Arsenal fail to finish ahead of Tottenham. Spurs are the better side now. Power shift in North London. NOT. SO. FAST.
On a day where just about everyone expected Spurs to continue the narratives and extend their Premier League lead over Arsenal, the Gunners flipped the script, defeating Tottenham 2-0. And it wasn’t some “Arsenal got lucky” or “Tottenham had the better of the play.” Arsenal BEAT Tottenham today. Arsenal were the better side.
The Gunners won largely because they played with discipline defensively and kept their shape well. Héctor Bellerín and Sead Kolašinac did not bomb forward as frequently and protected the wide areas. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey shielded the back three and clogged the midfield. Mesut Özil tracked back and pestered Tottenham’s deep lying players. Sidenote: Özil has been notably more engaged defensively lately, can we put that narrative to bed now?
Speaking of Mesut Özil, man is he good. He was (rightfully) named Man of the Match by several different media outlets today. It’s funny – you don’t necessarily notice how involved he is at any particular moment, but when you think back over the totality of the match, you realize that he was involved in almost every key moment and big chance.
In addition to playing disciplined in defense, Arsenal pressed higher up the pitch, particularly in the first half, and found success from doing so. Spurs looked disjointed, were unable to generate much in attack, and turned the ball over often.
The Gunners also looked to be making a concerted effort to deny time and space on the ball to Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, and Harry Kane. After a few early miscues from Laurent Koscielny, the back three did a fantastic job of picking their spots to surge forward to disrupt play. You know you’re doing something right when Kane and Dele come off in a double substitution with 15 minutes to goal, down 2-0.
That’s now two matches in a row (City and Spurs) where Arsenal have played well defensively against top sides. With the higher pressing and increased defensive structure, are we seeing a tactical shift from Arsenal?
Shkodran Mustafi was especially good today. In addition to scoring the first goal, he had several perfectly timed lunges in the second half to block or deflect Tottenham shot attempts. It’s great to have him back. Arsenal are a much better team with a back three of Monreal, Mustafi, and Koscielny.
Was Mustafi offside on the free kick when he scored? Maybe. Did Davison Sánchez actually foul Alexis to give that free kick? Maybe. Complain as much as you want about the refereeing leading to the first goal, but if Arsenal don’t score there, they probably do with another chance. Oh, and it’s about time Arsenal are the beneficiary of a questionable offside call.
Given Arsene Wenger’s seeming reluctance to deploy Alexis, Lacazette, and Özil together, it’s encouraging to see that trio used in back-to-back matches. They are a nightmare to contain. Lacazette and Alexis linked up nicely for Arsenal’s second goal (after a picture perfect through ball from Héctor Bellerín). Can anybody figure out why Wenger won’t let Lacazette finish a match?
Today’s win makes Arsenal unbeaten in 17 straight at the Emirates in all competitions. Hey Theo Walcott, what was the score of the North London Derby?