It makes sense that taking a figure who is calm personified out of any football team would cause an adverse reaction.
Without Christian Eriksen, Tottenham Hotspur have had an agitated start to the season; a win against newly-promoted Aston Villa, a fortunate draw with Manchester City, a surprise home defeat to Newcastle. They have had an agitated manager, Mauricio Pochettino, who has grown increasingly frustrated at fielding questions about Eriksen’s future, and whether the Dane would move to a bigger club before the European transfer window closes tonight.
With the north London derby beckoning, Pochettino needed an antidote to the storm. He needed Christian Eriksen. And he got the reaction he wanted.
Taking a back seat
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Pochettino has deployed a strange strategy in dealing with the impasse caused by his midfielder indicating he was interested in a move away after six years at Spurs. Pochettino did not ostracise Eriksen, as he has treated uncommitted players in the past, but made a point nonetheless, forcing one of his leading players to spend much of the season on the bench and asking him to salvage games.
But with the early season beginning to creak, only three months on from losing the Champions League final, Pochettino tried to instil some calm. He called for Eriksen.
Who else, then, but Eriksen to score the opening goal, completely against the run of the game’s first 10 minutes? David Luiz could have done with a touch of Eriksen as he ran towards Heung-min Son, allowing the South Korean to bypass him with a simple pass and thus affording Erik Lamela the space for the awkward shot, which Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno spilled. Eriksen had the hunger to reach the rebound, and the celebration was far from a sulky act of a player who does not expect to be playing with these team-mates until at least January.
What calmness he brought again, in the 18th minute, when Spurs were still pinned back. From virtually left-back, Eriksen sent the ball, left-footed, to Son on halfway, who used decoy runs as he burst up the pitch and produced a shot towards the far right of Leno’s goal that the German tipped around the post.
And it was Eriksen calmly slipping free of markers inside Arsenal’s penalty area, who provided the target for Son’s pass, when the forward nipped the ball towards his team-mate before Granit Xhaka caught him late for the penalty, which Harry Kane converted.
Teammates in turmoil
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Eriksen was thriving in that unique kind of madness of a north London derby in a stadium full of hundreds of grown men waving imaginary cards at the referee after every foul from a player in a white shirt, with Davinson Sanchez playing as right-back.
Perhaps the decision to start Eriksen was in part subconsciously counteracting the decision and necessity to play Sanchez there, with extra calm needed to balance out the out-of-position Colombian’s chaos. The defender, prone enough to erratic decisions as a centre-back, booted the ball out of play with only his second touch, and was roasted several times by whichever Arsenal forward – Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pépé rotating in a front three – wanted to have a turn. Then, in the second half with Spurs under endless pressure, Sanchez was dribbling out of his own penalty area and giving the ball straight to Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Spurs needed calm in a game fast slipping from their control, and there was Eriksen, when a mob of players from either side confronted each other with five minutes remaining, strolling over to the edge of the pack, imploring them all to calm down and get on with it. And then, as the group broke up but set off again, Eriksen jogged over to retrieve the ball down pitch, to remind them once more that the score was still level.
There he was, in the final minute, juggling the ball with chest and head. There he was, making late full-pitch sprints again and again as Spurs counterattacked against tiring opponents, creating space for his team-mates, or for the final pass not to reach him.
If Spurs can keep Eriksen and carry on, they have a promising season ahead.