Result: Sp*rs 3-0 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 12 May 2022
Venue: White Hart Lane
Arsenal: Ramsdale, Cedric, Holding, Gabriel, Tomiyasu, Xhaka, Elneny, Odegaard, Saka, Martinelli, Nketiah
Subs: Leno, Tavares, Swanson, White, Lokonga, Patino, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Lacazette
Arsenal’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League with a win at White Hart Lane were crushed in ruthless style by Sp*rs who took advantage of Rob Holding’s first half red card to secure a 3-0 victory.
The centre-back was sent off for a succession of fouls on Heung Min Son not long after Harry Kane had given the home side the lead from the spot. Kane piled on the misery with a close-range header before the break and Son added to the scoreline within two minutes of the restart.
Arsenal now have to regroup for Monday’s trip to Newcastle, by that point Sp*rs could have leapfrogged us in the table with a win over Burnley. It’s all to play for, despite a horrible night.
Having missed two games with a hamstring issue, Ben White returned to the squad but was only deemed fit enough for the bench. That meant Mikel Arteta stuck with the same XI that started against Leeds United on Sunday with Rob Holding and Gabriel in the middle of defence and Cedric and Tomiyasu playing on the right and left respectively. On the bench, youngsters Zac Swanson and Charlie Patino got the nod alongside a host of familiar names.
On a night when we knew the atmosphere was going to feisty, Mikel Arteta’s players needed to keep their heads, work their way into the game and, ideally, start to play football that would dampen the hopes of the packed house.
We started brightly, keeping the ball well and probing down both flanks. Martinelli and Nketiah both attacked the box inside two minutes and our high press was effective. That was about as good as it got as things quickly unravelled for us.
It was clear that the right side of our defence was concerned by the pace of Son, and Holding, harking back to the 2017 FA Cup final, attempted to deal with the Korean by dishing out the Diego Costa treatment. He left one on the attacker after an early coming together and then got caught up in another scuffle not long after. At this point, somebody needed to have a word with him. A third foul was always going to earn him a yellow.
The treatment just served to rile up the crowd further and Conte’s men stepped up the pressure. They broke the deadlock midway through the half after referee Paul Tierney adjudged Cedric to have barged Son as the striker tried to connect with a Kulusevski crossed at the back post. There were plenty of complaints from the men in red but VAR didn’t even bother to review it. Kane took the ball and promptly sent Ramsdale the wrong way. (1-0)
It didn’t take long for things to go from bad to worse. Four minutes after the goal Holding again went in on Son to pick up the most inevitable booking of all time. Seven minutes after that, he was off. Concerned that Son was going to latch onto a long ball, he stepped across the striker with his shoulder leaving him poleaxed on the floor. He was sent for an early bath by Tierney. Rather than bring on White, who was clearly not fit enough to play an hour, Arteta asked Tomiyasu to partner Gabriel with Xhaka moving to left-back.
By that point, we were lucky to only be one goal behind. Tomiyasu had produced an incredible block to deny Kane, who was finding more space having been shackled well by Elneny in the early stages. The England international wasn’t to be denied for long. On 36 minutes, he pounced at the back post after Bentancur had headed on a corner. (2-0)
While Nketiah and Odegaard had half-chances in the closing stages of the half, the game was gone.
If Leeds had given us a blueprint on Sunday as to how to approach a game in such dire circumstances, we didn’t follow it. Within two minutes of the restart, Kane caused havoc in the box and Son tucked home the loose ball to put the game out of sight. (3-0)
Saka had a chance to reduce the deficit but was denied by a Davies block before Sp*rs settled into long spells of possession greeted by olés from the terraces. Ramsdale made fine stops to keep out Emerson’s header and a 30-yarder from Kane before Son missed a sitter.
Arteta switched things up just past the hour mark, sending Smith Rowe on for Martinelli. Not long after Lacazette was sent on for Nketiah, who had run himself into the ground for no reward.
Penned in and with one eye on keeping the score down rather than pushing forward, we seemed happy enough making long clearances and letting the clock tick over.
What we absolutely did not want to happen was another defensive injury but, of course, that’s what we got. With 15 minutes remaining, Gabriel went down holding the back of his leg. We were never going to risk White, so Tavares was thrown into the fray and Xhaka moved to centre-back with Tomiyasu. They might have to play together again on Monday.
Tavares created a chance for Odegaard almost immediately but the Norwegian’s crisp effort was straight at Lloris. He later went in the book, as did Smith Rowe and Xhaka.
As the game petered out, the away end emptied and there was further gloating from the home support. Having been on the receiving end of similar treatment at the Emirates in September, it was hardly a surprise that they enjoyed their moment.
We dreamed of a Hollywood ending to a roller-coaster season. Instead, we got a horror show. Luckily, there’s time to rectify the situation. Arteta has a huge job refocusing minds in the next 72 hours.