Friday 19 January 2018

Arsenal and Wenger live to fight another day

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Gabriel Paulista celebrate after Aaron Ramsey scores their first goal
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Gabriel Paulista celebrate after Aaron Ramsey scores their first goal
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

The theory that Arsenal lack the character to win this Premier League title can now be banished.

After a week when former players, celebrity supporters and even their own star man Alexis Sanchez questioned whether they believed they could finish this thrillingly unpredictable title race as champions, Arsene Wenger’s side left White Hart Lane having dodged the biggest bullet yet in their quest to end a 12-year wait for glory in England’s most cherished competition.

After Francis Coquelin’s crazy red card after 55 minutes appeared to swing this game in Tottenham’s favour, Arsenal bounced back from adversity in a manner you do not associate with a Wenger side. Alexis Sanchez’s 74th minute equaliser was as significant as it was deserved for Arsenal and their ten-men could even have won it at the last through Aaron Ramsey.

Was this the day when Arsenal's hopefuls started to find the belief required to become champions of England?

It is a question that will only be answered in mid-May, but at least it seems as if there is a pulse in their push to finish this campaign on top of the pile after all.

A point is hardly what either side wanted as they strive to chase down leaders Leicester, but there was a real chance that Arsenal’s season was disappearing down a very dark dead end until their late flourish erased some of the memories of their shocking display at Old Trafford last weekend and the 2-1 defeat against Swansea on Wednesday night.

Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham may have the better side for large portions of this game and missed chances to finish off their rivals when they had them at their mercy, yet it was hard to argue against a final stalemate that felt like a victory for an Arsenal side that have been pinned on the ropes for the last week and more.

As Harry Kane fired them into a 62nd minute lead with a sensational curling effort, it felt as if we had witnessed a decisive moment in a title race no-one seems capable of grasping.

Just seven minutes earlier, the moment that seemed have turned this most significant derby showdown in Tottenham’s direction had been played out before a captivated sell-out crowd, with only one in attendance able to explain his ridiculous actions.

Already booked in the first half, Coquelin’s reckless challenge on Harry Kane after 55 minutes threatened to change the course of a fixture that had swung in Arsenal’s direction as Aaron Ramsey provided a cute back-heel touch to fire his side ahead six minutes before half-time.

There should be a fresh definition added under the word ‘stupid’ when the 2016 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is published, with the name of Coquelin now worthy of a place in the entry following his moment of madness in a game that meant so much to both sides.

What was the French midfielder thinking? After the most miserable week in Arsenal’s season, his error had the potential to be fatal and when Toby Alderweireld drew Spurs level five minutes after the red card before Kane’s sumptuous curling effort put the home side ahead moments later, Arsenal’s flame looked set to be extinguished.

“I am proud of the spirit the players have shown, but we also have big regrets because we were in control when we down to 10-men. That is hard to take,” stated Arsene boss Wenger. “Personally, I never questioned the character to this team, but the only way you can show that is on the pitch.”

Wenger’s downbeat tone in his post-match comments may have been due to his fear that his side's haul of one point from a possible nine over the last eight days could have seriously harmed their title challenge, but this could have been so much worse. 

At least they left the home of their deadly rivals in the knowledge that the potentially fatal six point gap Tottenham could and should have opened up over them after Coquelin’s brain-freeze was not to be their final indignity on this chilled north London afternoon.

Tottenham had 26 shots on David Ospina’s goal in this game, they had control of possession for extended spell and yet they blinked when opportunity knocked for them.

It is Pochettino’s side are who may well look back on this game as the moment when they spurned the chance to put their stamp on this title race. Do Tottenham have the character to be champions in a week when they lost to West Ham and failed to kill off the Gunners? Maybe that is the question we should be asking now.

As for Arsenal and Wenger, they live to fight another day.

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