By Rob Kelly at White Hart Lane
Ten-man Arsenal produced a performance of real grit to secure a 2-2 draw from a typically frenetic north London derby at White Hart Lane.
The Gunners seemed to be heading for a damaging defeat when, after Francis Coquelin was sent off for two bookable offences at the start of the second half, the hosts scored twice in quick succession.
But Arsène Wenger’s side were determined not to go down without a fight and, with 14 minutes remaining, they raced forward and equalised through Alexis.
That proved the final twist in a thrilling game that had seen the visitors snatch the lead just before half time through a brilliantly-improvised flick from Aaron Ramsey.
The Gunners had started the second half confidently, but Coquelin’s red card seemed to change the game inexorably in Tottenham’s favour when Toby Alderweireld and Harry Kane scored within two minutes of each other.
But Wenger’s side fought back in fine style as Alexis equalised, and even had a chance to win it at the end when Ramsey’s shot was blocked inside the area.
It may only have been a point for Arsenal, but it felt like a big one as we enter the final straight of an incredible season.
SETTING THE SCENE
Much of the pre-match talk had centred on whether this was the biggest north London derby of all time - and while there was more than a hint of hype about it, the match certainly held great significance for both sides.
With the Gunners trailing their rivals by three points, and lying six behind league leaders Leicester City, there was little room for error at White Hart Lane. After three successive defeats, a positive result was badly needed to breath new life into a stuttering title bid - and what better place to do it.
Per Mertesacker had spoken in the build-up of the “massive energy” a north London derby win could generate, but Wenger’s side would have to do it without two key figures - the injured Petr Cech and Laurent Koscielny.
It meant Ospina coming in for his first Premier League game in close to 10 months, although the Colombia international had featured in September’s Capital One Cup victory at Tottenham.
Elsewhere, Mohamed Elneny partnered Coquelin at the base of the midfield, with Ramsey moved back out to the right flank with Joel Campbell dropping the bench. The final change saw Danny Welbeck replace Olivier Giroud as the central striker.
The home side, meanwhile, came into the derby on the back of a defeat at West Ham United that ended a six-game winning run in the Premier League. Mauricio Pochettino responded by making four changes to his team, the most notable seeing Dele Alli return and both full backs being changed.
As expected, the game got off to a fast and furious start, with both sides flying into tackles and feeding off the intense atmosphere inside White Hart Lane.
The Gunners were on the back foot during the opening exchanges as they sought to soak up the hosts’ attacks, and breathed an early sigh of relief when Harry Kane fired just over the bar from outside the area.
Wenger’s side were having to work overtime to deal with Tottenham’s high-pressing game, spending extended periods in their own half as the hosts sought to test Ospina as much as possible.
The Colombia international had been relatively untroubled until this point, but with 25 minutes on the clock he underlined his credentials with a sensational save to keep the scores deadlocked.
It came after Kyle Walker found space on the right flank and fizzed in a powerful drive towards the waiting Lamela. The Tottenham forward diverted it at goal with his shin, only to see Ospina somehow palm it away from close range.
The home fans could not believe it hadn’t gone in, and the save clearly did the Arsenal keeper the power of good as he soon came out confidently to claim a free kick from Christian Eriksen.
It was a typically tight, tense affair, but the Gunners were yet to move through the gears in an attacking sense as they concentrated on containing the hosts. One Welbeck break aside, the had few sightings of goal in the opening half but they could be satisfied with their defensive stability and discipline.
But with seven minutes to go, the Gunners hit them with a suckerpunch to take the lead and silence the previously boisterous home crowd.
Welbeck once again was at the heart of it, spinning away on the left flank and finding space in the area. The England forward waited patiently for support, before rolling it across the box to the onrushing Bellerin, who took aim with a sidefooted effort.
It didn’t look like causing too much danger but Ramsey, who had covered a lot of ground to get into the six-yard box, flicked out his foot and brilliantly diverted it into the top corner to spark jubilant celebrations from the travelling support.
Suddenly, Arsenal had the momentum and new energy in their legs and minutes later they had a great opportunity to double their lead but Welbeck’s close-range header was too close to Lloris and the Tottenham keeper was able to save.
The predicted onslaught from the hosts at the start of the second half did not transpire, with Arsenal looking far more confident as they stroked the ball around.
Ospina was called into action to deny Kyle Walker from distance, but that aside it was a really encouraging start to the second period from Wenger’s side as they established control.
But just as the game seemed to have taken a decisive turn in the visitors’ favour, it took another twist as Coquelin was sent off for a second bookable offence after sliding in on Kane.
It changed the whole atmosphere inside White Hart Lane, and Tottenham nearly equalised straight away when, from a corner, Kane was found at the far post, took a touch and fired at goal.
Ospina made a fine stop on the line, before Mertesacker cleared - but it was not until the replays that we saw just how close it had been to an equaliser.
It was a let-off, but they could not hold on for long when, from another corner, the ball fell to Alderweireld and the defender squeezed it home from close range.
It was a real blow to have been pegged back so quickly after the red card, and it gave the Gunners half an hour to play a man down and with the momentum firmly back with the home side.
But within a minute, Tottenham took the lead when Alli flicked the ball to Kane by the left corner flag and the striker raced to the edge of the area and curled a shot into the far corner.
Coming back from this would be a mighty challenge for Wenger’s side, who were now being forced well back into their own half and under increasing pressure as the hosts searched for a killer third goal.
But Arsenal refused to say die and, with 15 minutes remaining, they came forward again and Bellerin played Alexis through on goal. There was still much to do for the Chile international, but he did it brilliantly as he raced on to it, before stroking it first time into the far corner.
It was a fabulous response, but with plenty of time left in the game it was now a tough choice whether to stick or twist for the 10-man Gunners.
The game was balanced on a knife-edge, and Ospina had to be alert to deny Eriksen’s dipping effort from long range, before Lloris made a flying save to deny Alexis from a free kick.
Ramsey had a late chance, as did Eriksen, but in the end they had to settle for a share of the spoils from another thrilling derby.
- Mertesacker (C)
- Bellerin Yellow Card
- Ozil 90
- Elneny 74
- Ramsey Goal!
- Alexis Goal! Yellow Card
- Coquelin Yellow Card Red Card
- Welbeck 84
- Giroud 74
- Campbell 90
- Flamini 84
- Lloris (C)
- Alderweireld Goal!
- Rose 78
- Dembele 82
- Dier Yellow Card
- Lamela 66 Yellow Card
- Kane Goal!
- Mason 66
- Davies 78
- Son 82