For many, Arsenal’s Premier League season did not start in their 2-0 away defeat to Brentford, but rather, in the team’s narrow 1-0 win against Norwich over a fortnight ago. Such is the upturn in form, that Arsenal entered Sunday’s North London derby in significantly better form than Tottenham, who’s early season form has since been overturned by a period of two consecutive games in which they have conceded three without reply.
There was one fairly predictable change for Arsenal as Nicolas Pépé was dropped to the bench in favour of Granit Xhaka, aside from this, it was the same team that beat Burnley last weekend.
Arsenal’s season has usually been characterised by starting at break-neck speed and then slowly petering out and allowing the opposition to have more and more chances as the game wears on, however, against Tottenham, Arsenal started a little more cautiously. Whether this was a conscious decision from Mikel Arteta or just a by-product of it being a derby game is unknown, but it suited Arsenal to grow into the game as quickly as possible, rather than to start at 100mph right from the off.
Their patience was rewarded as the soon found themselves ahead through Emile Smith Rowe. Wonderful link-up play between Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka allowed Saka to drift into the Tottenham box, a lack of covering from midfield saw Emile Smith Rowe free as a bird in the middle of the box and a tidy finish gave the hosts the lead.
Soon after, Arsenal went again. This time a blistering counter-attack that had Tottenham bewildered from the get-go allowed Smith Rowe the chance to run at Japhet Tangaga and then lay an inch-perfect ball into the path of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who’s weaker foot shot was scuffed into the far corner into the net to double the lead.
It was a sign of Mikel Arteta’s love of playing-out-from-the-back that caused the goal. A slightly hospital pass from Aaron Ramsdale hadn’t looked too encouraging but Granit Xhaka fought hard to win the ball back (the possibility of a foul in the build-up too) and Kieran Tierney was able to feed Smith Rowe to do the rest.
But Arsenal weren’t done yet! Harry Kane lost his footing on the edge of the Arsenal box and Arsenal again countered at speed. Though Kane fought hard to catch Bukayo Saka, he was ultimately unable to prevent the talented teen from getting loose in the box. Though the England captain was able to block Saka’s pass to Aubameyang, it actually served up a lovely finish for Saka, who took the chance gratefully to truly put the game to bed.
The second-half wasn’t quite as one-way traffic as the first, especially as Tottenham soon found themselves finding their feet at last, but the game still looked well beyond their grasp, even with the double-change they made at half-time.
Arsenal’s defending, so often criticised for it’s lackadaisical offerings, was on a different level entirely all game and it is perhaps only to a potential injury to Granit Xhaka (which had the defence’s head turned momentarily), that Heung-min Son was able to creep his effort past a flailing Aaron Ramsdale.
It may have been a consolation goal, but it wasn’t the last scare of the day for Arsenal. Lucas Moura’s deflected effort looked to be creeping towards the top corner, however, an acrobatic save from Aaron Ramsdale was tipped onto the crossbar and headed out for a subsequent corner.
The final whistle blew as the Emirates Stadium erupted with noise. It was arguably the team’s best performance since the departure of Arsène Wenger and as complete as you could get while still conceding.
Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka continued to assert their dominance in the attack for Arsenal. Both were utterly unplayable on the day and were aided by their new partner in crime Martin Ødegaard, who’s velvet-touched passes reminded the crowd of Mesut Özil at his very best.
In defence, Arsenal were incredible. Though he may have some way to go before he is able to repay the rather brobdingnagian price tag Arsenal paid for him, Ben White looked assured and confident as he marked Harry Kane out of the game. His partner in crime Gabriel Magalhães was just as assured, while Kieran Tierney was the main focal point of the attack as always. However, the performance of new boy Takehiro Tomiyasu was one for the memory book. The Japanese international failed to lose a single aerial duel, was quick enough to nullify the threat of Heung-min Son, who was forced into the middle in order to change his luck and was a brick wall all game.
The controversial decision to restore Granit Xhaka to the starting eleven was met with consternation of fans. The Swiss international has never exactly been what you’d call “popular”, however, his performance alongside Thomas Partey was a sign that he still has a role to play for the club.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s performance must also be singled out. While the Hale End boys will take the headlines, the captain’s assured performance in front of goal, as well as his blistering pace, was every bit as crucial as anyone else.
Arsenal must not get too carried away now though, a trip to the Amex Stadium beckons and Brighton will likely not be as easy as Tottenham, who looked like they were still stuck on the Seven Sisters roundabout for the first-half.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
18.) Takehrio Tomiyasu
4.) Ben White
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka (Lokonga 82’)
5.) Thomas Partey
8.) Martin Ødegaard
7.) Bukayo Saka (Maitland-Niles 87’)
10.) Emile Smith Rowe (Tavares 87’)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
1.) Bernd Leno
16.) Rob Holding
17.) Cédric Soares
20.) Nuno Tavares
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Tottenham Hotspur team:
1.) Hugo Lloris (c)
25.) Japhet Tangaga (Emerson Royal 45’)
6.) Davinson Sánchez
15.) Eric Dier
3.) Sergio Reguilón
20.) Dele Alli (Skipp 45’)
5.) Pierre-Emile Højberg
28.) Tanguy Ndombele (Gil 70’)
27.) Lucas Moura
10.) Harry Kane
7.) Hung-min Son
Tottenham Hotspur subs:
22.) Pierluigi Gollini
4.) Cristian Romero
14.) Joe Rodon
33.) Ben Davies
12.) Emerson Royal
29.) Oliver Skipp
11.) Bryan Gil
18.) Giovani Lo Celso
44.) Dane Scarlett