Spurs 2-1 Arsenal (Son Heung-Min 19, Alderweireld 81 – Lacazette 16).
The empty stadium seemed to have more impact on Arsenal than Spurs in this average North London Derby. Arsenal did three things extremely badly, they couldn’t keep possession, they couldn’t defend and they couldn’t exert enough pressure on a desperately poor, but functional Spurs side.
The Gunners spluttered and coughed as they tried to get going, but Spurs had better periods for more time in the game. More committed, more determined, and more aggressive, they managed to squeeze the life out of the contest by meticulously blocking all routes to goal.
It was a typical performance from a Mourinho side that once played expansive football under Pochettino but these days, they tend to score and shut the door by defending deep. That sounds like sour grapes but if you cast your mind back 18 months ago, they contested the Champions League against Liverpool, since then, it’s gone horribly wrong.
They are hardly recognisable from that season but having said that, they were still too good for a frustrating Arsenal. Quite how anyone could play on a pitch that cast a shadow that resembled a giant trellis down one side of the pitch is beyond me. I never liked attacking from shade to light or vice versa but that’s just an observation, not an excuse.
Arsenal came out of the traps slowly at White Hart Lane and within 10 minutes, the hosts could have been 2-0 up, with efforts from Moura and Kane. Martinez looked as if he was in for a busy evening, something he’s growing accustomed to.
Both sides were guilty of poor passing but the Gunners were worse. Arsenal could barely get over the halfway line despite all the attacking options at Arteta’s disposal and they seemed strangely blunt.
Against the run of play, up popped Lacazette (16) on the left side of the pitch just outside the box. He cut in and unleashed a savage shot that flew like it had been fired out of a cannon (pun intended). Everything looked good with the world but the Arsenal back three that had been so good in recent games, had a collective ‘mare’ is probably the most important fan fixture.
Kolasinac sold Luiz short with a stray pass that left the Brazilian in a sprint off with Son Heung-min, one which he could never win. The Spurs player went left and slotted past a sprawling Martinez (19) and Luiz cast a long glance at his Bosnian colleague.
Kolasinac knew only too well that he had squandered Arsenal’s 12th lead of the season which leaves them second in the list only to Bournemouth. Yes, Bournemouth! Well at least, they’re in the top five of that table.
Anyway, 31 minutes gone and Arsenal put together their best move with Ceballos slicing Spurs apart with a direct and divine through ball to Pepe, who’s shot was curling just wide of the post. Aubameyang was strangely quiet with hardly a sniff at goal and early on, I had to check he was on the pitch.
He was but Arsenal were hardly giving him fine dining, he was reduced to inedible scraps and scarce pickings, but one hoped that he’d get that one chance at a crucial moment. 39 minutes in and Pepe tempted a tackle which gave Aubameyang the chance to score but it winged its way wide. 41 minutes and Pepe received the ball in the box, he turned and took a shot straight down the throat of Hugo Lloris.
It was noticeable that both Bellerin and Tierney were squeezed whenever they got the ball and were starved of their usual space and as a result, they couldn’t push up in support.
In the second 45, Spurs were looking for one opportunity and one counter as Arsenal continued to be sloppy at key moments and in crucial areas of the pitch. Mourinho reverted to the blueprint of defending deep which has got him into so much trouble with fans at various clubs, but it tends to win matches eventually.
There was another goal in this game and it didn’t look likely that Arsenal were going to create enough for it to be them. In the 81st minute, Alderweireld glanced in a Son Heung-min corner with Arsenal defenders slow and flatfooted. Arsenal just couldn’t find the gear from that point onwards, they had moments especially when Aubameyang hit the bar.
Mourinho, for all his bravado, did actually care about the result and at the final whistle, he pumped his clenched fist out in victory. He’d manage to inflict another defeat on Arsenal by another London club. There’s only West Ham left to go in his collection because hell will freeze over before he’s welcome at the Emirates.
He wins trophies, but rarely does it feel satisfying or enjoyable. Some people, it seems, are only concerned about results, not how they’re achieved. That’s not really the ethos at Arsenal, not after the first ten years of Wenger.
Arteta can lick his wounds and learn from this, Arsenal are a side that certainly lacks genuine depth and quality. They were found out here by a distinctly ordinary side with a solid game plan. Son Heung-min was easily the Man of the Match and for Arsenal, you couldn’t give it to anyone other than Martinez.
The Argentinian kept the score to a reasonable level because it could have easily been 5-1. The season is coming to a close and Arteta will have much to do in a short space of time. The Spaniard looked deeply disappointed at the end and he won’t take this defeat lying down. Fans take heart, Arteta will make this team stronger despite what you feel at present.