Despite losing at White Hart Lane on Saturday the Gunners can benefit from an easing injury crisis and a more favourable set of fixtures in the run-in.
The only thing more remarkable than Harry Kane adorning a fairytale season with two decisive goals against Arsenal on Saturday was Arsene Wenger’s post-match admission that his side had been “dominated” by Tottenham in midfield.
In truth, to argue anything else would have been delusion. Spurs enjoyed 56 per cent possession over the 90 minutes and unleashed 23 shots at their bitter rivals who, perhaps too enamoured by the discipline that yielded a stunning away win over Manchester City earlier this month, simply sat back and waited for the fightback to arrive after Mesut Ozil’s classy first-half opener.
Three deserved points saw Tottenham leapfrog Arsenal in fourth with 14 Premier League matches to go, but Wenger would not allow his candour to be mistaken for defeatism in the race for Champions League qualification. “It’s time to recover from that disappointment and prepare for the next game now,” the Frenchman said. “It will be a battle until the end. It has been every year with Spurs.”
It is also a battle that, despite Saturday’s evidence at White Hart Lane, Wenger will be confident of winning. He has never finished outside the Premier League’s top four and never finished below Tottenham in 18 seasons with the Gunners, even if recent tussles between the clubs have been closer than most.
Twice in the past three campaigns Arsenal have trailed Spurs with 24 Premier League games played, and on each occasion Wenger’s men have clicked through the gears in the home stretch.
In 2011-12 they rattled off seven wins from eight matches between late February and mid-April to seize third and leave Harry Redknapp’s faltering men vulnerable to Chelsea’s miraculous Champions League triumph in Munich, which meant they failed to qualify despite finishing fourth. The following season they followed defeat at White Hart Lane with eight wins and two draws from their final 10 matches to overturn a four-point deficit and clinch fourth on the final day.
On both occasions Tottenham were complicit in their own demise, and there is cause to suggest Mauricio Pochettino’s current crop are made of sterner stuff. No team has won more points from losing positions (15) or points with goals in the final five minutes (12) this season. Christian Eriksen is maturing into one of the Premier League’s most consistent match-winners and Kane is operating at a level few other strikers in the world can currently match.
Yet Arsenal remain within striking distance despite weathering a trademark winter injury crisis that slowly appears to be easing. Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott are fit and firing in attack again, Francis Coquelin is showing tentative signs of being a viable solution to Wenger’s long-standing problem at the base of midfield, while January signing Gabriel Paulista is a long-overdue quality alternative to the settled defensive partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.
Most importantly, Wenger will imminently be able to field Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in the same team. The German’s injury problems have ensured Arsenal’s two most expensive signings ever have played over an hour together just four times since the livewire Chilean arrived from Barcelona in the summer. That sample size is too small to reliably inform how both these supreme talents will be incorporated into the Gunners’ frighteningly creative attack.
Ozil has hit the ground running since his return, scoring in three successive matches for the first time in his career, while Alexis has shone with his tireless work-rate and keen eye for goal. On paper the skill sets of the two men complement each other perfectly.
On the pitch they should have ample opportunity to improve their chemistry. Eight of Arsenal’s final 14 matches are at home and, while Chelsea and Liverpool still have to come to the Emirates Stadium, Newcastle and Manchester United are the only obviously daunting away trips left.