Arsenal fans have been waiting for the sign. They have been waiting for that performance which would give them belief – and not just hope – that they would begin to move step-by-step back towards the summit.
How close they came.
Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was bad technique. Whatever it was, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang’s last-minute penalty miss was decisive in denying the Gunners three points in what felt like a landmark performance.
He has had to watch from the sidelines in recent weeks as Alexandre Lacazette took the goals and the plaudits. But when the Frenchman missed one good chance just before the hour mark and was called ashore, Aubameyang would be given his shot at redemption.
When it came – alas - he couldn’t take it. It was one failed moment in an otherwise massive showing from Arsenal.
These last few weeks have been positive – with wins against Huddersfield, Southampton and Bournemouth in the Premier League – but it was always going to take a result here to truly make an impact.
Putting away the small-fry – especially at home – is one thing. Going away from home against another member of the top six another thing altogether.
If everyone had done their job properly here then Arsenal would have got the win they deserved. Most of them in red did just that – and green in the case of Bernd Leno. Aubameyang might be the only one who feels he let the side down.
But Arsenal ought not to have needed that penalty to obtain the three points in the first place.
It would be harsh to single out the referee Anthony Taylor and his assistants for blame after a game like this and so the Harry Kane offside in the lead-up to the Spurs equaliser should be marked down as another reason why VAR can’t come quickly enough.
Because how else can you explain why Arsenal didn’t pick up three points?
Arsenal have largely been rotten away from home in the Premier League – for the best part of two seasons now. Their win last month on the road against Huddersfield was the first one they got since beating Bournemouth in November.
And trips to Stamford Bridge, to Anfield, to the Etihad have been in vain. Their only other point against top-six opposition this season came during the dog days of Jose Mourinho’s reign at Manchester United.
But here we saw something different, something very different to the Arsenal we have come to expect in games like this.
First of all there was a coherent game plan which Arsenal were disciplined enough to stick to. They won’t cede the ball against many teams in the league but doing so against a Spurs side so incapable of making good chances from open play these days ultimately proved the right thing to do.
With Dele Alli out and Harry Kane rusty it made sense. And where you might expect an overzealous tackle in midfield or a defensive lapse, there was only solidity and concentration instead.
That tackle would eventually come when the win was beyond them with Lucas Torreira seeing red for an horrendous challenge on Danny Rose in injury time. It was inexcusable and probably symptomatic of how Arsenal were feeling at that stage.
It’s interesting to note that Aubameyang and Torreira both started in midweek but were dropped here. Emery is often criticised by fans for his befuddling array of formations, systems and lineups. Perhaps being in and out of the team – and trying so hard to compensate – is having an effect on the players too.
Whatever the case, to be so close and come so far must be galling.
By playing Tottenham on the break they got their goal and – ultimately – their penalty. When they needed saves from Leno they got them. This will look on the league table like an opportunity lost. They had the chance to move to within a point of Spurs but those two dropped points notwithstanding they have served notice.
They are coming into form as Spurs are dropping out of it. Spurs have been the better side in North London in recent times but their paths are crossing again.
That they needed a last-minute penalty save – plus a miracle clearance from Jan Vertonghen at the death – speaks volumes about how close Arsenal came.
Spurs live to fight another day and they deserve immense credit for digging in and avoiding a third loss in succession. They lived on their wits at times and currently do not present the same kind of free-flowing, cohesive unit we have come to expect.
Arsenal might feel hard done by but there is certainly more to come.