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Mauricio Pochettino will be hoping to get his Tottenham back now
Tottenham drew 2-2 away to rivals Arsenal on Super Sunday
Last Updated: 02/09/19 7:40am
After a 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino again pointed to what an unsettling time it has been for his squad. Spurs have not been themselves but the closing of the transfer window could change that, writes Adam Bate.
Tottenham did not find the win they were looking for against Arsenal on Sunday, surrendering a two-goal lead against their rivals, but maybe Mauricio Pochettino found something else that he had been waiting for instead as he reintroduced his best players to the team. His relief that the European transfer window is coming to a close is palpable.
Spurs endured a scare against Aston Villa on the opening weekend, were fortunate to escape with a draw at Manchester City, and contrived to do what nobody else has managed to do this season and lose to Newcastle. Christian Eriksen was left out for both of the home games. Jan Vertonghen missed the lot. The uncertainty was affecting team selection.
"Maybe this season they are not having that chemistry," Jose Mourinho, in the studio for Sky Sports, had wondered beforehand. "Maybe some of the boys want something different." Maybe so. But after a fraught start to the season, the good news for Tottenham is that with the window closing on Monday, Pochettino sounds ready to draw a line under it.
"I am so optimistic that we have the quality to build again because in our three previous games this season we did not show our quality," the Tottenham manager acknowledged in his post-match press conference at the Emirates Stadium. "We need that togetherness. The team wasn't settled and I told you from day one of pre-season that I wasn't happy.
"The most important thing is to all be on the same page and that the players have a clear idea of how we need to move. Clear minds, like Christian today and different players. Tomorrow they are going to be only focused 100 per cent on Tottenham and not thinking different things that make management so difficult."
It was Eriksen who opened the scoring against Arsenal and for the Spurs supporters who had begun to downplay his importance to this team after a dip in form last season, the first four games of the current campaign have surely forced a reassessment. The lack of penetration in the team's play when he is absent is clear for all to see.
Eriksen's influence is obvious
Despite being omitted from the starting line-up for the two games in which Spurs started as heavy favourites, and therefore playing most of his minutes in the matches where his side were underdogs with the bookmakers, Eriksen's stats tell the tale. He has already had the most shots on target and created the most chances of any Tottenham player.
The Dane forced three saves from Bernd Leno on Sunday but it is the penetrative passing that Pochettino will welcome most. That had been sorely lacking in the opening three games. Everything was too safe and too sideways. Spurs played less than a quarter of their passes forwards in those matches - the lowest proportion of any Premier League team.
In contrast, Eriksen has played the most passes into the opposition penalty box this season. He is prepared to try to make things happen and has the quality to do so. Giovani Lo Celso is a player with similar creative talents in the final third so the prospect of them both being fit and available - in body, mind and spirit - could transform Tottenham again.
Heung-Min Son offered a reminder of his brilliance too. Pochettino had bemoaned the fact that his side committed the sin of conceding the first goal in both home games so far and this made it even more difficult to find space behind a deep defence. That impacted Son's effectiveness against Newcastle but with room to run into against Arsenal he was a threat.
"Son makes such a difference," said Gary Neville, on co-commentary for Sky Sports, and he wasn't just referring to the player's role in the game's opening goal. Son's pace opens up space for Harry Kane and gives Eriksen an outlet for his passing. He had spent barely half an hour on the pitch with Eriksen prior to the Arsenal game. Reuniting them will help a lot.
What's happened to the defence?
Of course, although the completion of Son's suspension coupled with Dele Alli's return from injury might go some way to solving Spurs' problems going forwards, there are clearly issues at the other end of the pitch too. If Pochettino is going to get this Tottenham team back to their best then he must address the defensive sloppiness that was so evident on Sunday.
It is not a new problem either. Spurs won only three of their final 12 Premier League games of last season - and they were the only three games in which they kept a clean sheet. It's a departure from the norm. In Pochettino's second and third seasons with the club, no team in the Premier League had a better defensive record. Are standards slipping?
The underlying numbers suggest there is an issue. It's not just that only Aston Villa have faced more shots this season - those numbers are skewed by having to travel to City and Arsenal in their four games so far. It's the fact that Spurs are facing more shots on target per game in 2019 than in any previous year of Pochettino's reign. Something is going wrong.
Against Arsenal, the decision to play Davinson Sanchez at right-back did not go particularly well despite the manager's insistence afterwards that he was happy enough with his efforts. That could be an area of weaknesses this season as many were anticipating an upgrade on Kieran Trippier rather than an attempt to find the solution within the Spurs squad.
But the best way to provide greater protection for goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is for Tottenham to show that they can press as a team again. There has not been enough of that from them lately - that feverish desire to win back the ball that set Spurs apart from so many other Premier League teams. It is the football that earned Pochettino his reputation, after all.
An international break and a transfer market closing will not solve all the deficiencies in the squad but perhaps those perceived flaws have not been the biggest factor in their dip. In the spring, it was the distraction of the Champions League. In the summer, it was the distraction of the transfer window. Clarity is here now. Pochettino is hoping his Spurs return with it.