16 Conclusions: Tottenham 2-0 Arsenal

Dave Tickner
Jose Mourinho Tottenham Arsenal

1. If there was any doubt before, there isn’t now. The buy-in among this Tottenham squad for Jose Mourinho’s methods is absolutely total. Another huge result achieved thanks to every single one of his players completely giving themselves over to the overall plan. As against Manchester City, the end more than justified the means as Arsenal spent the first half stumbling blindly and naively into the trap and the second struggling desperately and futilely to extricate themselves from it.

We’ve said it before, but Jose has found himself with the very ideal squad on which to impress his methods: players good enough to meet Mourinho’s exacting and let’s face it difficult demands, but players not successful enough or big enough to tell him where to shove it. Two of those players also happen to be world class and at the very top of their games, which helps. It’s a heady combination and however much Mourinho insists his side are a “pony” in the title race, the fact is they are right in one. The ‘Big Six’ is an increasingly nebulous concept, but in four games against the rest of them this season Spurs have taken 10 points, scored 10 goals and conceded one. In their last three games they have taken seven points off Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal without conceding a goal. They are proper, and valid doubts about a relatively easy start to the season have now been silenced. There are no guarantees that Spurs will definitely win the league, but every week the only really valid reason they definitely can’t – “Because they are Spurs” – becomes hollower and hollower.


2. Harry Kane, bloody hell. We find ourselves idly wondering if there is anybody in the world currently playing better. On Sunday he was once again at least four players in one. Not for the first time, he had more touches in his own box than the opposition’s. Not for the first time he walks off with a goal and an assist to his name. He’s now the leading scorer in the history of the North London Derby, and has turned himself into a centre-back-midfielder-number 10 without any detrimental effect on his prolific goalscoring. He has been directly involved in 18 Premier League goals this season, which is just plain nutty.


3. But you can’t talk about Kane without talking about Heung-Min Son. What a dreamy goal that was to set Spurs on their way. That everyone inside the ground – you could literally hear the 2000 fans inside White Hart Lane shift to the edge of their socially-distanced seats as Kane swung the ball out to Son – or watching knew what was going to happen from the moment Kane picked up the ball in midfield only makes it more extraordinary. A goal of breathtaking brilliance that everyone could see coming and yet nobody in a red shirt could do anything to prevent. Every Arsenal player, from the midfielders who gave Kane space and time to turn to the defenders who backed off and off allowing Son to so superbly pick his spot seemed nothing more than passive observers rather than active participants in another episode of the long-running Kane & Son Show.

After another goal and assist for each other today, that ridiculous pair are up to 31 goal combinations altogether and 11 this season. Absolutely ludicrous.

4. The second goal was very nearly as wonderful, but an absolute disaster for Arsenal. An attack turned over quickly means instant red alert against this Tottenham team. Arsenal instead responded by drifting half-heartedly back into position as Thomas Partey – a doubt before the game – wandered off injured. Mikel Arteta desperately trying to shove him back on to the pitch as Spurs embarked on a four-on-two counter was quite the image. By the time he hobbled anywhere, Giovani Lo Celso had played in Son, who had in turn played in Kane (obviously) to thrash the ball in off the crossbar. Game over.


5. In fact, the first half was an absolute disaster for Arsenal. It’s impossible to overstate just how readily and apparently happily they stumbled into the trap Spurs have been conspicuously setting teams for weeks now. Butchered set-pieces, attacks great in number but slow of progression and short of idea, midfielders switching off. Just everything you cannot possibly expect to get away with against this unnervingly precise version of the football club formerly known as Spurs. It is staggering that any team could think it would go differently. Chelsea are a much better side than Arsenal, and even at home they accepted that cutting Spurs off at source was the most important thing they had to do. Anything more ambitious than that must be secondary. Kane and Son deserve that respect from any team.

6. Rewind a week to what already sounds like it might be Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal epitaph. “I think it’s first time in the PL that we put 33 crosses. I’m telling you that if we do that more consistently we’re going to score more goals. If we put the bodies we had in certain moments in the box, it’s maths, pure maths and it will happen.” Just 32 open-play crosses on Sunday from Arteta’s side. No doubt the 33rd would have been the charm, Mikel. Eric Dier was just about to crack, I’m sure of it. It’s maths.


7. Arsenal were better in the second half, though. There was more pace and purpose to their attacking play. The problem is, they just don’t currently have the tools to unlock this Spurs team. There is no almost no way through the middle – Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Moussa Sissoko were outstanding once again – and Spurs’ centre-backs are far more comfortable dealing with crosses than Arsenal’s forwards are converting them. While Spurs were perfectly happy snuggled in the warm, cosy familiarity of their low block, the second half definitely had slightly more of a “penned in” than “sitting deep” feel. The counter-attack trap could never be sprung, Spurs having just one attempt in the half, and even any kind of out-ball proved impossible to find for much of the half as Spurs kicked possession away time and again. No Spurs player attempted more than 44 passes in the whole game, and only a couple of late subs achieved a pass success rate above 80%. That this always seemed to still feel like a plan and never in any way a cause for alarm speaks volumes for both Spurs’ defensive organisation and Arsenal’s lack of attacking threat.


