The North London Derby. No matter the day, week or year – will always entertain, and Sunday’s game was no exception to the rule.
Speaking after the FA Cup replay with Southampton last season, Jose Mourinho said: “I had to manage this chess game without pieces.
“You know. No bishops, no kings, no queens. Very, very hard with so many injuries and problems. No Bergwijn.
“I cannot speak about the progress I want to make because I don’t have the players I want.
“And the team needs players to progress, collectively, tactically and dynamically. We need to have the players but we don’t have the players.“
Flash-forward to Sunday 6th December, Mourinho’s Tottenham have just beaten fierce North London rivals Arsenal 2-0, and sit pretty at the summit of the Premier League.
Unbeaten in nine domestically with the third most goals scored and the least conceded, it’s fair to say that Mourinho might have just found his “bishops, kings and queens.”
Sunday’s game really was a story of Spurs ruling the kingdom that is North London.
The result was a culmination of every single one of his players willing to die for their manager. Defensively resolute throughout, Spurs never really looked troubled by Arsenal’s timid attacking presence.
In Mourinho’s terms, his players were “animals”. It felt as if Harry Kane & Heung-Min Son were the leaders of the Pride, patiently waiting to pounce on an Arsenal mistake. The visitors began the game on the front foot, with unconvincing possession in the Tottenham half.
Unsurprisingly, it took Kane and Son just 13 minutes to penetrate the vulnerable prey that is Arsenal’s defence.
An Eric Dier clearance landed at the feet of Kane who quickly set Son away flying down the left flank, bearing down on Arsenal’s goal. Most thought he was going to knock the ball past Rob Holding, instead he cut in from the left and curled a delicious 30-yard strike into Bernd Leno’s far corner, the German keeper helpless as the ball soared past him.
Son’s 10th Premier League goal of the season also means that the last time Tottenham lost a league game in which Son scored was in May 2016, a 2-1 loss to Southampton.
The game then slowly began to settle, with half chances for Pierre Emile-Hojbjerg and Alexandre Lacazette at each end.
Then on the stroke of half time, Arsenal got Mourinho’d. After Thomas Partey decided he’d had enough of Tottenham and walked off “injured”, Spurs saw that opportunity to pounce.
Much-improved right-back this season Serge Aurier made a crucial interception in his box, and released Giovani Lo Celso into 50 yards of space, and in a flash, Spurs were in Arsenal’s box. The Argentinian had all the time in the world to roll in Son, and the South Korean, full of confidence, smartly rolled in the overlapping Kane who fired off the crossbar for 2-0.
Then the game plan was simple. Tottenham were 2-0 up, it was then Arsenal’s job to beat them. Which failed miserably, with them registering just two shots on target over the 90 minutes.
From half-time, it was easy for Mourinho’s men. Defensively they are so comfortable in their own skin, so every one of the 54 crosses Arsenal attempted was like swatting a fly away from one’s food.
The match as a whole seemed as if Arteta had fallen into the same trap that Pep Guardiola and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did. The blueprint was there for Arsenal, Son and Kane’s counter-attacking prowess has been on show all season. Yet, inexperience and stubbornness from the away side proved their downfall.
However for all that Arsenal were poor, Spurs were magnificent. Fans are finally seeing the benefit of every player buying into the Jose Mourinho plan. Epitomised by the work-horses in midfield, Hojbjerg and Moussa Sissoko. Chasing everything, winning every ball and protecting their central defenders from the barrage of Arsenal attacks.
One of the main reasons Toby Alderwiereld and Eric Dier have had such a resurgence this season is because in their ‘low block’, they are much less likely to be exposed.
The result means Spurs sit at the top of the Premier League for the third week in a row, and are looking more and more likely to mount a serious title challenge.
On the other hand, it looks gloomy for the red part of North London. They sit in 15th place, only thanks to Brighton not winning against Southampton, to which they could’ve been 16th and starting to look over their shoulder.
Written by Joey Pickthall