Arsenal surrendered at one-goal half-time lead at White Hart Lane this afternoon, succumbing to two Harry Kane goals and allowing Tottenham to jump beyond them in the league table.
Here are the bullet points from the North London derby:
- Mesut Ozil may have given his side an early lead, but there was truly never a point at which the visitors looked comfortable in this game. Wenger’s side, so often associated with structured, measured periods of possession, were a disjointed mess who never grew beyond a passive presence. It was telling that, as well-taken as it was, Ozil’s goal essentially arrived courtesy of Danny Welbeck’s counter-attacking speed, a mistake by Danny Rose, and a miscue from Olivier Giroud. There was no point at which the visitors threatened to think their way beyond Tottenham, so it was fitting that their solitary goal was a product of a series of unlikely events rather than any real method.
- Of course, it would be remiss not to point out that Arsenal were only as good as they were allowed to be: Tottenham’s work off-the-ball was exemplary and as good a real-world example as you’ll find of the core principle of Mauricio Pochettino’s coaching ideology. When the ball was lost, the hosts’ desire to retrieve it was feverish and, unlike other North London derbies of the recent past, they weren’t content to simply retreat through fear of Arsenal’s playmaking ability.
If such a thing exists, this was aggressive, attacking defence built around a conditioning regimen which is now paying dividends by the week.
- Yes, Ozil was fractionally offside prior to scoring but no, that does not constitute a controversy: refereeing provokes enough debate without willfully ignoring an obviously acceptable margin of human error.
- Both of Harry Kane’s goals illustrated his growing reliability in the penalty-box, but in each case the story was in the prologue.
David Ospina will presumably be attributed with the blame for the first, but Arsenal’s inability to deal with a generic near-post corner routine was unforgivable. None of the attending defenders responded quickly or decisively enough to Erik Lamela’s admittedly excellent delivery and Ospina was left at full-stretch to repel an effort he never should have faced. Whatever the criticism of the goalkeeper, the more heinous crime was to allow Kane to then roam unchecked to the back-post where he was free to equalise.
Kane’s second was a superb header, but it was again an example of him taking advantage of opposition lapses. Arsenal failed to exert any real pressure on Nabil Bentaleb thirty-five yards from goal and the Algerian, whose distribution is typically very good, was allowed the time he needed to drift the ball into an area which was perfect for Kane to attack.
Note also Laurent Koscielny’s feeble attempt to deal with the resulting cross. Kane approached the ball at an advantageous angle, but Koscielny only really pretended to contest the header and made little attempt to make the chance any harder than it already was.
- Another word on Bentaleb:
The Algerian has spent much of 2015 at the Africa Cup of Nations. It’s not a coincidence that Spurs have lacked chemistry during his absence or that their two best performances of the calendar year occurred before he left (Chelsea) and after he returned (Arsenal). Flecked with naivety though his game sometimes is, his passing range - particularly his vertical passing - is a crucial ingredient in Tottenham’s chemistry. Without him, the ball far too often moves sideways instead of forward in the middle of the pitch and the team as a whole can subsequently look laboured and slow. Outstanding against Chelsea, same again today.
- As is generally the way, a half-time deficit had Tottenham’s fans calling for substitutions. If there’s such a thing as a ‘good change’, then it’s equally valid to applaud a manager’s confidence in his starting eleven. Mauricio Pochettino recognised that, although behind, his side had been superior in the first-half and that the level of pressure they were exerting would continue to produce chances as the game developed.
In that situation, a knee-jerk change which superficially improves a team’s shape can sometimes damage its fluidity, so waiting until the 74th minute to remove Mousa Dembele - after Kane had equalised - looks very astute in retrospect.
- Whatever the away win at Manchester City represented to Arsenal, this was its counter-point. Clearly Alexis Sanchez’s injury put the side at a disadvantage, but too many game-winning players shrunk from this challenge. Aaron Ramsey, so celebrated last year, was an irrelevance, Olivier Giroud made next-to-no impact on Jan Vertonghen or Eric Dier, and only a less-than-fit Danny Welbeck produced any sustained menace.
The speed of the game was a problem for Arsenal and they never truly equaled Tottenham’s physical intensity. That may be a simplification of how this game was won and lost, but matching an opponent’s appetite is the bare-minimum requirement in a derby fixture. Spurs may have played the majority of the football and created the bulk of the chances, but the two moments which gave them the points were products of the visitors’ failure to win individual contests.
It wasn’t quite a surrender, because Spurs did play very well, but it was the antithesis of everything that was so laudable at The Etihad.
- What ordinarily characterises this fixture is Tottenham’s tangible inferiority complex. There was none of that today, though. In years gone by, the sucker punch of Ozil’s goal would have wounded Spurs and deflated their conviction, but there was never even a suggestion that they doubted their ability to win this game.
With his repeated emphasis on the need for a change in the club’s mentality, perhaps that will be the detail which pleases Pochettino the most.