8. We published this on Sunday morning, which was a huge and unnecessary risk. But luckily it now just saves us having to write pretty much the same again about another ideal afternoon for the rejuvenated Dier. Eight clearances, one block, no tackles. His ideal game. You can say it about pretty much anyone you want in this Spurs team, but this current role is perfect for him. They are a team with a system and now have round pegs in round holes all over the pitch, and Dier is, against the odds, among the very roundest. Not having to repeat ourselves about Dier means we have space to write about Serge Aurier instead. Spurs being top of the league 11 games into the season and thoroughly deserving to be there is one thing; Aurier proving a key part of it with his calm and efficient defending is something else. Absolutely immaculate defensively, but don’t underestimate his role in that all-important second goal. Snuffed out the threat and set the attack on its way in the space of half a second.

9. Toby Alderweireld was imperious too. Just about the only time Arsenal had any kind of joy through the middle, in perhaps the one single piece of play across the 90 minutes where Mourinho might reasonably grumble his team had failed to follow his precise instructions, Alderweireld found himself one on one and on the back foot as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ran at goal from a fairly central position for the one and only time in the match. Alderweireld, inevitably, made a superb block. Despite everything Arsenal tried in the second half, the fact remains that Hugo Lloris had only one save to make in the closing 45 minutes. Five clean sheets in six since the West Ham Incident now.


10. An appropriate number for this one, because there has to be some mention of how Arsenal find themselves in a situation where they are utterly unable to create meaningful chances and are deploying the willing and game but almost wholly unsuited Alexandre Lacazette in the No 10 creative role while Mesut Ozil continues to sit watching games on TV. If this were a one-off, you could point to the things Arsenal did quite well and acknowledge they happened to come up against a very good team with a very good plan that they execute very well. Fair enough, but Arsenal don’t look like scoring against anyone. Arsenal’s 15th place in the league is bad enough, but it’s two higher than their place in the goalscoring chart. Harry Kane has now assisted as many Premier League goals this season as Arsenal have scored. They can’t go on like this.


11. Wasn’t just Arsenal who struggled. A tough afternoon for Jamie Redknapp in a curious ‘special comments’ auxiliary commentary role today. His utter failure to grasp Spurs and Mourinho’s gameplan became in the end excruciating to hear as he convinced himself that Arsenal’s sterile domination meant something. He did, though, accidentally sum the game up perfectly on 84 minutes. As Arsenal launched another attack down the right, Redknapp exclaimed “Honestly, how often have we seen them in this kind of position?” Before the words had even left his mouth, Hojbjerg had won the ball back for Spurs and snuffed out the threat. Exactly, Jamie. We’ve seen that exact thing happen time and time again. Has there been a better or more significant signing this season than Hojbjerg? Impressive as Spurs are, and wrong as it feels to single anyone out – even Kane and Son come as a pair these days – Hojbjerg is key to the whole enterprise. This Mourinho masterplan wouldn’t work without the clinical genius of his front two, but it wouldn’t work without his Great Dane either.


12. Oddness all round from Sky, really, with Graeme Souness running with Redknapp’s idea that any of these Spurs players might not be enjoying the football they are being asked to play under Mourinho. While it might not always be thrilling to watch, this seemed a strange time to raise the issue, Spurs having just gone top of the Premier League by beating their most hated rivals while boasting the best defensive record in the Premier League and behind only Chelsea and Liverpool for goals scored. They also scored a goal of the season contender. Pretty sure they’re all happy enough right now, lads. If the evidence of this almost psychotically committed performance itself wasn’t enough to prove the point, surely the numbers do.


13. Still, it was good to know that Arsenal – 15th in the table, just 10 goals scored and enduring their worst start to a season since the 70s – should presumably be happy because they’re getting plenty of touches of the ball. They looked rightly thrilled.


14. Sky were not alone in their puzzlement, though. Mikel Arteta didn’t get it either. “I saw my team full of desire, passion, dominating completely the game, creating all the chances, creating all the situations,” he continued to insist as he slowly shrunk and transformed into a corn cob.


15. There are many questions for Arsenal to ponder. The manager’s position is inevitably one of them. Most pressing, though, remains a disarmingly and deceptively simple one: What to do about Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? It’s not all his fault, he’s clearly being starved of possession and starved of chances, even in games Arsenal “dominate”. But at some point you have to think he needs to do something, anything himself to try and snap out of the funk. If he or Arsenal cannot find a way out of this then it seems impossible to imagine anything other than the bleakest of seasons for player and club.


16. Only fitting that the final word goes to Jose Mourinho. “I want to give words, congratulations to Mikel Arteta because he gave us a very difficult game,” he said with a smirk after the final whistle. He’s back, isn’t he? He’s absolutely in his element, top of the table with a gifted yet deferential squad hanging on his every word. Rarely before has a pig been quite so in sh*t. Any non-Spurs fans who’ve made it to conclusion 16 really do need to start preparing themselves for the very real possibility of Spurs winning the league, and quite how much of an absolutely unbearable gleeful mischievous prick Jose is going to be about it if they do.

Dave Tickner