What we learnt from the North London derby

Emery was tactically spot on against Spurs last Saturday (Agency Photo)

1-Sissoko most improved player: Don’t know of any English Premier League player who has improved as much as Tottenham Hotspur’s Moussa Sissoko.

The Frenchman is finally showing why Spurs forked out £30+ to sign him from Newcastle United.

Sissoko’s poise, strength, ability to beat opponents and recovery pace in central midfield – a position new to him; is the principal reason Mauricio Pocket Gino’s side having sustained an unlikely title challenge for so long.

On Saturday night, he was by a country mile Spurs’ best player at both ends of the pitch while simultaneously preventing a porous midfield from being overrun.

2- Spurs running on empty: Saturday’s one-all draw with Arsenal is the first time in three years Tottenham Hotspur will feel they are lucky to sneak a home point against their neighbours.

Just like in the losses to Burnley and Chelsea, Spurs’ display was flat without being abject. This can be attributed to a narrow squad occasioned by lack of transfer activity.

If the club is to avoid waiting ten years for the Premier League title as Pochettino suggests, chairman David Levy ought to use funds freed from moving to the new White Hart Lane to buy some quality. Remember Liverpool and Manchester City have splashed +£200m in the last two seasons.

3- Emery topped tactical battle: For the umpteenth time this season, Unai Emery showed he is a manager who does his homework on opposition teams and thinks on his feet during games.

Didn’t think I would ever see Arsenal out duel title rivals in a physical confrontation. It just hadn’t happened since the class in 2002-6 when Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva and Manu Petit ensured they always had a physical edge over EPL opposition.

Last Saturday, Emery achieved that by deploying Skhordhan Mustafi at right back and Aaron Ramsey in a free role usually occupied by Mesut Ozil. I must say the team selection worked a treat as Emery proved how he won three Europa League titles.

4- Danny Rose no holding midfielder: As Pochettino juggled around his team to try to cope with Arsenal’s single minded approach (even Henrikh Mkhtarayan was out running and out muscling Spurs rivals), one of his curious moves was to deploy Rose in defensive midfield.

The England left back was quite a sight. In a five minute spell towards the dying embers of the game, he thrice lost possession while trying to navigate small spaces in midfield.

Ordinarily, a team chasing the game with a 3-5-2 formation should have one of it’s central defenders slot into midfield. In Spurs’ case, it’s usually Eric Dier. Danny Rose in defensive midfield is simply a no, no.

5- Third and fourth place up for grabs: Manchester United’s imperious form over the last two months which has brought 38 out of the last 42 available points has thrown the race for two of the four Champions League positions available to EPL teams wide open.

We’ve spent the last two months saying the first three positions have been sewn up by Liverpool, Manchester City and Spurs. Not anymore. If Chelsea successfully negotiate past manager-less Fulham in today’s West London derby and win their game in hand, four teams will be separated by just four points.

Spurs’ precarious hold on third place is complicated by the fact they are yet to make trips to Anfield and Etihad Stadium.

Footnote – United fans must accord Lukaku respect: From where I watch my football, Manchester United’s £75m striker, Romelu Bolingho Lukaku, is the favourite bogey for fans whenever things aren’t going well.

In one game, I spent over 15 minutes (entire half time) trying to list Lukaku’s merits to a fan who was adamant the giant Belgian forward isn’t United’s quality.

On Saturday, Bolingho’s brace against Southampton took him to 113 goals and into all time top twenty EPL net busters. And he’s only 25.

If he avoids injuries, he should reach 200 goals before his thirtieth birthday. Where in the world can you find another striker of similar ilk? It’s about time United fans started according Lukaku the respect he deserves.



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