple passes was vitally important when we were so often penned in. By and large, we were comfortable but if it wasn’t for a brilliant double stop from Leno we’d have conceded.
90 seconds before half time the keeper made a heroic double stop. First, he used his feet to deny Eriksen who’d been played in by Kane. When the rebound fell to Sissoko the Frenchman looked destined to score but somehow the German got a strong hand on the ball to parry it over the bar. It was enough to preserve our lead going into the break.
Lucas Torreira was introduced at half time in place of Matteo Guendouzi. The Uruguayan slipped in next to Xhaka.
Chances came and went at both ends before the hour mark, but the game was very bitty. Trippier had an opportunity to test our defence from the right but he hit a terrible cross that flew out for a throw-in on the other side. The groans of the home fans were noticeable. A few thought they’d scored when Alderweireld hammered a volley into the side netting.
In between, Xhaka, Lacazette and Iwobi combined to free Monreal inside the Spurs box on. The cutback was ripe for burying, but Laca couldn’t wrap his foot around the ball and it sliced wide. Our striker buried his head in his hands. Not long after Emery sent on Aubameyang in his place.
Iwobi and Aubameyang had shots charged down. Xhaka swung a free-kick to the back post that had Lloris flapping. Mkhitaryan went in the book and tried his luck from range. Substitute Lamela, on for Wanyama, did the same.
Leno had to be brave to bail out Mkhitaryan who missed a header at the back post allowing Rose a chance to squeeze a shot goalwards. The German took a full boot in the chest and required treatment.
Emery’s final change saw Ozil come on for Ramsey. The German got a word in the ear and a pat on the back before heading into the fray. Rambo got a high five from everyone on the bench.
Almost immediately, Spurs won a penalty. Kane, who was offside when a free-kick was played into the box, got a shove from Mustafi and hit the turf. It was stupid from the German, another brainfart on his CV. Xhaka’s annoyance with the decision earned him a booking. Kane stepped up and sent Leno the wrong way. Wembley erupted. (1-1)
Given the swing in momentum, it was vitally important that we calmed things down and tried to ride out the storm. Every challenge in the centre of the park seemed to end with someone in a crumpled heap. It looked like we were happy with a point. Then on the break, Aubameyang went and won us a penalty in the 90th minutes.
The Gabon international, having had his ankles nibbled by Sanchez, stepped up. He didn’t look confident. Lloris guessed right, parried the ball clear and Iwobi’s rebound was forced over by Vertonghen. Absolutely gutting.
Just to rub salt in our wounds, Lucas Torreira was shown a straight red card in the fifth minute of injury time for a high tackle on Danny Rose. It was a bitterly disappointing end. However, a draw away from home represents a decent point, even though we’ll likely be out of the top four by the end of the weekend.
The big games keep coming, we head to France on Thursday to tackle Rennes and then United pay us a visit on Sunday. That’s a huge showdown.