Spurs keep Arsenal at arm's length in annual bragging rights contest

March 2, 2019

 

 

The Saturday lunchtime draw in the latest north London derby appears to have resolved little when it comes to determining the fate of its protagonists this season – apart from making St Totteringham’s Day a little less likely.

For the uninitiated – and let’s face it, there probably aren’t any among Arsenal and Spurs fans – that is the day in the season Arsenal supporters celebrate the fact they can no longer be caught by their rivals.

It was a routine staple throughout the Arsene Wenger era, the moment in March, April or May when that mathematical certainty was confirmed. It was a major consolation, even in those years at Emirates Stadium when trophies went missing.

But since the end of the 2015-16 season, when they finished unlikely runners-up to Leicester City, there has not even been that crumb of comfort for Gunners fans to savour.

The gap remains at four points and with just nine games left, the chances are that bragging rights will once again go to Spurs. Theirs has been the greater consistency. Theirs has been the greater ability to ruffle the feathers of other top six sides.

But in all probability, the 1-1 draw at Wembley was a reminder that, when it comes to silverware, Tottenham are still going to fall short. They have done well to cling to the coat-tails of Man City and Liverpool, but the 10-point gap is now surely a bridge too far.

It probably proves the pre-season suspicion correct, that this is a great team in need of reinforcements to get over the line and Daniel Levy’s refusal to play the inflated transfers game has been called into question.

Admirable though this desire to stick to a recognised, regular XI has been, it has meant a heavy workload for the best players, who were already struggling for breath when the season launched so soon after the World Cup in Russia. It has felt like playing catch-up from day one, especially as there has not been the home comfort of a new White Hart Lane to fall back on.

Tottenham are strong favourites to finish the season in the top four and make the Champions League again next season, but will the current crop of players tolerate such modest ambitions in the league?

Arsenal's star players drifted away under Wenger when it became obvious they would not be challenging for the title any time soon.

Pochettino appears to have made his peace with such a scenario, saying Spurs should not be judged by trophy hauls, but for how long will Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Heung-min Son keep chasing fourth place?

Of course, they still have a shot at more Champions League glory, while Arsenal have the Europa League to keep them busy. But for the Gunners, it has been another season of humbling days against the top six and flat-track bullying on home soil against the lesser lights.

They should take heart from the point at Spurs, which could so easily have been three, had it not been for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s fluffed spot-kick at the death. And they did beat the old foe 4-2 at home in the reverse fixture.

Unai Emery has, in his first season in charge, created a far more resilient outfit – even if they are still in need of a mean defence to make them genuine contenders again. Given the legacy of drift under Wenger, it has still been mildly encouraging.

They have two exceptional strikers in Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette and have seen the emergence of Matteo Guendouzi, Alex Iwobi and Lucas Torreira.

Like Spurs, they have a good coach in charge and there is every chance he will make Arsenal stronger, given time. But, as with their rivals, an apparent reluctance of the owners to spend transfer money will not make it easy to rid themselves of the feeling that they are still bumping against a glass ceiling they arguably first encountered the year after the 2006 Champions League final in Paris.

Neither manager, nor set of players, should be remotely interested in settling for mere bragging rights, when there is so much more at stake. But, at the very least, it looks as if the avoidance of St Totteringham’s Day is on again this year for Pochettino’s men.

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