Tottenham 2 Arsenal 2: Another opportunity missed as Mauricio Pochettino’s men begin to look tired

Spurs must raise their level again if season’s promise is to be fulfilled

If Tottenham Hotspur had beaten West Ham United on Wednesday and Arsenal on Saturday they would now be top of the Premier League table. They did not, and now those five dropped points make up a five-point gap to Leicester City.

For Spurs to win the title from here they need to be close to perfect in their run-in, which still includes games against Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea. They also have two Europa League games against Borussia Dortmund to think about, the first of which is in Germany this Thursday. Win those, and they will have a two-legged quarter-final to prepare for as well.

Mauricio Pochettino has built a formidable team at Tottenham but for their season to end in glory, rather than just very admirable success, they will need to hit another level in the next few weeks. Against Arsenal on Saturday, the biggest game of their season, they gave everything they had but it was not quite enough.

“We all know it was an opportunity missed,” striker Harry Kane admitted after the 2-2 draw. “We are all slightly disappointed, you could see that. I don’t think the manager had to say anything. Everyone watching it could see that we should have won the game. But you have to learn and move on.”

The specific lesson Kane pointed to was the failure of Spurs to see out victory after going 2-1 up in the second half. “We should have then gone on to get a third and fourth, and finish the game off,” Kane said. “We dropped off a little bit too much, gave them space to play and got punished for it. It’s a lesson we have to learn.”

Spurs, ultimately, could not maintain their intensity over the whole 90 minutes. Understandably so, given that this was their 42nd match of a draining season. Pochettino has cleverly rotated some players, particularly his full-backs and creative wide men, but there were moments towards the end on Saturday when the spine of his team – Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Kane – started to look tired.

Alli played through minor ankle and knee problems and, despite a clever assist for Kane’s brilliant goal, did not look at his irrepressible best. Pochettino defended Alli afterwards, saying he played with “energy and character”, but admitted that, like many of his youngsters, he will have to be managed carefully through the final stretch.

“I don’t know about Dele lacking energy,” Pochettino said. “Maybe we expect him to run more than 14 kilometres every game. He is an incredible athlete, yes, but he is not a machine. The players are not machines.”

The whole Pochettino plan is built on careful measurement of his players’ workloads and energy levels, which will be tested to the limit as he tries to squeeze the most out of them in the next two months. Alli, who is suspended for Thursday’s trip to the Westfalenstadion, is not the only one who may not be able to play every game.

“We have a lot of players who are young and in their first or second season in the Premier League,” Pochettino said. “It is very tough, and we spend a lot of time analysing and to find information to give the best training sessions or recovery, to find the best way to help them.

“We have different plans for different players. We analyse the minutes they play, and how they are. The effort from the staff is fantastic. Every player has their own plan now. 

“This is a period we have to look after people in a different way, because people have different bodies, different fitness levels and different minutes during the season. It is important to manage in an individual way.”

Of course, not many teams could summon as much intensity as Spurs played with on Saturday. The Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker said he had “never played in such a demanding game physically” and that the first 15 minutes were “absolutely amazing”. Spurs were briefly 1-0 down, and the point they rescued was their 18th this season when coming from behind, seven more even than Leicester.

“We don’t stop fighting until the final whistle,” Alli said. “We’ve got great fitness, and a lot of credit goes to the sports fitness coaches.” But will it be enough?

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