Premier League: Arsenal 2 Tottenham Hotspur 0
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
A superb performance from every Arsenal player saw them deservedly beat bitter rivals Spurs 2-0 at the Emirates on Saturday lunchtime.
Goals from Shkodran Mustafi and Alexis Sanchez – along with a stunning performance from Mesut Ozil – won the North London derby as Arsene Wenger’s men utterly outclassed a disappointing Spurs team.
Alexandre Lacazette started against the old enemy, replacing Alex Iwobi from the line-up at Manchester City last time out.
With Mutasfi replacing Francis Coquelin and dropping into a back three, while Granit Xhaka – fresh from his Switzerland dispatching Northern Ireland to qualify for the World Cup – paired up with Aaron Ramsey as the defensive shield.
Sead Kolasinac and Hector Bellerin were the wing-backs as the team lined up in a 3-4-2-1 formation.
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A light drizzle fell before kick-off, the skies were dank and grey, and it was cold. Perfect weather for a clash of the Titans. This fixture, one of the biggest in English, European and, let’s face it, world football is not one for a lazy sunny afternoon.
It demands blood, and pain, and the straining of every last sinew to see your beloved team over the line – and that’s just from the fans.
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The gladiators strode onto the pitch and were met by a guttural roar of ‘Arsenal/Arsenal/Arsenal’ from the home support.
This wasn’t a day for half-and-half scarves and niceties. This was the North London derby.
Five minutes in and Lacazette shot over the bar before Spurs countered after Laurent Koscielny and Ozil got in the way of each other. Their confusion over an aerial ball allowed Harry Kane to break. The England forward drove into the box before firing a powerful shot low into Petr Cech’s midrift.
The atmosphere was crackling. Lee Dixon and the class of 89 would have approved. In the stunning, 89 The Film, the legendary Arsenal right-back spoke in awe of being pinned up against the changing room walls at White Hart Lane ahead of his first North London derby.
It was hard to see anyone doing that to Kolasinc but the robust challenges early on in the game from both sides were a respectful nod to the thunderous heritage of this fixture.
Arsenal were on top in the early stages, getting behind the last man but time and again they failed with their final ball. Despite the useful possession they had to be alert to the threat of Kane and Dele Alli as well as denying Christian Eriksen space to orchestrate matters in the middle.
It was instructive to watch Arsenal press from their forward line. Clearly there had been some thought given to closing down the Spurs backline from where they like to build attacks.
The forward trident of Lacazette, Sanchez and Ozil worked as hard as they have done all season as a trio to harry the visitors’ defenders. It worked a treat in the opening stages.
It was to become even more fruitful before the break.
But first Xhaka, who had been caught up in the frenzied atmosphere, clattered Alli with an unnecessary body-check, picking up a yellow card from Mike Dean.
Spurs then had two chances to open the scoring as Eriksen clipped the post while Kane had a header saved by Cech.
Davinson Sanchez was unlucky to be penalised for what looked on first sight to be a fair challenge. On second, third and fourth viewing his sliding tackle on Sanchez still appeared to be legal.
It was to prove a pivotal moment as, from the free-kick swung in by Ozil, Mustafi leapt high above the static Spurs defence. He met the ball emphatically to nod a looping header into Hugo Lloris’ far corner and into the net to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal on 36 minutes.
The eruption of joy from the Emirates crowd was a delight to watch. For so long the fans have suffered the frustrations of an underachieving team with a stubborn manager.
Nothing has changed in that respect but the release of happiness that comes from scoring a goal against their bitter rivals from N17 is never to be underestimated.
There was better to come as Arsenal went 2-0 up five minutes later through Sanchez with a close range finish, after good work by Lacazette in feeding him the ball in a crowded goalmouth.
Again there was joy unbound around the ground as the players and fans celebrated as one. Spurs looked shellshocked and their 3,000 travelling fans – strangely subdued throughout – were crestfallen.
Sanchez then capped a miserable few minutes for the Spurs Sanchez by catching him with a late tackle – and my how the crowd cheered at such aggression.
The cheers were matched by the roar of satisfaction the crowd gave at the half-time whistle as the host went in – against all-expectation – 2-0 up.
The Spurs team which Pochettino has assembled is full of quality players and Arsenal had to match their first half efforts in closing down time and space and work as hard as they have done all season to seal the win.
The match was not over by a long, long way.
Unsurprisingly the Lillywhites came out fighting in the second half and pressured the Arsenal backline. But appeals for a penalty after a coming together between Xhaka and Kane were denied, even if the Swiss midfielder was lucky not to be penalised for his clumsy challenge.
Two goals up and apparently cruising is never a good scoreline midway through a game in a derby. For if Spurs were to grab a goal it would change the complexion of the whole match.
Harry Winks coming on for the ineffectual Moussa Dembele on 62 minutes, while not being a last throw of the dice by any means, was a wise move from the former Argentine defender.
Arsenal fans took great delight in singing the Ozil song – for the first time in a long while.
If only he could play like this every week. He was exceptional technically but what was also impressive, especially in the opening stages, was his denying time and space to the Spurs backline, stopping them from building.
However, Wenger being Wenger, he managed to disrupt the feel good factor around the ground momentarily by withdrawing Lacazette – who had played so well on and off the ball – and replacing him with the underwhelming Coquelin.
It was no surprise to see the Arsenal backline drop deeper through such a negative substitution as Eric Dier saw Cech perform a superb one-handed save to deny Spurs a goal with ten minutes remaining.
As the clock ticked down the Emirates stood as one to applaud Ozil as he was replaced by Alex Iwobi with five minutes remaining.
If the sound of that thunderous acclaim isn’t a motivation for him to perform at the level he’s shown against Spurs then nothing will.
And as Dean blew for full time as Arsenal deservedly triumphed over Spurs after a heroic effort by the team – and superb, unstinting support from the fans – the sounds may well have been of loud cheers, but what it stood for was, was one hoped, far less transient.
For the cheers stood for unity for once at this great club, as players and fans alike showed, for at least the next few months, North London is red.
Arsenal: Cech, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal; Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Ozil (Iwobi 84), Sanchez, Lacazette (Coquelin 73). Unused subs: Mertesacker, Wilshere, Ospina, Welbeck, Maitland-Niles.
Tottenham: Lloris; Sanchez, Dier, Vertonghen, Trippier, Sissoko, Dembele (Winks 62), Davies; Alli (Son 75), Eriksen; Kane (Llorente 75). Unused subs: Vorm, Foyth, Aurier, Walker-Peters.