Arsenal went eight points clear at the top of the Premier League after a classic Spurs performance in what was a predictable outcome on Derby Day.
Everyone knows Tottenham have started games slowly this season, but if there is a game Antonio Conte’s men should have been up for from the start it would be the north London derby, especially when their rivals are on the top of their game, and more importantly, on top of the Premier League, with five points separating them and reigning champions Manchester City going into Sunday’s match.
Ryan Sessegnon was given the nod in left-wing-back ahead of Ivan Perisic and it was pretty obvious why. Bukayo Saka is arguably Arsenal’s most dangerous player. Whether or not he is doesn’t matter but he is an extremely dangerous winger who can give any left-sided defender a problem on any given day. Sessegnon is quicker than Perisic, meaning he could at least cope with the England winger. Sessegnon was physical with him, though that is probably the only positive thing you can say about how that match-up went from a Spurs perspective.
Arsenal’s game plan was clear. They easily evaded their rivals’ press early on and even with some sloppy play from Thomas Partey, the Gunners were calm and sure in possession. While Sessegnon was targeted in a blatant mismatch, Arsenal did what they could to unsettle another weak link in Hugo Lloris. The Frenchman spilled one a fortnight ago against Aston Villa and has always been a bit dodgy with his feet – especially in recent years – and Arsenal evidently knew that. The visitors’ first chance of the game came to Eddie Nketiah after Lloris stitched up his teammate with a dodgy pass but redeemed himself by saving the 23-year-old’s left-footed shot.
And then Arsenal were in front. The Gunners start games fast, Spurs start games slowly. The score reading 0-1 in the first half was pretty inevitable and Lloris being at the heart of it was no surprise. Saka had too much time in the box and swung the ball down Lloris’ throat, with the Spurs captain palming the ball into his own goal, to score just that: an own goal.
Spurs needed to get into the break only one goal down and it looked like there was no chance whatsoever that would be the case. Lloris made a good save to deny Martin Odegaard; Partey rocketed the post with a sublime volley and Arsenal were purring in a subdued Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The majority of play remained down Saka/Sessegnon’s flank. Just like he did for the aforementioned Lloris save, Odegaard had way too much room from around 25 yards out, only this time he made Spurs pay. The ball went down the right, Saka found Odegaard in a pocket of space and the Arsenal captain drilled the ball hard and low into the bottom corner. Lloris was not at fault, but the overall abject performance from Conte’s players was. Even the free-roaming Oleksandr Zinchenko was getting amongst the action with Saka and Benjamin White, gliding over to form some naughty triangles.
Spurs looked flat, they looked weak, they looked like they would not create a half-decent chance. “Spurs are playing like little boys out there”, “they look a beaten bunch”, Saka “has destroyed them”, said co-commentator Gary Neville in a scathing, yet fair, assessment. The biggest cheer that came from the home crowd was when they thought they had been given a penalty in what was a very bizarre end to the first 45 minutes. Harry Kane was momentarily licking his lips but it was not to be.
So Conte clearly ripped a new one into all of his players at half-time, for what feels like the 50th time this season. I expected to maybe see Richarlison come on for the second half, but the Italian head coach made no half-time substitutions. You could clearly see that the second 45 would be more competitive with Aaron Ramsdale showing Lloris how it is done with a couple of big saves. Dejan Kulusevski was getting some joy of his own against Oleksandr Zinchenko, but could not find that killer pass or shot.
After cruising for the vast majority of the first half, Arsenal had to weather an expected storm for the first ten minutes of the second.
Saka would keep going for Sessegnon when the opportunity presented itself, which got rarer the longer the game went on with Spurs going for it. Richarlison did enter the field and pushed Benjamin White within a minute. You love to see it. Conte went gung-ho for the last 20 as his side tried to get something out of the game, switching to a back four in what looked like a very-offensive 4-2-4. Saka had a new foe with Perisic coming on, as Conte knew he needed more going forward and that Mikel Arteta’s star man would not be seeing as much of the ball.
In what was a difficult day for Lloris, his opposite number Aaron Ramsdale was superb, justifying his position in my combined XI of the two sides.
Harry Kane has scored in all but one of his home Premier League matches against Arsenal and he couldn’t get his customary north London derby goal here after bagging two in this fixture last May. This was also the first time an away team has won this fixture in the league since 2014 and was only Arsenal’s second win at their rivals in the last 14 seasons. This is a different Arsenal to every one of those seasons, though. They absolutely cruised it and played their way out of trouble nearly every single time they were in it. Odegaard had the cigar out as he got his eighth league goal of the season.
Next week against Manchester United is huge. They win that match after winning this and they are title favourites. Spurs, meanwhile, have a lot of issues to sort out. Thankfully for them, the transfer window is open. Unfortunately for them, Conte is relying on Daniel Levy to buy some players.
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