Even before the opening whistle, the North London Derby was setting up to be a disappointing one for Arsenal. Mikel Arteta benched Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for being late (not for the first time). Jose Mourinho put out a confident, attacking lineup with regular Arsenal-killers Harry Kane, Gareth Bale, and Son Heung-Min leading the line.
But the script flipped right from the get-go. Arsenal were dominant in the first half. Emile Smith Rowe and Kieran Tierney were consistently getting around and in behind Matt Doherty down the flank. The Gunners hit a post and a crossbar. Son was forced off early with a hamstring pull. It was all coming up Arsenal. Except for taking the lead, of course.
In typical Arsenal-luck fashion, it was Spurs who struck first. An absurd Erik Lamela rabona, Spurs’ first shot of the game, had Gooners everywhere thinking “here we go again.” But seriously y’all, the xG value on that attempt was .07, and given that it was a rabona, even that strikes me as high. And Erik Lamela was only on the pitch because Son had gone off injured. Only against Arsenal does stuff like that happen.
The Gunners deservedly got one back before halftime. Kieran Tierney smoked Matt Doherty and cut it back for Martin Ødegaard, whose deflected shot found the back of the net. The sides went in for the half level at 1, which, according to both Jose Mourinho and Huge Lloris (and I’d wager anybody else on Tottenham) was a generous scoreline for the visitors. They were abject in the first 45. Continuing a worrying trend from Arsenal, they only managed the one goal from their dominance.
Tottenham were much better in the second half, but to be fair, that wasn’t a high bar to clear. Arsenal were still the better side and were rewarded when Davinson Sanchez wildly clattered into Alexandre Lacazette after the striker had mostly whiffed a shot attempt. Clear foul, always a penalty. Don’t let the people saying “but the chance had gone” convince you otherwise. I’d note that it’s not often that the foul committed against a shooter after the shot has been taken is given, but that doesn’t change anything.
Lacazette converted the penalty, 2-1 to Arsenal.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolute peach of a pass from substitute Nicolas Pépé to put Lacazette in. He perfectly weighted it and threaded it through multiple defenders. The “assist” continues Pépé’s run of strong play and goal contributions. Like most Arsenal fans, I was critical of Pépé when he wasn’t producing. Lately, he has been a regular contributor and a threat for Arsenal.
Arsenal looked sure to take home three points when Erik Lamela committed his third or fourth yellow-card worthy offense, picked up his second booking, and was sent to the showers. Soon after, Mikel Arteta brought on Willian, and the Gunners relinquished control of the match. 10-man Tottenham looked for the more dangerous of the two sides, and nearly snatched a draw when Harry Kane hit the post (off a dubiously-earned free kick) and then Gabriel cleared the rebound chance off the line.
The final 15 minutes from Arsenal were dreadful. And as I previously mentioned, I’m still concerned about Arsenal’s ability to turn dominance and situations they should dominate into goals and easier wins. Thomas Partey was particularly poor to close out the match, hitting several errant passes.
Fair play to Mikel Arteta, he admitted as much about his side in his post-match comments. He noted that Arsenal should have seen it out by getting onto the ball and calmly passing it around to kill off the game. Hopefully, he can turn that theory into practice.
It’s so much nicer to be critiquing how the side ended the match with three points in the bag. Today’s win cuts the deficit behind Spurs to 4 and keeps Arsenal’s hopes for a European finish alive. The Gunners actually have the second-easiest run-in of any club, depending on whose metrics you’re using.
Continuing with the positives, Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Ødegaard, Granit Xhaka, David Luiz, and Gabriel were all absolutely magnificent on the day. I’m particularly buoyed by the performances from Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel because their level had dipped a bit below where things had been at times earlier this season.
I reckon the Aubameyang benching will be water under the bridge. Mikel Arteta said as much in his post-match comments. Winning tends to cure things like that. The only other concern coming out of the match is Bukayo Saka, who came off at halftime with a slight hamstring problem.
Winning the North London Derby is great. Let’s enjoy it.