Red card for Royal the death knell for Spurs
There is always a danger, recent Arsenal history will show, that this flourishing of the Mikel Arteta era may just lead nowhere against stronger forces, with greater resources, at a club that had forgotten what it was like to contend for a league title in a meaningful way.
Yet, for the time being, the results say it with emphasis: the Premier League leaders have seven wins and just one defeat, and once more demonstrated themselves capable of overcoming setbacks. Not just any setback but a Harry Kane equaliser to quell the roar of the lunchtime North London derby and shake the fragile confidence of the Arteta manifesto. Arsenal came back in style and, by the end, there was no question who this day belonged to.
Indeed, Granit Xhaka had already given Arsenal the lead when the game turned for good with the dismissal of Emerson Royal, a challenge that had Antonio Conte despairing even before referee Anthony Taylor waved the red card. An error by Hugo Lloris for the second Arsenal goal had made it hard enough, but this red card was the moment that made Tottenham’s challenge insurmountable. It felt like a grave loss for a side that had come with a plan and were coping.
Conte’s team had not wanted much of the ball unless it was on the counter-attack, but they had looked good on that after Thomas Partey had given his side the lead. With the move for that goal, as with everything else they tried, Arsenal built up good positions and kept the ball. Spurs played off the back foot and even with a blitz of early second-half Arsenal pressure, and a goal behind for the second time, there would have been a belief that there was something in the game for the away side.
Royal’s red card looked innocuous at first and then it became clear that the studs of the left foot had been planted somewhere around Gabriel Martinelli’s left ankle. Yet it looked mild enough that the red card caught so many of Martinelli’s teammates out. They had not petitioned Taylor in the moments before it.
Arsenal had been dangerous before then, but with a man extra, they looked unstoppable. Gabriel Jesus, the scorer of Arsenal’s second, had caused problems throughout. It was all built on that solid midfield of Xhaka, Partey and Martin Odegaard. A robust and creative team that has cost around £265 million to build over Arteta’s time in charge and, in its first XI at least, looks up to sustaining the challenge.
It was at times a fascinating game of two contrasting systems. From Arsenal, the meticulous patterns of play, building out moves into promising positions for the quicksilver forwards at Arteta’s disposal. Then, for Spurs, the low-block absorbing what it could and waiting for that small glitch in the system that would let them in.
The front three of Kane, Richarlison and Heung-min Son are hard to stop – a muscular wave of precise passers that hits you hard and quickly. For Spurs’ first-half equaliser, Arsenal had barely recovered from the previous phase before Richarlison was bearing down on them. He came from the right channel, past Xhaka, who held his hands up in surrender, and was then clipped by the anxious challenge of the Brazilian defender Gabriel Magalhaes.
The penalty was dispatched by Kane beautifully, sending his England team-mate Aaron Ramsdale towards his right post and clipping the ball down the middle.
A lovely finish from Partey had given Arsenal the lead nine minutes earlier, sweeping the ball right-footed just inside Lloris’ left-sided post. It had come to him via Bukayo Saka and then Ben White, with a little exchange that looked well-rehearsed. But Arsenal were good at the spontaneous parts, too, and Jesus would bewitch Spurs’ defence just before half-time with a run that took him past Royal, then Cristian Romero.
They started the second half much the stronger. It was Saka’s shot from the left that Lloris pushed out and when Cristian Romero tried to guide it back to him, the ball slipped under the goalkeeper. Jesus finished that and might have had another with a header. He was denied a penalty when Eric Dier seemed to clip him, then came the red card. Xhaka hit the third after Martinelli had once again opened up the space, and Spurs’s day was over.
© Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2022)
Telegraph Media Group Limited