The North London Derby threatened so much on Sunday. In the build up to the game we had seen combined XI’s and classic games from years gone by preparing us for what has historically been a classic fixture. And for the first 10 minutes on Sunday it looked like we could be watching the beginnings of one. Yet somehow after 90 minutes a 1 all draw was all that resulted. Yet there are definitely positives for both sides to take away from the game. It might not have been a high scoring classic but Sunday’s derby represented just how far both sides have come in the past season.
Let’s start with Spurs first. It pains me to acknowledge this but Spurs are certainly on the right tracks under boss Mauricio Pochettino. Their performance on Sunday was arguably the best a Spurs side has put in at the Emirates (albeit against a poor Arsenal, more to come later) and Spurs definitely could have won the game. Pochettino has assembled a young, dynamic side with many English players which in turn has to be applauded. Even more painful for me to say is that it’s time to acknowledge Harry Kane as a very good striker. I like many had doubts about whether Kane was “all that” but he has shown more aspects of his game than simply a goal scorer. His passing and work rate are hugely underrated but crucially his movement and awareness of space is impressive for one so young. However, you do have to worry about the fact Spurs didn’t win the game on Sunday and wonder whether they are quite ready for the top, top level. Add to this that they don’t have a particularly large squad and injuries to players such as Harry Kane in particular could be a real issue. Yet, Spurs have lost just the one league game this season and certainly look like a good bet to make the top 4. Right that’s enough compliments for Tottenham Hotspur to last the next year.
Despite the performance there are so many signs of optimism around Arsenal at the minute. The squad is playing well and when players return from injury the main issue Arsene Wenger will have will be selecting the right team. Amazingly for probably the first time in Arsenal history, the International break has come at just the right time with players such as Ramsey, Bellerín and Oxlade Chamberlain not far from returning. Saying that, knowing Arsenal the odds on Alexis Sanchez getting injured in Chile’s latest friendly are all but odds on. I could single out the whole team for praise at the minute but instead I’ll just single out three players.
If there is a more improved player in England than Francis Coquelin I’m yet to see him. And that’s including you, Chris Smalling. It has to be time for people to recognise Coquelin for what he is: a top class defensive midfielder who has become utterly essential to this Arsenal team. Coquelin continues to improve and whilst he may not be the finished product yet he fits this Arsenal team well. Coquelin’s passion and love of the club is there for all to see and I would say Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to sign a defensive midfielder has so far been vindicated. It’s an incredible thought that a man who couldn’t get a game for Charlton less than a year ago has become one of the first names on the Arsenal team sheet.
In Hector Bellerín Arsenal have for me the best right back in the country. Bellerín’s development in the past season has been nothing short of astonishing. His attacking skills were never in doubt, after all he was signed as a right winger from Barcelona, but his defensive improvement in particular makes you feel you are watching a truly special talent. He may be frighteningly quick but he possesses tremendous determination and desire as evident by his recent performance against Swansea. Perhaps the most noticeable aspect with Bellerín is that quality all top talents have, every game you watch him he seems to get noticeably better. He may have only been injured for two games but Arsenal were a totally different team in his absence. His injury badly affected the shape and dynamics of the team with firstly Mathieu Debuchy struggling before bizarrely Mathieu Flamini finished the Spurs game. I still don’t know how Arsenal went from Bellerín to Flamini at right back in the space of a week. If a more Arsenal thing happens in the next decade I’ll be amazed.
Finally, in Mesut Özil I believe Arsenal have the league’s best player. This really has been the year in which Özil has delivered and shown his never disputed talent. In his previous two years Özil has shown flashes of genius but never on a consistent enough level. This year the team is more suited to him and he looks physically stronger and sharper. What makes him different from other playmakers such as Philippe Coutinho for example is that Özil has the wonderful ability to adapt his game to whatever teammates he’s playing with. If Theo Walcott is upfront he will play more direct and look for early balls in behind to exploit Walcott’s pace. With Olivier Giroud he will play more methodically and look for one-two’s on the box or angled crosses. I know some people still don’t understand him or his style of play but they really are missing out on one of the most intelligent footballers the Premier League has seen. Simply, Özil is a special, unique talent and if he stays fit will give Arsenal a chance of winning the league.
Finally and most encouraging for me is the fact that Arsenal didn’t lose yesterday. Arsenal teams of seasons gone by would without question have lost that match. Injury depleted and having been outclassed in midweek, drawing Sunday’s match could be an important result come the end of the season. Season after season Arsenal were known for going on slumps and letting their European form affect their league. Yet this year it seems different, it seems that they are concentrating more on the Premier League than the Champions League. Despite David Ospina’s best attempts Arsenal may still qualify from their group but even then it shouldn’t overtake the Premier League in terms of priority. After all , Arsenal have a habit of finishing seasons strongly, inevitably due to players who were injured earlier in the season coming back. I firmly believe that if Arsenal can make it to the turn of the year still in with a chance in the league this could finally be the year they go all the way.