Tottenham Hotspur’s guarded optimism in the heady early days of the Ange Postecoglou era was always going to be largely measured by whether it survived a visit to Arsenal intact.
Spurs have only won twice away to Arsenal in the Premier League’s three decades, so this is a fixture that is approached with trepidation, even after the expert manner in which the charismatic Postecoglou has navigated the club through the departure of their great goalscoring talisman Harry Kane.
If not quite the acid test of their aspirations under the Australian, everyone connected with Spurs knew this visit into enemy territory would provide the sternest examination so far.
And while they have still not won here in the league since a 3-2 win almost 13 years ago, the reaction of players, manager and supporters at the end of a gripping 2-2 draw confirmed the early impression that, after the entertainment-free zones provided by the loveless reigns of Nuno Espirito Santo, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, Spurs might just be on to something with Postecoglou.
Every analysis of Spurs must be viewed through the prism that this season is still in its infancy, but Spurs showed here that they have taken big strides already under Postecoglou and they were all on show at Emirates Stadium.
Spurs, as was always going to happen, came under stress from an Arsenal side and supporters who always relish this fixture.
Indeed, the game’s big moment arguably came when Arsenal striker Gabriel Jesus robbed James Maddison in the area in the first half with the score 1-0 to the Gunners, only to blaze wildly over the top with the goal at his mercy.
Postecoglou will not be sacrificing his principles, even though that Arsenal chance came from his insistence that Spurs play out from the back on the basis that the risk might reap great rewards.
It almost brought a nightmare for the outstanding Maddison, with Arsenal already ahead through Cristian Romero’s own goal – but better moments lay ahead for a player who looks a perfect fit at Spurs.
With Kane gone, Spurs had to find other avenues of creation to compensate for his cast-iron guarantee of goals and Maddison’s link with Son Heung-min already looks a fruitful route.
Maddison crossed for Son to equalise before half-time then robbed Arsenal substitute Jorginho, on for the injured Declan Rice, to set up the South Korean for another leveller after Bukayo Saka’s penalty, given following the intervention of the Video Assistant Referee on Romero’s handball.
Kane and Son was the perfect partnership for Spurs. Maddison and Son, in a footballing context, have only just been introduced but the early signs are richly promising.
Postecoglou will not be getting carried away, nor should he, but it was easy to see why this Spurs performance brought so much delight to their supporters packed in one corner of Emirates Stadium, sharing a mutual love-in with manager and players after the final whistle.
Spurs did not simply adhere to the attacking principles Postecoglou has made his trademark but they also showed the requisite levels of grit and basic fight when required, commodities that have often been in short supply in recent seasons.
Maddison is a superb addition but great significance must also be attached to how Postecoglou has rejuvenated players such as Yves Bissouma, who had a lost year under Conte following his move from Brighton. He was outstanding in midfield. This is what the good coaches do – they improve players.
The Spurs talent spotters should also take credit, too, for the signing of goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario, a relatively unheralded purchase from Serie A side Empoli for an initial £17.2m as successor to Hugo Lloris.
Guglielmo, the 26-year-old Italian, looks reliable, calm, and produced big saves when required, showing athleticism to save from Jesus in the first half and then when he blocked crucially from Eddie Nketiah after Destiny Udogie’s back-pass sold him short.
For all the talk of attacking progression under Postecoglou, just as much pleasure will be drawn from how Spurs performed when Arsenal pushed for a late winner in a spell which also included 10 minutes of added time.
Spurs not only threw bodies on the line but there was no sense of panic, all bolted on to a willingness to attack when the chance presented itself, Postecoglou throwing his hands in the air in anguish when Richarlison’s shot in the last seconds took a deflection wide.
This was all acknowledged when Postecoglou joined the Spurs players in front of visiting fans, a low-key clenched fist, a quiet smile and applause reflecting his satisfaction. The deafening response revealed which set of fans were happier with this outcome.
Postecoglou is still finding his way at Spurs but everything about this performance – apart from the fact it did not end in a win – suggests he knows the right direction for a club that had lost its way.