Arsenal vs Tottenham: Conclusions from the North London Derby

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Tottenham Hotspur's English defender Eric Dier, second from right, at Emirates Stadium, London, November 6. Spurs and Arsenal left the north London derby with a point apiece. Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty

Arsenal and Tottenham collided in the north London derby on Sunday, both with long unbeaten records on the line.

In a frenetic encounter, high on excitement but low on quality, Harry Kane cancelled out an own goal by Spurs defender Kevin Wimmer in the first half.

Here, Newsweek draws conclusions from the game.

Tottenham's change of formation works, to a point

In a bid to recover lost fluency, and incorporate the return of Harry Kane from injury, Mauricio Pochettino shifted Spurs' formation around, appearing to start with three center backs. Eric Dier, a nominal midfielder, was pulled back alongside Wimmer, deputizing for Toby Alderweireld.

At least in the opening exchanges, the change in tactics worked as Tottenham's full backs, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, could push higher up the pitch, stifling Arsenal for space. Christian Eriksen, the team's creative fulcrum who has been subdued in recent weeks, also appeared to be liberated. On Saturday, Everton manager Ronald Koeman tried a back three, with disastrous effects as his side was pasted 5-0 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Against a more measured Arsenal side, Pochettino's plan worked well — until one of those three defenders, Kevin Wimmer, headed into his own goal with half-time approaching.

Kane's return gives Spurs a lift

Out since September 18 with knee ligament damage, England striker Kane clearly lacked match sharpness. But such is his importance to Spurs that Pochettino brought him straight back into the side for the north London derby.

What Kane offers, even when 75 percent match fit, is a focal point for Tottenham's attacks. Twenty minutes had passed before his worth was shown in front of goal — a Christian Eriksen cross found him free in the Arsenal penalty area, his glancing header flicking agonizingly wide of Petr Cech's' right-hand post. With Kane as its striker, Tottenham is a more dangerous team.

Arsenal plays in fits and starts

Arsene Wenger's side began in an oddly slow manner, jabbing and pawing at Spurs in lieu of throwing any heavy punches. Perhaps that was by design; once it had worked out that Tottenham posed a limited amount of danger — which too around half an hour — Arsenal began to attack with alacrity.

In-form Mesut Ozil suggested the first danger when he failed to connect properly with a sidefoot from the edge of the penalty area; then Theo Walcott rattled the outside of Lloris' post with a thunderous effort on the run. By the time Wimmer headed into his own goal, it felt like Tottenham was waiting to concede.

But from a position of dominance, Arsenal contrived to cede the initiative. Laurent Koscielny made an ill-advised challenge on Moussa Dembele; a clear penalty, though as Howard Webb pointed out in his review of the decision, a soft one. If Arsenal is realistic about its desire to maintain a title challenge, it must play for 90 minutes, rather than in fits and starts.

Draw leaves both teams happy

Perhaps, in a game of this magnitude, the fear of defeat overrides the potential joy of victory. Tottenham came closest to a winner when Eriksen's free kick flew over everyone, beat a flapping Cech, and rebounded off the far post. And Arsenal ended the game the stronger in terms of its general attacking play. But a draw keeps Arsenal unbeaten since the opening day of the season, and Spurs unbeaten in the league through the season so far. More importantly, it allows both managers to save face, maintain reputations, and move on to the next skirmishes.