The strangest of settings for the north London derby, but maybe the most predictable of results.
Arsenal remained a bit too Arsenal. Jose Mourinho remained resolutely Jose Mourinho.
Inevitably, Mikel Arteta’s side offered up the errors the Portuguese was waiting for.
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That was clearly the game plan. That was the story of this 2-1 Spurs victory, secured by a Toby Alderweireld header.
An Arsenal team that doesn’t yet fully know what they’re trying to be came up against an approach Mourinho knows intimately, and nature took its course. Read Kolasinac erred, Shkodran Mustafi erred, Spurs won.
To Mourinho’s credit, it is an approach that has often worked for him, and is the second big-six win of this nature in 2020 after the 2-0 victory over Manchester City.
It can still be the right approach for games like this. Whether it’s the right approach for Spurs overall is an entirely different argument.
Results like this rarely suit such arguments, it must be said, but the reality is that the approach Arsenal showed in this game looks much better for the long term. You can see what they’re trying to achieve. You can also see what they’re missing, what is still wrong, and what needs to be fixed.
That is clear – and it’s especially the case in defence.
It could also have been a very different outcome had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang taken either of his big chances.
Spurs got lucky in those moments, and that’s kind of the thing. This is percentage-playing football.
They certainly ceded percentage in possession, particularly in the second half.
Spurs had actually offered their liveliest performance for some time in the first half.
There was initially a greater spirit of adventure to the game, which was best seen in the distance players were willing to try shots from.
For Spurs, there was just the adventure of trying a shot at all. Lucas Moura’s effort after 31 seconds was also their first in 143 minutes of football.
By the half-hour, Ben Davies was willing to try his luck from way out, smashing the corner of the crossbar.
It was well struck – but not as well struck as Alexandre Lacazette’s. Few shots could be. This just flew into the top corner, the clarity of the shot only emphasised by how it contrasted with the clumsiness of Serge Aurier to offer it to him in the first place.
Arsenal are an ambitious side these days, but that approach seemed to have been emboldened here by sensing a fragility in Spurs. After just 12 minutes, Hector Bellerin had torn through their right side, so easily flying past Davies and Harry Winks. Aubameyang couldn’t connect with the cross.
That adventure, however, lent itself to a certain looseness. That is always going to happen when a manager has his style, but doesn’t quite have the players to fully implement it.
Where Kolasinac fits into that we’ll have to wait and see but he ensured Spurs didn’t have to wait long for the equaliser.
The Bosnian’s pass back to David Luiz was just too far away from the Brazilian, and allowed Son Heung-min straight in. The Korean delayed his shot, drew David Luiz and Emiliano Martinez out, and then deftly chipped it in.
It was to actually prove one of the last occasions they had the ball in the Arsenal box.
But not the crucial occasion.
The game gradually settled into that familiar pattern: a Mourinho side gathered around their own box, just waiting for the opposition to come at them but also waiting for an error; the other team trying to pick holes in the wall.
Aubameyang almost smashed right through, clattering the crossbar with an effort from inside the box. On the whole, though, Arsenal were a bit too static, a bit too frustrated. They were getting a bit over-anxious.
The trap was set. Lucas played a brilliant ball down the line, Mustafi got caught, and Alderweireld plundered from the corner.
A set-piece, and you might say it was a result already set in stone.
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