Incredible intensity, shirt-drenching work rate and relentless pressing: so often the hallmarks of Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham, but on Saturday in the north London derby it was Arsenal who looked like the exciting, energetic team upon whom so much praise has been lavished.
Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez proved amid the uncertainty over their futures that they remain Arsenal’s star performers with match-winning displays in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over rivals Tottenham.
The build-up to the derby clash had focused largely on the supposed power shift in north London as Mauricio Pochettino has turned Spurs into Premier League title challengers, but their ability to take the fight to Manchester City may have been ended following a tame reverse at the Emirates Stadium.
Ozil was at his creative best, delivering a teasing free-kick for Shkodran Mustafi to head in the opener, before his link-up play helped set up Sanchez’s strike just before half-time.
Both Ozil and Sanchez have been linked with January departures, with Arsenal facing losing them on a free in June, but their desire could not be questioned in a contest that they dominated between them.
Pochettino had Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris at his disposal after the trio missed international duty over the break, but Spurs’ chances were few and far between as Kane especially delivered a sluggish performance.
A first north London derby defeat for Pochettino further dents his side’s hopes of catching runaway league leaders City, with Arsenal’s deserved triumph helping them make ground in the race for Champions League qualification, moving them to within just one point of their visitors.
Arsenal fans had grown frustrated at Wenger leaving Alexandre Lacazette on the bench after his goalscoring cameo against Pep Guardiola’s side last time out and the France striker blazed the first chance over, before Kane drilled straight at Petr Cech following Laurent Koscielny’s wayward clearance.
The hosts were making inroads behind Ben Davies, with Hector Bellerin and Ozil flashing crosses into the box that were not converted, while Christian Eriksen hit the post and Kane’s header was saved to keep Arsenal on their toes.
But the hosts suddenly seized control with two goals in quick succession.
Davinson Sanchez was penalised for holding namesake Alexis’ shirt in a challenge and Ozil’s ball was guided brilliantly by Mustafi into the net via a kiss off the post, although the defender appeared offside.
The Gunners returned to a previous source of joy to double their lead, Ozil threading a ball through the right channel, between Davies and Jan Vertonghen to Lacazette and his pull-back found Sanchez, who controlled and blasted high into the net from point-blank range.
Kane’s frustrations threatened to boil over when he lunged in on Granit Xhaka and Mustafi blocked the striker’s shot as Arsenal continued to hold Spurs at arm’s length.
Howls of derision met Wenger’s decision to replace Lacazette with Francis Coquelin in the 73rd minute, but the ineffective Kane, who failed to score in this derby for the first time, and Alli were withdrawn two minutes later to bring a cheer again.
Cech clawed away an Eric Dier header, with Davies awaiting a tap-in, and Alli’s replacement Son Heung-min hooked over the crossbar in a late Spurs flurry, but there was little doubt of Wenger securing a derby win for the first time in seven outings to breathe new life into Arsenal’s campaign.
Key Opta stats:
– Arsenal ended a run of six Premier League games without a win against Spurs (D4 L2), picking up their first victory since March 2014.
– The Gunners have won 11 home Premier League games in a row, their best run since winning 13 consecutively at Highbury between February and November 2005.
– Mauricio Pochettino has lost four of his last six London derbies as Spurs boss in all competitions (W2), as many as he’d lost in his previous 18.
– Spurs have lost three of their opening 12 Premier League games, only one fewer than they lost in the entirety of last season.
– Since his Premier League debut in September 2013, Mesut Ozil has provided 45 assists, more than any other player in the competition and 21 more than any other Arsenal player in that time.
– Hugo Lloris has never kept an away Premier League clean sheet against the ‘big six’, conceding 56 goals in 24 games at an average of 2.3 per game.
– Alexis Sanchez ended a run of 11 Premier League matches without scoring against the ‘big six’ – his previous goal came against Chelsea in September 2016.
– Arsenal have never finished lower than 4th at the end of every Premier League season in which they’ve beaten Spurs at home.