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Spurs and Arsenal begin European sojourn with vital points

EURO STARS: Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino with Harry Kane (left)

ARE THE north London footballing power plate tectonics shifting away from the Emirates stadium ? Both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur put their Premier League campaigns on hold in the week to start their respective European campaigns and both were in new environs.

After a two decade inclusion in the Champions League, the Gunners made their Europa League bow on Thursday night against FC Koln for their first participation in this competition since 2000, while twenty four hours earlier, Spurs managed to put their Wembley hoodo aside while they swept away Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.

Key to the Spurs fortunes once again on all fronts this season will be Harry Kane, and he didn’t disappoint on the big night, bagging a brace after Heung-Min Son’s opener had been canceled out by Andriy Yarmolenko’s stunner from range. Spurs however had spotted a defensive weakness in the Bundesliga side and their attacking of Dortmund right back Lukasz Piszczek would bring them further reward as both Son and Kane would testify. That crucial element in any good run, luck was also on Spurs side when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang brilliantly clipped in for what would have been a 2-2 scoreline. However he was ruled offside. Replays showed that Aubameyang was onside whilst it was his other non-interfering team-mates whose positioning wrongly alerted the linesman.

Mauricio Pochettino won’t have minded one bit however as his side got off the the best possible Champions League group H start. His staying at Spurs and the future of Kane are pivotal to the Lillywhites’ fortunes and judging by the new found Wembley confidence, Spurs look to be on course to making the home of English football the fortress which they had created at White Hart Lane.

"It was so important to start well in a tough game. Dortmund played really well, they dominated the first half. We increased our level in the second half and we were very clinical in front of goal,” said Pochettino.

So to Thursday and also in their own Group H, the Gunners were in Europa League action against another Bundesliga side, as FC Koln came calling. Koln have been absent from European completion for a little over the time in which Arsenal have been in Champions League football, and none of their fans wanted to miss the historic occasion. The atmosphere inside the Emirates stadium was electric.

The official 2,900 allocation to Koln was massively breached when it appeared that the away supporters had entered en masse into the stadium, and close to the reported 20,000 of their travelling contingent had now actually made their way into the ground. Amid security concerns and safety issues, kick off was delayed by an hour, and then the on field fireworks started.

Arsene Wenger made nine changes from the side which beat Bournemouth, only Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin were included. Significantly however, Alexis Sanchez did start and Wenger’s avowed determination to keep his Chile striker will be key not only in January’s transfer window, but beyond.

That in turn depends on how successful Arsenal can be this season. Going an early goal down to Jhon Coroba’s stunning strike after David Ospina failed to effectively clear his lines will not have added to the mood of Sanchez or the Emirates’ faithful. Koln supporters on the other hand were in dreamland. Leading 1-0 at the break, Wenger brought on Sead Kolasinac for Rob Holding, and the Bosnian responded with a stunner of his own four minutes after coming on. Alexis was in the mood and how he ran along the Koln 18 yard line before firing in past Timo Horn says everything of the genius that is Sanchez. Bellerin added to the Gunners’ tally for a 3-1 win which given the early crowd issues, Wenger felt that a postponement appeared to be the likely outcome.

"I thought they would never take a gamble to play this game when I saw the images,” said Wenger. Five people were arrested on public order offences.

On the win, Wenger praised Sanchez whilst re-iterating that his team selection was the one which he felt was right to face Koln. "I think Sanchez is still running after his best form. He is a fantastic football player but physically he has just come back. But he has it in his locker to do something special, which he did.

"We want to do well in all the best competitions and I had an experienced team today, even though I made nine changes. They are all top-class players. There is no hierarchy in the squad."

So both north London sides enjoyed victories on their respective European stages, and while Spurs may be attempting to emerge from the shadows of their great north London rivals, to effectively achieve that, Kane and Pochettino will have to deliver silverware to back up their quality football. Wenger and Arsenal will have other ideas, the first of which will be to keep hold of their talisman Sanchez.

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