The North London derby is one of the fiercest and most entertaining fixtures in English football, and has been so for almost a whole century. This time around, that was hardly the case, as a rather long 90 minutes ended in favour of Tottenham Hotspur.
The scoreline stood at 1-0 after a familiar figure of Harry Kane brought down the ball into the bottom corner of the net via a brilliant early cross from Ben Davis relatively early in the second half. The English striker deservedly opened his account for his possible second century of goals.
Arsenal, on the other hand, failed to replicate their flair from last week, which has obviously reflected upon the scoresheet and statistics.
And with the first half being one of the most lacklustre periods in recent London derbies, let’s take a look what what changed since then to award Tottenham a deserved win.
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The hosts lined up as one would usually expect them to, and maintained similar positions and roles in a 4-2-3-1 formation. However, a backline of Kieran Trippier, Davinson Sanchez, Jan Vertonghen and Davis was fielded in the absence of Toby Alderweireld, though he was hardly missed on the pitch.
Up front, Mauricio Pochettino managed to field all his best players with a solid central midfield duo of Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier, followed up by a familiar attacking party of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Christian Eriksen.
Many fans have questioned Arséne Wenger’s choice of fielding a 4-3-3 formation and assignment of roles, and surely enough, such concerns reflected heavily upon the result.
A midfield consisting of Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny and Jack Wilshere screamed of excess sideways passes, bar the Englishman. Wenger had been left with no other choice due to an unexpected groin injury to star midfielder Aaron Ramsey.
However, it was the roles and positions of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Özil that raised a few eyebrows. Mkhitaryan was assigned to the left flank and Özil was deployed as a right-winger; probably the French gaffer’s biggest mistake in the starting XI.
Though the selection of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has netted 4 goals in 4 games against Spurs, over that of Alexandre Lacazette’s made sense, it failed to help Arsenal’s case.
The dullest of first halves
It would be ridiculous to think Tottenham, who usually play quick and intricate counter-attacking laced with long balls, would dominate possession against the Gunners, who boast one of the best possession tactics in England.
Surprisingly, that’s exactly what happened, as the Arsenal XI seemed to be happy playing slow and letting their opponents have the ball almost to the point where the men in red looked completely uninterested. Ironically, Pochettino’s side failed to make anything out of their dominant first half, mainly due to one man, Elneny.
Wenger had requested the Egyptian of an amphoteric role of a ball playing holding midfielder and an extra defender. The former Basel man almost seamlessly managed to drift between the two tasks in hand, and did an excellent job to integrate himself as the fifth defender in his side’s back four when defending. This, coupled with a stable back-four of the visitors, helped keep their rivals at bay despite numerous knocks at Petr Cech’s goal.
But it was no surprise that the Gunners lacked any sort of creativity, with Özil in a rather confusing position, which could’ve easily been fixed with a positional swap with Mkhitaryan. And Aubameyang’s mere 6 touches, with zero touches in the opposition penalty area, did nothing to help his side’s situation.
Further, Son Heung-min was also complexly nullified thanks to a a resilient Hector Bellerin, who managed to block almost every cross from the South Korean. The Spaniard constantly made surges forward, allowing more dynamic range on the flank, whereas Nacho Monreal more or less stayed put at left-back.
However, the statistics clearly showed the edge the Lilywhites had over their neighbours.
A second half with a few moments of joy
Though it would be harsh to say only the second half was worth viewing, one cannot blame someone who’d feel so. The lineups remained unchanged in the second half, but the Spurs boss seems to have given great tactical advices to his men, as his side played with a bit more venom – something that ultimately killed the game for Wenger’s side.
Spurs continued to enjoy possession, and Kane had started to make lethal runs into the opposition half, which paid off in a goal in the 49th minute. Davies managed to whip in a brilliant early cross for his teammate, who towered over Laurent Koscielny to finish the attack.
The visitors were then outclassed in pressing and were subsequently dispossessed numerous times. Moreover, an almost perfect offside trap mechanism implemented by the Argentinian manager nullified all runs from the recording signing pair of Aubameyang and Lacazette.
However, credit where it’s due, Dembele may not have won the man of the match award, but he certainly deserved it if not for his teammate’s winner. Defensively and offensively clinical and vital, it is hard to comprehend why the Belgian is often forgotten when discussing elite midfielders in the Premier League.
Alongside Dier, he outclassed Xhaka, Elneny and Alex Iwobi in midfield, and the Europa League side had no chance of scoring. The duo maintained dominance over central midfield and covered the area behind them efficiently. And with help from Alli during defensive situations, maintaining possessions in those areas looked fairly easy on their part.
Towards the latter stages of the match, the introduction of Danny Welbeck, which increased his side’s number of centre-forwards to 3, made no difference, as Tottenham were more than happy to sit back and wait for the final whistle.
A deserved win for Tottenham, who were significantly more composed and tactically sound, took them 7 points clear of their rivals, who now have a huge mountain to climb if they fancy any chances of Champions League football next season.
Kane has started his glorious run for a second century of goals, and has equalled Robert Pires’ record of 7 North London derby goals. Further, Spurs are now on a 9-match unbeaten run – the current longest streak in the league.