Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may have squandered the chance for Arsenal to go within one point of Tottenham, but Arsenal fans can take heart from the performance nonetheless.
Numerous decisions went against Arsenal on Saturday and Spurs will know they had more than a share of good fortune to escape with the 1-1 draw, but alas this is the nature of the game without VAR.
Yet this game, away from home against arch-rivals, perhaps epitomises the positive changes being made by Unai Emery to rebuild Arsenal better than any other. For so long under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal would turn up to a big fixture with a predictable XI, a predictably gung-ho game plan and a predictable chastening defeat.
Yet against Spurs, Arsenal were noticeably changed. Emery and his team had clearly analysed that Spurs could be pedestrian and toothless going forward against a packed defence, and knew that they could be vulnerable caught on the break.
Arsenal were deep, structured and narrow as a defensive unit, giving Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier space out wide, but isolating the dangerous Harry Kane in the middle.
Indeed, despite having 60% possession and territorial dominance, Spurs were for the most part enjoying sterile domination and it was Arsenal on the counter who created more.
The defensive work of Aaron Ramsey and Alex Lacazette were crucial in constricting Spurs’ creative midfielders in the first half, and their lung-busting breaks justified the surprising omission of Aubameyang in the starting line-up.
But that too was all part of Emery’s plan. Aubameyang seemingly knew he would start against Bournemouth while Lacazette was rested and would then come on fresh, able to exploit the tiring Spurs defence. The plan worked. The execution didn’t.
Football is a results business, and Arsenal didn’t get the result they should have. But that happens. What’s far more encouraging is the set-up and planning that shows Arsenal won’t be so easily rolled over anymore.