Tottenham 1 Arsenal 0: There was a moment, late in Saturday’s north London derby, that went a long way to explaining why Tottenham and Arsenal have been moving in opposite directions over the past few seasons.
Harry Kane, having scored the game’s decisive goal shortly after half-time, and spurned three chances to equal Didier Drogba’s tally of 104 Premier League goals, spotted Arsenal building a belated attack down their right flank.
Without hesitation, Kane hared back to the left-back position to make a vital interception, broke up the threat and set Heung-Min Son away with a superb forward pass.
At the final whistle, despite having harried and closed down Arsenal’s back line throughout the game in this manner, Kane looked like he was ready to go again, beaming in delight after scoring the winning goal for the third time in the past four games against Arsenal.
By contrast, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looked crestfallen and bemused by his first taste of the real intensity of life at Arsenal. The Gabon striker, Kane’s opposite number, had also started as a number nine but found himself shunted to the left and playing deeper when Arsene Wenger belatedly decided to attack Spurs by sending on Alexandre Lacazette, Alex Iwobi, and Danny Welbeck.
Aubameyang had been so isolated in his favoured position that he had barely touched the ball, and he was no more effective on the left than Henrik Mkhitaryan, whose first taste of the north London derby was also one to forget. And with Mesut Ozil, the third and most illustrious of that attacking triumvirate also reverting to the type that makes him a Marmite player, Arsenal were always going to struggle to score.
And so it proved, with Lacazette’s late misses showing why Emmanuel Petit suggested his future at the club is already under threat.
But it was not just in attack where Arsenal where second best to their bitter rivals. Only the most partisan fan would deny they were second best across the pitch, with the possible exception of Petr Cech, who failed to keep the clean sheet that Hugo Lloris did, but had far more to deal with than the one shot that Jack Wilshere fired at the Frenchman.
Cech made superb saves to deny Kane, Christian Eriksen, and Kieran Trippier, while Spurs missed a hatful of other chances.
A scoreline of 5-0 would not have flattered Tottenham, who were sharper, smarter, tougher, better-organised, and, most importantly, hungrier. The brilliance of Kane, Alli, Eriksen, and Son often disguises their most important contributions, the hard yards they put in by closing down opponents relentlessly, something you rarely see from their opposite numbers in red and white. And while the terrier-like Jack Wilshere was an honourable exception, proving how much he cares about this fixture with a dogged display, he was no match for Mousa Dembele, who ran the show from midfield.
Mauricio Pochettino knows what it is all about too.
“Arsenal is our sworn enemy and I know what it means, the derby, but we don’t care if Arsenal are behind us, or where they are. It is more important to build something special at the club with these players. Our motivation is always the same: To win.
Arsenal, by contrast, have been sliding since they last won the title 14 years ago, which was around the time they let Kane go from their youth academy. How different things might have been if they’d allowed him to develop into one of the world’s best strikers, something Wenger and Pochettino both agree on.
Like Aubameyang, Lacazette cost around €60m but looks short of confidence, as Wenger admitted. “Maybe his confidence is not at its highest because he has seen a competitor coming in for him. But he is a goalscorer, he scored goals in his whole career. He will score again.”
Without Kane’s work ethic, however, will that be enough? Arsenal may emulate Manchester United, who gained a Champions League place by winning the Europa League last season. On Thursday they travel to Ostersund without Aubameyang who is ineligible, and without much enthusiasm for the competition, as Wenger admitted.
While Spurs prepare for a huge Champions League night in Turin tomorrow, the sort of glamour fixture against Juventus that Arsenal once relished, the Gunners face an obscure Swedish side in a game that will barely register on Europe’s top table.
That should be evidence enough of the shift in fortunes in north London.
Lloris 7; Trippier 7, Sanchez 7, Vertonghen 9, Davies 8; Dier 7, Dembele 9; Eriksen 7, Alli 8, Son 6; Kane 9 Tottenham
Lamela for Son 70, Wanyama for Alli 84.
Cech 8; Bellerin 7, Mustafi 6, Koscielny 6, Monreal 6; Wilshere 7, Xhaka 6, Elneny 6; Ozil 6, Aubameyang 6, Mikhitaryan 5.
Iwobi for Elneny 65, Lacazette for Mkhitaryan 65, Welbeck for Xhaka 85.
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