Eriksen the creative cog in Spurs side bereft of playmaking talent
Tottenham remain an excellent side, but no escaping fact that team shy of creative talent
Christian Eriksen of Spurs strokes the ball into the net for the first goal during the hotly contested north London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. Photograph: Getty
Bolt the door. Cut the phone line. Gum the Real Madrid email servers with a barrage of online phishing scams. If Daniel Levy really is the master of the dark arts of transfer window brinkmanship, Tottenham Hotspur’s chairman will surely have a few Monday morning plans for Christian Eriksen.
A helicopter trip to the Isle of Jura perhaps, or a long drive through the pine forest wastelands in a lead-lined limousine.
Anything, in fact, to keep the most vital creative cog in this team away from a bar of phone reception before La Liga’s transfer window closes on Monday evening.
With Eriksen moving through the collisions like a breath of cold, clear air Tottenham were an incisive attacking machine for the opening 40 minutes of this game, not to mention a convincing facsimile of the team that found its way to Madrid on the first day of June.
After half-time Arsenal began to find their own rhythms, their three-man midfield taking a grip of the centre. As Eriksen’s influence waned, the home team dominated and should have won this game, instead taking a point from a 2-2 draw that left the white shirts spread across the turf in a frieze of disappointment at the final whistle.
Tottenham looked what they are: an excellent team that remains a little thin when it comes to creative quality, the playmaking duties entirely dependent on the man with the No 23 shirt who drifts with such elegant severity between the lines.
They might have put this game away in the second half as Harry Kane hit the post with the score at 2-1, played into space by the most perfectly weighted little nudge from Eriksen. But Arsenal might also have scored four times in the same period and just looked to have more attacking depth over 90 minutes. As indeed they do: for all the frustrations of some supporters Arsenal have signed three ready-made top-class attackers in the last three seasons. Spurs, arguably, have not signed one since Jürgen Klinsmann.
The Emirates Stadium had been rocking at kick-off on a warm September afternoon. Son Heung-min was excellent in that opening period, as was Eriksen, a constant high-pressure presence, with a beautiful intensity in his passing.
Eriksen even poached the opening goal, helped by a surge and a neat pass from Son; and also by terrible goalkeeping from Bernd Leno, who palmed a soft shot from Érik Lamela into Eriksen’s path in front of goal. His skill in that moment was just to read the play and end up standing in the right place to tap the ball into the net.
Prompted by Eriksen Spurs were finding wide open spaces down the side of the Arsenal centre-backs. With 18 minutes gone there was a moment of mild hysteria as Son hared towards goal and David Luiz simply turned and ran away as fast as he could, like a frontline deserter spooked by the first heavy cavalry charge. Presumably David Luiz was trying to anticipate the run of Kane behind him, a man playing a game of slapstick defensive chess three moves ahead and on a different board.
Eriksen kept finding space. His third shot at goal in that period was a free-kick that Leno again palmed down and which led to the second goal. There are late tackles. There are very late tackles. And then there is Granit Xhaka’s attempted full stretch lunge at Son here, a tackle so late it appeared to have taken place 17 years from now during a chance meeting at a Florida beach resort with both men safely retired, the moment looped back through time via an FA flux capacitor in a bunker at Stockley Park.
Kane spanked the penalty kick hard and low into the corner. At which point Arsenal surged back. Alexandre Lacazette’s fine finish before half-time was reward for their efforts. Nicolas Pépé was bright throughout, with that lovely way of taking the ball on the half turn with either foot. And Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang drifted in to poach a high class close-range equaliser.
As Spurs held on or looked to break, it was Eriksen who turned cleverly and found neat little passes to keep the game just about under control. There was even time for an authentic Moussa Sissoko charging-hoof-over-the-bar right at the end. A point was hard earned and probably deserved. But it is a mark of where Spurs stand, how precarious their momentum, that the season can now start in earnest if they can smuggle their best creative player through the Spanish transfer window’s final spasms.
None of this is new. For four seasons Mauricio Pochettino has propelled this Tottenham team on its way as various parts have fallen off, steering with his knees, fixing the cam-belt with his free hand, mocked occasionally for merely reaching finals and second places rather than actually winning the sport’s biggest domestic trophies. The margins are fine at this level. By late Sunday afternoon Tottenham had a point from this game and at least half of the final 10 months on Eriksen’s contract. They will seize on both with some relief.