Strikers Harry Kane and Son Heung-min scored one each to overcome their North London rivals in the Tottenham vs Arsenal game on Sunday. Jose Mourinho’s team returned to the top of the Premier League table while the Gunners slumped to a lowly 15th.
Jose Mourinho has had Arsenal’s number since he arrived in the UK to manage Chelsea in 2004. Say what you like about Mourinho’s previous teams which employed negative tactics and could drain the entertainment out of football matches. The Spurs team, which the Portuguese boss largely inherited, now knows how to defend, attack and thrill. The fact that Mourinho decided to join Spurs was music to the ears of Arsenal fans and it gave them even more reason to despise their neighbours, who were now under the instruction of Arsene Wenger’s nemesis.
Surely, there wasn’t an Arsenal fan that fancied this game against an in-form Spurs at a distinctly biased White Hart Lane. In terms of team selection, I was surprised that David Luiz was replaced by Rob Holding and didn’t even make the bench.
That meant Arsenal’s right was exposed with a pairing of Holding and Bellerin, something which I have constantly complained about recently. Bellerin has lost a yard of pace since his injury and Holding never had it in the first place. I concluded before the whistle that if the Spurs were going to get a goal, at least one goal would come from there.
The team selection also saw Gabriel in defence adding the steel and Tierney on the left of a back four, adding the drive and appetite, both of which would be needed at some point. Thomas Partey surprisingly returned to the side after the injury to partner Xhaka in a five-man midfield/ five-man defence, which seemed a reasonably inventive formation. Willian was back with Lacazette as the makeshift number 10 and Aubameyang in the lone striker role.
It was clear that this game was going to be an occasionally physical contest but it was nowhere near as feisty as previous NLD’s, but there was still enough friction to serve a host of yellow cards.
For the first 10 minutes from the whistle, the Tottenham vs Arsenal game looked well balanced with the sides reasonably even. How long would that last? 13 minutes to be exact, but I’ll come to that in a moment. As I followed the play, it occurred to me that the majority of the Spurs players were significantly taller than Arsenal’s, which could be significant from any resulting free-kicks and corners.
Saka and Bellerin looked like two 12-year-old schoolboys up against the likes of the towering Harry Kane and Eric Dier. For Arsenal, the biggest threat was the partnership of Kane and Son, which is carrying this Spurs side up the table and putting them in contention at the top of the Premier league. It was almost inevitable that the best two Spurs players would combine twice on the left side of the pitch to take a 2-0 lead in at the half time.
13 minutes on the clock and Harry Kane picked the ball up by the D in his half and fed it out to Son. The South Korean took it forward and cut in before executing a fabulous strike that blazed past an outstretched Leno into the corner of the net. It was an amazing strike but Arsenal’s defence was cold and static looking, almost hypnotised by the incisive and intuitive play.
The second goal showed a clear difference between the two sides in terms of quality. This time, it was Son to provide for Kane after an Arsenal attack broke down and allowed Spurs to sprint forward with four on two. It looked like a goal was coming and it was down the side left side again, which was the preserve of Arsenal’s two right-sided defenders Holding and Bellerin. Son put through a perfect ball to the England skipper to blast high into the roof of the net (45+1).
Arsenal were reckless and completely naive in defence, committing so many bodies forward and as Spurs blazed up the pitch, one imagines Arteta with his head in his hands, resigned to another loss. The win was inevitable and despite a valiant effort, Arsenal couldn’t get through. Corners, free-kicks, runs down the flank, balls through the middle were all snuffed out by Mourinho’s fire blanket defence.
Lacazette looked most likely to reply but it was all about solid defending and narrow misses. Spurs would win the Tottenham vs Arsenal game without dominating but they took their chances and blocked out every meaningful attack, especially in the second half.
I once recall Mourinho complaining about Sam Allardyce’s West Ham parking the bus on the halfway line, but it now appears that he has embraced the ploy, relying on counters and quality players to break the deadlock and to keep him in the driving seat.
That sounds like a criticism but the Spurs boss has worked out a way of squeezing the maximum of his player with a system that they understand and have bought into. Arsenal looked less certain of their aims and the need for constant formation changes. They often seemed to be caught in two minds going forward and going back in defence.
The visitor’s performance was typified by another erratic performance by Granit Xhaka, who was embarrassingly caught out of position for the second goal. There was also another uninspiring and insipid display by Willian. How much longer can the player claim an automatic start at the expense of Nelson or Pepe?
Spurs are now 11 points ahead after 11 games but some considerable distance separates the sides in terms of ability and cohesion. Let’s be honest here, Arteta has got what he could from half a dozen or so ordinary players and now the club need to offload the surplus.
There wasn’t enough quality to get a decent result in the Tottenham vs Arsenal game and until Arteta adds that missing quality, Arsenal look like they may well find themselves in a relegation battle if they don’t hit the accelerator soon.
What does Arteta do? The performance was much better, the team showed the desire to get forward and attack their opponents. They had the lion’s share of possession, the most corners, and spent the majority of the second half camped in Spurs territory without reward.
The Gunners lack potency in and around the opposition box and they just don’t fashion enough clear-cut chances to bag the points. On the other hand, Spurs have learned to serve up a new dish, while Arsenal are serving up a tired menu that arrives cold.
Arteta will certainly never forget this season in a hurry, even if he manages in the Premier League for another twenty years, it’s testing everything about him. It’s almost inevitable that the knives will be out after this defeat but to those calling for him to be sacked, I say take a deep breath and remain calm, let’s hope the Spaniard can suddenly get a succession of wins soon.
A loss is a loss and losing to Spurs or a Mourinho-led Spurs isn’t going to sit well with any Arsenal supporter. However, Spurs managed to get two opportunist goals that could both be in contention for the Goal of the Season at the end of the campaign.
If your disappointment is because Spurs are currently in contention for the Premier League title, then relax. No one knows if they can keep up with Liverpool as the fixture list becomes even more congested and we won’t know how they will cope with injuries to key players.
As for Arsenal, they are still assessing the damage and trying to work out how to put their season back on track. I’m convinced that to rescue this season, Arteta has to buy at least two players in January.