Result: Sp*rs – Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 6 December 2020
Venue: White Hart Lane
Starting XI: Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney, Xhaka, Partey, Saka, Willian, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Subs: Runarsson, Mustafi, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Ceballos, Willock, Nketiah
First half goals from Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane saw Sp*rs beat Arsenal 2-0 in the north London derby.
The home side did the damage in the first half on an afternoon where the Gunners also lost the returning Thomas Partey to injury.
Defeat for Mikel Arteta’s side leaves us 11 points behind our neighbours and languishing in 15th place in the table.
The inclusion of Thomas Partey – absent for a month with a thigh problem – was the big news when the teams were announced. The Ghanaian partnered Granit Xhaka in the centre of the park. In terms of formation, Mikel Arteta returned to the familiarly flexible 3-4-3 with Bukayo Saka and Hector Bellerin working the flanks. Following last week’s head injury, David Luiz dropped out to be replaced by Rob Holding. In attack, Willian and Alex Lacazette, both with decent scoring records against Sp*rs, were given the chance to support Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who returned to a left-sided starting position.
It’s no secret that Jose Mourinho trains his sides to sit deep and then hit on the counter attack. They’ve done it repeatedly this season. Kane to Son. Goal. Son to Kane. Goal. It’s boringly inevitable and bloody effective. So how was Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal going to cope with that?
Well, we didn’t.
It was a scrappy affair throughout the first 45 minutes with both sides making niggly fouls to break up play. Kane and Xhaka had a coming together. Lacazette and Hojbjerg went at each other. Partey got angry at a couple of nibbles at his heels.
We had lots of the ball. But with Spurs staying compact and happy for us to have it on the flanks. Like we did against Wolves, we tried our luck with a number of crosses but never seemingly aiming at anyone in particular.
On 13 minutes, Dier cleared one of those crosses, Bergwijn worked it to Kane in the centre circle and he in turn spread the play to Son. The South Korean was a long way from goal, but he immediately set off at speed, edging onto his right foot so that he could open himself up for a curler. His effort from 30-yards flew past Leno. It was a fantastic finish, but you’ve got to ask why he went unchallenged on the ball. (0-1)
Would Spurs go for the jugular? A quick-fire second. Of course not. They sat deep again. We lumbered around, our passing lacking zip, trying to find a pass that might split them open. There were bright moments – a Partey run through the midfield that had shades of Vieira – and a couple of crosses from either flank that forced frantic clearances, but no clear cut chances. It was the same old story from a set of players who seem devoid of imagination when they step over the white line.
In contrast, Spurs know exactly what they are doing when they attack. In stoppage time, we worked a half decent opening, freeing Bellerin to play in Aubameyang. For some reason our captain ran away from the ball in the box and then, to make matters worse, didn’t take out Aurier when it would have stopped the counter. In the space of 15 seconds, we were two goals down. It ended with Kane, played in by Son, rattling a shot home off the underside of the bar. (0-2)
To rub salt in the wounds, Partey walked off the field injured and was immediately replaced by Ceballos. We have to assume that he’s done further damage to his thigh. If that is the case, you have to question the decision to risk him.
With nothing to lose, we were full of urgency in the five minutes after the break. Lacazette had a header saved after flicking on a free-kick and Tierney put one on a plate for Aubameyang whose header went over. A woeful effort. Bellerin then got into another great position but couldn’t pick out a player in the six-yard box. Spurs immediately broke but this time couldn’t find the net as Ceballos swept up the danger.
Arsenal continued to dominate play and to pen the home side back. But you never really sensed that our neighbours were anything other than comfortable. Arteta barked instructions, desperately hoping his players might produce something. Anything.
A Lacazette header on 67 minutes did force Lloris to make a save at full stretch. It was promising, but not enough.
The frustration got the better of Xhaka who decided to plough straight through the back of Son. He picked up a booking for his troubles. Bellerin was replaced by Nketiah who went up front and Saka moved to right back.
We continued to work the ball to the flanks before lofting balls into the box. We even started to throw men forward but we repeatedly failed to beat our opponents in the air. It was too little, too late. The game was lost in the first half. The players knew it.
After lots of positive talk this week, defeat further exposes us to the reality – we’re miles off being where we want to be. And the distance is widening not closing. Things don’t get much easier in the coming weeks. Sure, we play Dundalk and Burnley next but then it’s Southampton, Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City. We need a Christmas miracle.