Arsenal hosted Tottenham in the early kick-off on Saturday in a game that many billed as one that would be a superb advert for the Premier League, but it did not end up being the heavyweight tussle that many thought it would be.
Indeed, Arsenal dominated the game and were outstanding across the entirety of the contest. The first 20 minutes saw the Gunners enjoy the better of the game, while Tottenham were forced to live off scraps as the only chances they had were given to them by their hosts. This pattern continued throughout the match, with Arsenal the better team, and Tottenham some way off the pace as they fell to a 2-0 defeat.
From Arsenal’s big win, what did we learn from the game?
Arsenal’s forwards are world class
Despite much of the talk being about Tottenham’s attackers, it was Arsenal’s forwards that were the better of the two. Alexis Sanchez, Alexandre Lacazette and the outstanding Mesut Ozil ran the show as they gave Tottenham’s back three no end of problems.
Sanchez was the man to win the free-kick that led to Arsenal’s first goal, with Ozil crossing the ball in, while the former scored the second for the hosts in a win that will relieve a huge amount of pressure on the Gunners. However, the victory once again causes everyone to question why Wenger has not utilised his front three more often.
Against Tottenham, a side that are lauded for their incredibly solid defence, Arsenal had all of the chances and it was the superb interplay between the front-three that won the Gunners the game. Indeed, it is the first time the three have really clicked from the start of a game, with Wenger choosing not to use them together.
Against Manchester City last week, Wenger utilised Sanchez up-front which backfired massively. Lacazette was introduced in the second-half and he scored their goal and looked like a livewire when he came on. Wenger decided to trust his striker against Tottenham, and the decision paid dividends.
Lacazette’s involvement from the off allowed Sanchez to play out wide, where he is at his best, and he was able to provide a quick and incisive figure on the flank. Of course, their general play in the game was aided by Mesut Ozil having one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt. He was tireless when going forward, applying the perfect weight on his passes, while his decision making was spot on. Incredibly, his work rate did not end with attacking, as he was seen making tackles near his own box on a number of occasions.
There are so many questions surrounding that front line, from selection and ability to how hard they work, but against Tottenham on Saturday, they displayed that Arsenal have one of the deadliest attacking-frontlines in the world, and it must be utilised more often.
Decisions, decisions for Wenger
Against Manchester City in their last Premier League game, Arsene Wenger lamented poor refereeing decisions. Sergio Aguero was able to score from the spot after Nacho Monreal was adjudged to have taken down Raheem Sterling. With the benefit of a replay, it looked as though the contact was minimal, but Sterling had been clever and put his body between Monreal and the ball, meaning the penalty was the correct call.
For the third goal, David Sliva was able to cross the ball into the box for Gabriel Jesus to tap home, but Silva was clearly in an offside position as he received the ball. Decisions wise, Arsenal were on the wrong end of some tough calls against Manchester City, and some might claim that they could have been in contention for a point against the league leaders had the calls gone the other way.
Against Spurs, Arsenal got the rub of the green though. The referee gave a very soft free-kick to the Gunners following a tussle between Alexis Sanchez and Davinson Sanchez, with the latter looking like he had made a good tackle, and the resulting free-kick led to Mustafi’s goal. The first score cannot be underestimated in a derby, with the fans fearful that if they had conceded first, then it could have been curtains for the side.
While Wenger was left to bemoan the officials last week, he will have had no problem with the decisions this time around.
Tottenham still have some way to go
In recent seasons, Tottenham have been at their very best, contesting at the top of the table, and now doing the same in Europe. While criticism has been levelled at Arsenal, Spurs should not be seen as a successful side until they have won trophies. On Saturday’s performance, winning the Premier League or Champions League is still a long way off.
On the day, Tottenham were not able to be at their best on the day as their two most important players were very poor on the day. Harry Kane’s knee injury meant the striker was not at his deadly best, with his touches, passing and shooting some way beneath his usual standard. Dele Alli was another that struggled as he found himself isolated between the lines of Arsenal’s defenders and midfielders, and he was completely ineffective in the game.
While their two best players were ineffective on the day, Mauricio Pochettino knows that the nine other players on the pitch needed to stand up instead. Defensively, they were put under huge pressure by Arsenal as they struggled to cope with the lack of control their midfield had. Indeed, Christian Eriksen is another that is usually so influential, but he saw so little of the ball, with the majority of his duties coming as he chased back, an area that he is not particularly strong in.
Title-winning sides of old, with Manchester United a particularly good example of this, have always been able to win games when they are not playing well. Against Arsenal, Tottenham did not ever really turn up in the game with their big players failing to have an impact on the contest. When this happens, Pochettino needs his players to band together and grind out a result, or they will forever be a side that are the bridesmaid, and never the bride.
The derby was not about beating a rival, but instead about the bigger picture
After all of the fanfare surrounding the game dies down, one set of fans will see the game as a huge missed opportunity, while the other will hope it is the start of a long winning run. Before the game though, the focus was entirely on beating their rival, with the bragging rights something both sets of fans were desperate to gain.
However, with the Premier League table once again shifting, the fans will now be looking at their win or loss and saying that the performance toward their final league standing is far more important than the bragging rights that were won and lost on Saturday.
With Manchester City still a long way out in front, Spurs could look back on this loss as the one that ended their title challenge, while it may be the win that allows Arsenal to build towards returning to the Champions League again. Manchester City have been the outstanding side in the league and they will have been enjoying the fact that all of their main competitors have been taking points off one another, instead of one team being able to build towards catching them. While Arsenal’s win will not help Tottenham catch the leaders, it means that the Gunners have given themselves a better chance of having a successful season.
Last campaign, the Spurs’ fans enjoyed the fact that they had finished above Arsenal, but what they really wanted was Champions League football. Both sets of fans will want to see their team finish above their rivals come the end of the season, however, both will be more concerned with trying to win the league and earning a Champions League place for next term, with potential bragging rights over their opponents just an added extra.