Arsenal bring Spurs down to earth with victory in the North London derby
Tottenham complain about referee's decisions, but the Gunners bossed the match
18 November, 2017 — By Richard Osley
FA Premier League
ARSENAL 2 (Mustafi 36, Sanchez 41)
BEFORE kick off, the away fans in the blue corner sang ‘north London is ours’, unsurprisingly high on the widening talk of a power shift in Arsenal and Tottenham’s never-to-end squabble.
By the final whistle, they had been brought royally down to earth – with a bump – as the Gunners turned in their best performance of the season to claim those much talked about bragging rights across north London. Such notional prizes may seem even more valuable in a season where Manchester City are threatening to claim anything which is actually silver.
Arsenal players who have been guilty of lethargy this season at times suddenly found their stride with the appearance of the old enemy at the door, taking the match to their rivals from the off and winning without ever really feeling threatened. Spurs looked sick from stage fright at times, as if they had heaped extra pressure on themselves by seeing this as a moment to really underline the clashing current fortunes of a club apparently ready to take on the world, against the ageing, out of touch fallen masters. They did anything but.
Harry Kane was largely locked out of the match by Arsenal’s back five, strengthened by the return of Shkrodan Mustafi, who was a contender for the man of the match at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon. Dele Alli, who like Kane was held back from England duty during the international break, was similarly frustrated, often found complaining about one injustice or another but rarely penetrating that Gunners defence.
There had been several half chances for Arsenal to go ahead before Mustafi looped a header beyond Hugo Lloris after half an hour. It came from a free-kick which the Premier League’s panto villain Mike Dean was accused, fairly, of awarding too freely when Spurs defender Davinson Sanchez challenged Alexis Sanchez. When the ball came over, Tottenham also claimed the officials had missed an offside call.
The moans continued with the visitors believing Granit Xhaka’s robust approach to this derby fixture should have merited a red card and then when the Gunners went 2-0 up there were again calls for offside.
Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino claimed the decisions which went against his side changed the match because, to his mind, Tottenham had been the better side before Mustafi’s header. That assessment didn’t quite add up, and by the time Alexis Sanchez had scored the second goal from close range, accepting Alexandre Lacazette’s pass, Arsenal actually looked good value for their advantage.
The question Spurs might have been asking was how had Lacazette and others been able to find such space behind their own back five. It was not as if their ineffectual wing backs – Ben Davies and Kieron Trippier – had spent much of the match bombing forward with threatening runs to explain their absences.
Tottenham had some brighter moments in the second half. Christian Eriksen flashed a shot high and wide, while Eric Dier was denied by a wonderful diving header from Petr Cech after heading in on goal from six yards. But at the other end Arsenal could – and probably should – have added to their total. Several promising breakaways fell away with a misplaced final ball.
It didn’t matter. There was hardly an onslaught coming back at them, a fact which may frustrate the Spurs and the most, how the fixture was lost with a whimper.
Pochettino was still arguing his team’s bad luck with the referee’s calls, however, in his post-match press conference and interviews. “This type of game, when you play against a team in the top six like Arsenal, the small details change the game,” he complained. “It put the game in one side, and that disappoints me – but that’s football.”
Arsene Wenger, whose team has been on the wrong end of two costly incorrect offside calls this season – Lacazette’s ‘equaliser’ against Stoke was ruled out unfairly, while Man City two weeks scored a blatantly offside against Arsenal, was unsurprisingly less critical of the ref. He insisted the tame foul which led to the free-kick and the first goal was correctly awarded.
Anyhow, he was now fielding more questions on whether the revitalised Mesut Ozil and Sanchez would extend their expiring contracts, with the threat of them both walking away from Arsenal at the end of the season on Bosman free transfers still looming.
“I know them well and I know that when these guys go on the pitch, they want to win the game,” said Wenger. “They’ve shown their commitment again today. I’ve never questioned their commitment. They can have bad games but the problem is that, when a player gets near the end of his contract and has a bad game, everybody says it’s because he’s going. Their interest is to play.”
He added: “I’ve been in this job long enough to know that’s not enough. The quality of the contract has to be good and enough for them as well. I am convinced that they love the club and they love the team. All the rest will be decided. When? I don’t really know.”
ARSENAL: Cech, Bellerin, Kolisinac, Monreal, Koscielny (c), Mustafi, Xhaka, Ramsey, Ozil (Iwobi 84), Sanchez, Lacazette (Coquelin 73)
Subs not used: Mertesacker, Ospina, Wilshere, Welbeck, Maitland-Niles
SPURS: Lloris (c), Trippier, Davies, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Dier, Sissoko, Dembele (Winks 62), Eriksen, Alli (Son 75), Kane (Llorente 75)
Subs not used: Vorm, Foyth, Aurier, Walker-Peters