Dubai: It had all the familiar hallmarks of the recent past for Arsenal, hosting North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates Stadium and finding themselves on the back foot almost instantly.
Spurs stunned the raucous home crowd when Christian Eriksen fired home after a lapse from defender David Luiz and then a poor block by goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Familiar, unwelcome hallmarks.
It got worse when Harry Kane doubled the lead from the penalty spot after Arsenal skipper Granit Xhaka hauled down Son Heung-min inside the first 40 minutes.
Familiar, worrying hallmarks that had the home support holding their heads in their hands and thinking: “Here we go again.”.
But then Arsenal did something very unlike the Arsenal we have come to know in past seasons. Even the home fans were expecting their boys in red to fold like they have done so many times before — drop their heads and get on with damage limitation in another costly defeat.
Not this time. Not now that manager Unai Emery has a team that are beginning to look like contenders once more.
The Spaniard has brought in much needed options that allow them to attack through the middle and from both wings — Nicolas Pepe looks like a real prospect. Emery has instilled a fighting spirit and a never-say-die attitude. For all his flaws and a lack of pace, Brazilian veteran defender Luis has the great attribute of raising his fellow teammates, always geeing them on with encouraging shouts from the back.
Arsenal got back up from the setback, dusted themselves down, kept their heads up and struck back just before the break to halve the deficit when Alexandre Lacazette took a wonderful touch to leave the Spurs defence flat-footed and lashed home past a helpless Hugo Lloris. Suddenly they were heading up the tunnel with a spring in their step.
After the interval, Arsenal laid siege to the Spurs goal — Lloris making a string of superb saves before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang set up a thrilling final 20 minutes when he stuck out a foot to get on the end of a wonderful floated long ball from Matteo Guendouzi and level the match.
Arsenal were in the ascendancy, Spurs on the ropes, and for the first time in what feels like an eternity, the tide looks like it is shifting in the Gunners’ favour.
The home side were celebrating what they thought was the winner mere moments after the equaliser when Sokratis Papastathopoulos forced the ball home. However, the home side’s celebrations were cut short as Sead Kolasanic fired in his cross from an offside position. VAR correctly upheld the decision, but caused more consternation by taking an age to analyse what was a blatantly offside delivery.
“We are not happy, but we did a great job. It was a tough game, but we played well,” Aubameyang said. “We maybe deserved more tonight.”
Maybe they did, but they were also fortunate not to concede a late penalty when Kane was bundled over in the box by Sokratis.
With Chelsea and Manchester United dropping more points over the weekend and dropping further behind the two-horse-race duo of Manchester City and Liverpool, a point against your greatest rivals after looking down and out will be all the more welcome for Arsenal when it comes to the crucial top-four endgame in April and May.
Southampton 1, Man United 1
Chelsea 2, Sheffield United 2
Crystal Palace 1, Aston Villa 0
Leicester 3, Bournemouth 1
Man City 4, Brighton 0
Newcastle 1, Watford 1
West Ham 2, Norwich 0
Burnley 0, Liverpool 3
Everton 3, Wolverhampton 2
Arsenal 2, Tottenham 2