Tottenham wear title look

REMARKABLE VICTORY: Tottenham's (from left) Toby Alderweireld, Harry Kane and Erik Lamela celebrating after their impressive win over Man City at the Etihad.
PHOTO: Reuters

North London rivals Arsenal seem weighed down, while Pochettino's men are fearless

After Sunday's fun and frolics among the top four, there is a real risk of simplifying the narrative in this season's race for the English Premier League title.

Leicester City lost. Arsenal prevailed. Danny Welbeck picked up the fairy-tale baton and the Gunners will take it from here.

Only they won't. Or at least, they probably won't.

The wild results certainly changed the complexion of the title race and the silverware may yet be destined for north London.

But the ribbons on the handles may turn out to be white and blue.

Tottenham and Arsenal both celebrated their dramatic victories, but the reactions of their respective managers perhaps betrayed their mixed emotions.

For Arsene Wenger, the gritted teeth contorted his face, leaving him somewhere between a grin and a grimace. The relief was overwhelming. Arsenal had pulled off a smash and grab inside their own home.

But Mauricio Pochettino joined the celebrations among the travelling fans at Manchester City.

DARE TO DREAM

A conservative, restrained man ordinarily, he was shoulder to shoulder with euphoric supporters.

As the bouncing Spurs faithful locked arms, the message was unequivocal. Hold on. Tottenham are coming.

Later, Pochettino issued a further instruction. Dare to dream. Start thinking the unthinkable. Visualise the first title triumph since 1961.

In those immediate, post-match moments, Wenger and Pochettino conveyed their varying levels of confidence.

A fifth consecutive Premier League victory for Tottenham underlined a degree of consistency beyond the other title challengers (and Spurs recently defeated Leicester City in the FA Cup for good measure).

Both north London clubs managed to overcome strong opposition, but that's where the similarities ended.

Arsenal, playing at home, spent an hour displaying the indecision of a toddler jangling his pocket money in a sweet shop.

Not for the first time, they dominated possession, rather than the penalty box.

The Gunners grew into the contest only when Leicester lost one of their Duracell Bunnies to a red card.

Even then, Welbeck's winner arrived in the 95th minute, when defensive exhaustion had consumed the Foxes.

In some ways, the victory wasn't so much seized as it was given away.

Olivier Giroud remains a handsomely groomed man still in search of a tailored finish. His profligacy doesn't lend itself to Premier League superiority.

Substitutes Theo Walcott and Welbeck essentially played Batman and Robin, coming to the rescue of a dozing striker in distress.

In an era of comic book sequels, it's still asking a lot for the recovering duo to regularly repeat their heroics.

But Spurs have no such concerns.

Harry Kane's penalty was fortunate at Man City, but Spurs engineered their luck, taking the battle to the richest club in world football.

This wasn't just 11 against 11, but 11 youngsters against a gentrified set of superstars with pockets filled with petrodollars.

UNBREAKABLE

Pochettino's drilled, disciplined crew of counter-pressers were never fazed, either by the occasion or the opponents. They haven't been all season.

In times of adversity, Tottenham closely resemble Leicester. The team ethic is impeccable, unbreakable.

But Arsenal can drift. They too often play within themselves. Spurs played out of their skins at the Etihad.

Now the Welbeck hysteria has settled, the circumstances of his goal can be explored. The introduction of a rusty striker revealed Arsenal's desperation.

But Erik Lamela's introduction revealed Tottenham's astonishing midfield depth.

Two minutes after coming on, the Argentinian surged forward before releasing Christian Eriksen to hit a priceless winner.

Unlike Wenger, Pochettino has neatly mixed artistry with elbow grease. Only Arsenal's midfielders can rival Leicester's relentless athleticism. Tottenham are a different matter altogether.

Pochettino's men held Man City's central midfielders Fernando and Fernandinho in a chokehold, with Mousa Dembele, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Eriksen and Son Heung Min all starting, with enough bench options to later introduce goal-maker Lamela, Nacer Chadli and Tom Carroll.

They may not all be as easy on the eye as Arsenal's impish creators, but they are harder on opponents. They kill off contests.

Of course, both clubs will struggle with fixture congestion. While Leicester lick their wounds on a beach for a week, Tottenham take on Crystal Palace in the FA Cup, either side of two Europa Cup ties against Fiorentina.

Arsenal's FA Cup defence continues against Hull City and then there's the small matter of Barcelona in the Champions League.

When Spurs host Swansea in their Premier League return, the Gunners head to Old Trafford, where the hapless hosts should raise their game for their old foes.

And then, a week later, the north London enemies face each other.

Tottenham have momentum, a sturdier midfield, a settled defence and a reliable goal source.

Arsenal have a fine romance in Welbeck.

His glorious return warmed the coldest of hearts. But he won't be enough to win at Tottenham.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 17, 2016.
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