It’s fair to say that the north London derby is the most hotly contested rivalry in England. The dislike emanating between the two sides has been palpable for years. Perhaps it was precisely this that made Thursday night’s game so important. A win would see Arsenal clinch 4th spot, while a loss would give Antonio Conte’s side more heart as they look to unseat their great rivals.
Arsenal decided to name the same starting eleven as the side that beat Leeds United 2-1 last Sunday.
Arsenal started fairly well. They pressed high and penned Tottenham in, causing the home side to constantly pass backwards and to get the home crowd on their backs for everything they did. Arsenal continued to create chances and looked as though they would have a far easier time than they could have dared hope for.
Unfortunately, it all came crashing down fairly quickly.
A lofted ball into the box was directed towards Heung-min Son at the back post, but the forward was brought down for a penalty. Cédric Soares, the guilty party, was adjudged to have knocked the Tottenham attacker to the ground, but it seemed an unbelievably soft penalty for anyone to get.
It wasn’t altogether too surprising to see the familiar face of Harry Kane jubilant as he buried his penalty, sending Aaron Ramsdale the wrong way.
Things only seemed to get worse from there. Rob Holding’s usual aggressive approach to the match has stood him in good stead over the years, none more so than when he bullied Diego Costa in the FA Cup final win of 2017 (who was, at the time, bizarrely enough, managed by Antonio Conte), but he seemed to be pushing his luck all evening. First booked for an unnecessary challenge on the aforementioned Heung-min Son, he then “elbowed” the Tottenham forward during an innocuous Tottenham attack and was promptly given his marching orders.
It really wasn’t looking good for Arsenal and they soon found themselves two down after Harry Kane again struck at the back post following a corner that was headed on by Rodrigo Bentancur.
Mikel Arteta’s decision not to bring Benjamin White on was looking more and more costly.
Whatever the Spaniard told his players at half-time, he surely would have told them to keep the goals down and to try and find a way back into the game.
If those were indeed his instructions, they fell upon deaf ears as Heung-min Son sealed the victory with a tap-in following a calamitous Arsenal defensive performance.
By this point, the damage was done although the sight of Gabriel Magalhães hobbling off with a suspected hamstring issue wasn’t a welcome sight either.
The final whistle was a blessed relief as the broken and dejected Arsenal players made their way down the tunnel to the sound of “When the Spurs Go Marching In”.
It was a shocking performance from Arsenal and not befitting a team chasing top four.
Arsenal looked broken and lost from the moment the penalty was given and the sending-off only compounded matters further. Whatever Mikel Arteta had planned did not work and didn’t even look like it stood a chance of working.
For all their recent good form, the performances of Mohamed Elneny and Cédric Soares stood out as stark reminders that they are still not at the required level for a team that is aiming to be in the biggest European trophy there is.
The only real comfort that Arsenal can take away from the game is that, despite the result, they are still in control of their own destiny. They alone can control whether or not they make their way into the top four as Tottenham still remain a point behind them.
Arsenal need to respond quickly against Newcastle United on Monday, but quite how they will line up given the myriad of suspensions and injuries they have to contend with is another story entirely.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
17.) Cédric Soares
16.) Rob Holding 🔴
6.) Gabriel Magalhães (Tavares 76’)
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu
25.) Mohamed Elneny
34.) Granit Xhaka
7.) Bukayo Saka
8.) Martin Ødegaard (c)
35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Smith Rowe 63’)
30.) Eddie Nketiah (Lacazette 72’)
1.) Bernd Leno
69.) Zak Swanson
4.) Benjamin White
20.) Nuno Tavares
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
87.) Charlie Patino
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
19.) Nicolas Pépé
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Tottenham Hotspur team:
1.) Hugo Lloris (c)
6.) Davidson Sánchez
15.) Eric Dier
33.) Ben Davies (Rodon 82’)
12.) Emerson Royal
30.) Rodrigo Bentancur
5.) Pierre-Emile Højbjerg
10.) Ryan Sessegnon
21.) Dejan Kulusevski (Lucas Moura 72’)
7.) Heung-min Son (Bregwijn 72’)
10.) Harry Kane
Tottenham Hotspur subs:
22.) Pierluigi Gollini
14.) Joe Rodon
42.) Harvey White
45.) Alfie Devine
8.) Harry Winks
51.) Matthew Craig
27.) Lucas Moura
44.) Dane Scarlett
23.) Steven Bergwijn