Arsenal lost this derby but Arsène Wenger may point to signs of progress offered up by his side even in defeat. Certainly, there was encouragement to be had here from the displays mustered by his midfield, an area of the pitch the visitors dominated for long periods. The Frenchman could even cling to flashes of newfound defensive sureness, which bodes well for the future even if it did not glean his team even a point.
Playing a higher line at the back, with Per Mertesacker close to Alex Song to deny Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor space to exploit, Arsenal's defending seemed to be keeping Spurs at bay. Bacary Sagna pushed up as tight as possible on Gareth Bale when he could and Kieran Gibbs taxed Rafael van der Vaart's energy levels down the left, meaning the visitors held sway. The full-backs' contribution owed much to the introduction of the tidy Francis Coquelin at the base of Arsenal's midfield, with the youngster not only operating as an effective shield for his backline but, more importantly, offering Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta the chance to challenge Scott Parker and Luka Modric closely and prevent them supplying ball out wide.
In this period Arsenal were bright and spirited, even relatively comfortable, in a game that was supposed to have left them prone and exposed. Modric, cramped for space and outnumbered in the middle, was unable to conduct Spurs' rhythm. Van der Vaart may have scored against the run of play just before the break but the visitors – the personnel across their backline completely rejigged from those who had surrendered so meekly in losing 8-2 at Manchester United – reimposed themselves after the interval and deserved their equaliser. Coquelin, collecting and distributing neatly, ensured the numerical advantage in the centre rather nullified the home side's threat.
Indeed, while Mertesacker organised the group, recent calls for the appointment of a defensive coach felt redundant. There was even a change in marking at corner kicks, with responsibilities placed more on individual players' shoulders to pick up their man. Gibbs and Coquelin offered security covering the posts, with Robin van Persie acting as a shield at the front of the six-yard box, and Wojciech Szczesny was afforded some level of comfort coming for crosses knowing he benefited from insurance behind him. The situation demanded a reaction from Harry Redknapp.
He had initially asked Van der Vaart to move more centrally in a bid to counter Arsenal's numerical advantage but he eventually hauled off the Dutchman and put on Sandro, who ensured the last quarter featured a three‑versus‑three contest in the centre, allowing Modric and Parker chances to spread the play wide to Bale and Defoe and giving Spurs more ammunition to race forward. Sagna's injury did not help Arsenal's cause, providing Bale with a pressure point to exploit down the flank. But until the numbers were evened up in the middle, Tottenham appeared unlikely to claim this contest. Wenger, after his team's recent traumas, must cling to that fact as a sign of progress.