Mikel Arteta admits North London Derby did not go to plan as Bukayo Saka shows Arsenal progress

Prior to this match Mikel Arteta admitted that he had been talking to Arsene Wenger for advice on how to get over the line in title races. His biggest tip? "Find a way to win football matches."

In Sunday's pulsating North London Derby, you could argue they did that twice.

In the first half Arsenal played a game we have hardly seen from them this season. They sat deep in their own box for much of the opening period and looked to pick Spurs off on the counter. It was far from intentional, as Arteta admitted afterwards.

"They forced us," he said. "We had an issue with the high press. We gave so many balls away, simple balls, our ball circulation wasn't good enough. They commit so many players so their structure forces you as well to have one or two more players in certain areas that provokes you to be a little bit deeper."

Crucially though, it was effective. Arsenal had two shots on target and 28% possession in the first half and yet went in 3-0 up. The Gunners have been so domineering in so many games this season, but, in the North London Derby of all matches, they ceded control and seemed to revel in it.

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Then in the second half, it was more like the Arsenal we've grown accustomed to this season. The Gunners pinned Spurs back and would have been 4-0 up were it not for the outstretched boot of Guglielmo Vicario when Bukayo Saka's volley seemed destined to find the back of the net.

They were cruising to a famous victory before David Raya's lapse in concentration gifted Spurs a route back into the game. Still Arsenal attacked though, and it was not until Son Heung-min’s late penalty that their backs were truly up against the wall. Once again though, they showed they're capable of winning those kinds of games too. Spurs huffed and puffed, but never really came close to blowing Arsenal's title challenge down.

Perhaps the only dampener on a joyous trip down the Seven Sisters Road was that on the journey back up it, Arsenal would have had to watch Manchester City's ominous win at Nottingham Forest. Pep Guardiola's side are like a zombie in a horror movie at this stage of the season, slow moving, but inevitable.

That though, shouldn't bother Arsenal too much right now. If they do end up missing out on the Premier League this season, then it is hard to be too critical of a side who have dropped points in just two games in the whole of 2024.

People may view consecutive second placed finishes as stagnation, but the reality is that Arsenal have undoubtedly progressed. Whereas last season they were flawed, Arteta's side are now a Swiss army knife. They possess a chameleonic ability to adapt to any task that is put in front of them and respond. It’s something they've noticed themselves.

"Maybe last season, I don't know, that could have ended in a draw," Saka admitted after the match. "But today we showed that we have the experience now and we can come here and get three points, even when the stakes are high and it's a massive game."

Almost exactly to the weekend 20 years ago where Arsenal made history at White Hart Lane, history was never going to repeat itself here. But with the progress Arsenal have made over the past season, maybe it isn't too far around the corner.