Sunday 18 August 2019

A lack of thought costs Tottenham in North London derby as Ozil and Sanchez star in convincing Arsenal win

Davinson Sanchez of Tottenham Hotspur and Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal in action during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on November 18, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Davinson Sanchez of Tottenham Hotspur and Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal in action during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on November 18, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Ed Malyon

Say it now and say it clear, this was an important win for Arsenal. This was a win that hauls them back into top-four contention, that restores much-needed confidence and bragging rights against a neighbour who has bested them convincingly in recent months and years, and Tottenham must now reassess where they are.

While Harry Kane’s absence went some way to excusing that defeat at Old Trafford and Toby Alderweireld’s was felt here. This was not a performance that we have come to expect from Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs teams. Or is it?

It is another game against a top-six rival where they have looked sluggish. Of the four they have played this season – Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and now Arsenal – they have lost three and there is a trend developing where a mix of conservative play and a fault of their system is exposed. This happened again today at a sodden Emirates, where Pochettino’s wing-backs were incapable of getting forward and providing the width this system demands.

Without them buccaneering forward Spurs are left with a back five and a narrow midfield hoping that Dele Alli or Harry Kane can create something from nothing. They’re both capable of doing so but this isn’t ever going to be an effective strategy over long periods or against the better teams.

Harry Winks’ introduction helped the recovery from an awful first half because he is a player – unusually, perhaps, for an English midfielder – who is willing to put his foot on the ball and think. Pochettino’s countrymen call it the pausa, the split-second when a playmaker stops and the world continues to revolve around him, an opportunity presents itself – rather than being forced – and the pass is executed.

Being able to take time on the ball allows those galloping wing-backs to get upfield. It allows Alli and Kane to find pockets of space of Christian Eriksen to find angles. Moussa Sissoko provides many things but it isn’t a thoughtful approach to interplay. Today, though, he was at least more effective than a surprisingly quiet Moussa Dembele.

As much as that substitution told us Pochettino wanted more thought in his team, his double-sub told us that Dele Alli and Harry Kane either weren’t fit or able to turn this game around.

Fernando Llorente and Heung-min Son never threatened to either. The funny thing about this north London derby is that it actually fulfilled two largely-debunked stereotypes of the two teams. Spurs were, well, Spursy. Bottlers. They came in as stylish, swaggering favourites and were utter dirge for much of a disappointing display.

Arsenal flattered to deceive. They could have won by more today and yet there is no overwhelmingly positive outlook because they’re always capable of dropping a clanger next week or, as they did today, finally finding their perfect front three only to realise two can (and probably will) leave on a Bosman next summer.

So in that way, this was an ultimately confusing and frustrating north London derby for neutrals and narratives. But derbies shouldn’t be about either of those. Instead it is a day for Arsenal to crow and ignore the worries down the road. For Tottenham, whose lack of thought partially cost them today, it is time for some thinking.

Independent News Service

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