The biggest winner in the north London derby was Leicester City, seeing that both of their biggest title rivals dropped five out of a possible six points in a week when even they dropped points. While there are both positives and negatives for both sides to take from one of the more enthralling derbies in recent memory, both can see that maybe their best isn’t quite good enough this season.
Arsenal showed some of their best resilience during the derby while riding out almost consistent Spurs pressure from the first 20 minutes and then finding a way to score while down to 10 men and under the cosh again. Mohamed Elneny was assured in a Premier League debut, which is hard to do in a game of this magnitude, and certainly covered up for the deficiencies in the game of Francis Coquelin. And Arsenal also showed that they do not need to boss possession to induce defenses into panic; their repeated breaks when the Spurs press was broken showed their quality even though Alexis Sanchez hadn’t scored in 12 Premier League games coming into the match.
Spurs will get chided with remarks that they’ve bottled their chances of going top, which in fairness is true, but having to play two massive London derbies in four days is no easy task. They weren’t generating many clear cut chances when Arsenal had 11 men, but when against 10 they needed to be more clinical. Their biggest crime may not have been the ease with which they were cut open at times, but that they could not put a wounded team with broken confidence away when they had multiple chances to. When they coughed up a 2-0 home lead against Stoke back in August, many wondered if the same old Spurs were back again despite the optimism. In many cases this year, Spurs have been the better side in the many games in which they drew and couldn’t find a way to be clinical enough to take all three points. This was the case today, and it cost them against their bitter rivals.
In order for either Spurs or Arsenal to catch Leicester, they will need to right the wrongs of their finishing and mentality respectively in order to mount a serious challenge. Leicester have had both of those elements imbued in their squad over the season, and even when they have not played well they have found ways to win or get points. The Foxes have no doubt had some luck this season, but in many areas it is better to be lucky than good. While both Spurs and Arsenal have been very good in stretches this season, they haven’t been consistent enough in their own ways to set the pace in the title race.
Derbies bring out more emotion not only in the supporters but the players too. Discipline is a problem and teams do not look as structure as they normally would. But in this north London derby, both teams showed their biggest strengths and weaknesses in one game. For both teams, those strengths and weaknesses will end up deciding the margins by which they compete with Leicester for the Premier League crown. Since the two cancelled each other out, the Foxes have emerged as the clear favorites despite it all.
What the north London derby proved, is that while there may not be much between Tottenham and Arsenal, the gap between those two and Leicester is growing bigger and bigger, and even in a Premier League season with as many twists and turns as this one has had, it seems the road for Leicester to the title is as straightforward as it gets, no matter what their North London title rivals do.
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