Performance wise, Tottenham were much improved from the second-half capitulation against Chelsea, as well as the lethargic Europa League loss to Benfica on Thursday (not to mention their previous North London derby losses this season).
The result was not to the White Hart Lane faithful's liking, however. Tomas Rosicky's second-minute goal handed Arsenal a 1-0 win, which means a lot needs to go the fifth-place Spurs' way for them to finish in the top four this season.
The defining theme of their 2013-14 campaign was confirmed here. Spurs are better than most in the Premier League. Unfortunately, they are some way short of the four teams that sit above them in the table.
Convoluted as the reasons for that inferiority are, in its simplest terms, it can be boiled down to a couple of main on-field factors over the course of the year: an absent cutting edge in front of goal and avoidable, often silly, defensive mistakes.
The Gunners' winner was not as wretched a goal to concede as some that went past Hugo Lloris in the preceding seven days. It was stoppable, though, and the timing ultimately costly.
Are Tottenham's chances of qualifying for next season's Champions League over now?
Christian Eriksen either ignored or missed Danny Rose's run down the left flank. Instead, he looked inside to a more crowded area and Spurs were swiftly dispossessed.
Arsenal hit on the counter-attack, working their way into the space left by Rose's foray forward. (The left-back hardly busted a gut to get back either.) Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain combined, and when the latter appeared to have blown it, the Czech Republic international was on hand to fire a screamer past Jan Vertonghen's attempted block and the desperate dive of Lloris.
Down the other end, Spurs play entering the final third was as efficient and imaginative as it had been since the Europa League win against Dnipro. Compared to the six shots mustered each against Chelsea and Benfica, the 17 launched at Sunday's opponents was a testament to a better attacking showing. Still, that only two were on target says something about the absent quality here.
The job done by Arsenal's defence—particularly centre-back pair Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker—in stopping Spurs should not be underplayed. They were resolute throughout, with the following statistic demonstrating the effectiveness of their work:
Arsenal made 66 clearances today against Spurs, the most they've made in a Premier League game this season. pic.twitter.com/JA1tnn3uOj— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 16, 2014
Some notably bright performances at both ends at least gives manager Tim Sherwood something to work with as his side seek to conclude the campaign positively.
Thursday night's somnambulist, stand-in skipper Younes Kaboul, was wide awake here, and his performance the better for it. As tallied by Squawka, he won four of his six headed duels, and he cleared tidily and promptly.
After Lukas Podolski brushed him aside in one first-half tussle, the Frenchman was wise and alert to stop the German next time he threatened to break behind Kyle Naughton 10 minutes after the interval.
The right-back has been one of Spurs' better defensive performers of late, and he was so here. At various points throughout the game, he stopped Kieran Gibbs, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla all from cutting in from their left.
Since his timid showing against Norwich City, Naughton has been more aggressive going forward too. Only two of his seven crosses reached their target, but his deliveries were chief among Spurs' better ones.
Sherwood brought Nacer Chadli and Andros Townsend into his team, and both responded well, with the latter looking his best since late autumn.
With Chadli operating predominantly centrally and Townsend wide right, Arsenal struggled to keep tabs on the pair's incisive and purposeful dribbling in the middle third. Chadli had Spurs' best chance too, pouncing on Wojciech Szczesny's dropped ball but then fired straight at Koscielny after he tried to deceive a clearer opening.
Closing in on goal, the statistics do not reflect kindly on Townsend either, but this was again partly testament to good defending in stopping his crosses. His greater decisiveness fashioning crossing opportunities is something he can work on, though.
A little refinement from the England winger and Chadli in this department would go a long way for Spurs. But their endeavour—along with that of the similarly urgent Emmanuel Adebayor—invigorated an attack that looked limp of late.
Following Sherwood's widely reported disgust at his team last week, the Tottenham boss was rightly pleased with the improvement back at the Lane:
Tim: "We didn’t deserve to lose. I can’t fault the lads’ effort, they were fantastic and the fans were magnificent." pic.twitter.com/wQ03Kmrv5U— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) March 16, 2014
Yet, as Sherwood also noted on his club's official Twitter page, "Unfortunately, we couldn't get that breakthrough."
That, in essence, is the story of Spurs season, and that's why—despite there being some reason for encouragement in the manager's mind—they will likely not be playing in the Champions League next season.