By Ali Zihni
The Arsenal manager Unai Emery met up with his friend and former Catalonia adversary Mauricio Pochettino at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday in this eagerly awaited North London Derby.
It was a meeting that both sets of fans had been looking forward to since the fixtures were released in June.
Emery pre match had stated “this is an important match, they have more points and are a very good team, moments like today are very important.”
Such was the mutual respect and friendship of the two that Emery had recommended Pochettino to succeed him at Valencia.
There was no doubt many independent observers would be looking on closely to see if Arsenal really were improving and if Tottenham could show the character and winning mentality to win things.
One thing was for certain Arsenal could not afford to lose this match and be six points adrift at the halfway stage of the season.
Arsenal kicked off the 183rd derby, the first time in 53 matches that Arsene Wenger had not been involved in this fixture, and the expectation could be felt in the air as the match started at a frantic pace.
Although Emery appeared to be nervous and pensive, he had no need to be – his Arsenal side, who have been slow starters this season, took off at a frenetic pace.
They were chasing like terriers, hounding every Spurs player in possession as the visitors struggled to get a foothold in the game.
With several Tottenham players giving the ball away sloppily in their own half, the Arsenal wing-backs were charging forward at every opportunity and finding time and space, while the Spurs back four seemed disorganised and disorientated.
Lucas Torreria’s midfield bite was winning Arsenal the ball high up the pitch and the pressure grew in the early minutes, the first 10 minutes of the game were played at a whirlwind pace as Arsenal won an 8th minute corner.
The corner was fired into the six-yard box and inexplicably the normally ice cool and assured Jan Vertonghen flapped at the ball with his arm in the air in a moment of madness and gave Arsenal an early penalty.
The Belgian received a yellow card, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang took the penalty and coolly slid it the other side of the diving Hugo Lloris – it was no more than Arsenal had deserved for their bright and energetic start.
The Gunners kept the energy levels high, the constant pressing continued for the next 10 minutes – it was frantic, frenzied and relentless.
Spurs were struggling to clear their heads, though they were starting to create counter attacking opportunities, using the ever willing Son Heung min’s running power and pace to
disrupt the Arsenal back five.
In fact Son had burst through minutes after Arsenal’s early goal only to see his near shot saved well by Bernd Leno.
Arsenal were still creating and causing havoc – a fizzing cross from Alex Iwobi was almost turned in by the alert Aubameyang, only denied by a desperate Spurs block.
Arsenal had shown tremendous energy in an action-packed start to the derby, working tirelessly, both Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were playing narrow, allowing the Arsenal full backs to bomb forward at pace and exploit the space, whilst stretching the over-worked Spurs midfield and defence.
18 minutes in and Lloris had to pull off yet another save to deny Iwobi with his feet.
Spurs were slowly growing into the game and had started creating more counter attacking
opportunities, Son producing yet another good run and shot forcing another Leno save after 22 minutes.
Totenham broke again after 26 minutes with the enigma that is Moussa Sissoko, who wasted a fantastic chance to create with a woeful cross.
The warnings were there for Arsenal as Spurs were gaining more possession and winning more tackles further up the pitch as they grew into the match.
Just before the half hour Sokratis dived in and fouled Son on the left-hand side of the box, Eriksen whipped in a delightful free-kick at pace and Eric Dier glanced his header goal wards.
Leno could only scramble the ball into the net – all square.
In the ensuing goal celebrations the Arsenal substitutes seemed to react badly to the Spurs equaliser leading to a huge melee, with most of the players, subs and coaching staff involved – amazingly referee Mike Dean took no action.
Before we could take a breath Son raced into the box, Rob Holding slid across without any control.
Penalty, whilst it was debatable if Son had been caught, it was reckless by Holding – Harry Kane clinically dispatched the penalty and in the blink of an eye Spurs were 2-1 up.
The rest of the half calmed down, although there was plenty of effort and bluster, there was little goalmouth action as Spurs took control, although Lloris was called into action to make a save from Shkodran Mustafi header.
Emery reacted with two changes at the break, introducing Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette to replace Iwobi and the ineffective Mkhitaryan.
Spurs started the half the better of the two sides, a desperate Holding header denying Kane and the Leno saving from a Kane free kick.
Then out of the blue, Arsenal broke, Ramsey fed Aubameyang, whose wicked first time shot from the edge of the box was brilliantly placed at pace into the corner leaving Lloris no chance.
Arsenal were resurgent, with the crowd urging them on with Ramsey and Torreria both coming close in the next few minutes, then in what will be a moment that Spurs and Son will regret, Bellerin presented the ball to the Spurs attacker in the middle of the Arsenal goal 25 yards out with time and space.
Son had plenty of options but in a rash moment that was typical of this Jekyll and Hyde Tottenham performance he shot too early and a chance to retake the lead was gone.
It was to be their last.
Minutes later the game changed again for the final time. With 15 minutes left Juan Foyth, who had been a surprise inclusion ahead of Toby Alderweireld and had played well, showing calmness and maturity up to that stage, was dispossessed.
The ball was moved on to the determined Lacazette, who fought off two Tottenham players and fired – the ball deflected wickedly on to the Spurs post and in giving the helpless Lloris no chance at all.
Before Spurs could clear their heads it was 4-2 – Aubameyang slid Torreria in, Dier dived in but missed the ball, allowing the impressive Uruguayan to race through dispatching his finish beyond a desperate Lloris.
Pochettinio reacted by making changes but it was all too little too late – just as the Spurs fans thought the day could not get any worse Vertonghen was sent off.
The ever-reliable Belgian had a poor game and compounded it by rashly diving in on Lacazette, earning him a fully justified second yellow.
Vertonghen’s performance was a reflection of the inept Tottenham showing, littered
with sloppiness and poor decisions.
The game petered to a conclusion, with the oles ringing and taunts aimed at the Tottenham players from the Arsenal faithful rang around the Emirates eventually erupting into a crescendo of applauds for their warriors – a word not often used to describe Arsenal players in the last few years.
The Arsenal victory was well merited – they showed energy, enthusiasm and resilience. The soft underbelly they had developed under Wenger in his latter years seems to have been removed by the impressive Emery, who outwitted and out-thought Pochettino, with his tactics and substitutions.
The Arsenal players outran and outfought their Spurs opponents.
All the questions now will be about how Pochettino and his squad react and bounce back.
Player Summary and Ratings
Leno – made some good saves, dealt poorly with Spurs first goal (6)
Mustafi – was solid, though made a few errors (6)
Sokratis – solid and resolute (7)
Holding – found out more than once (6)
Kolasinac – Plenty of energy and drive (7)
Bellerin – started the game at break neck speed, offering options to the attack (7)
Xhaha – quietly efficient (6)
Torreria -energy drive, determination and in your face, kept Arsenal ticking and scored the 4th (9)
Iwobi – started brightly subbed off at half time (6)
Mkhitaryan – ineffective, though worked hard (6)
Aubameyang – the main man, scored an excellent goal in his brace, his pace a constant threat (9)
Lacazette – made a huge difference in the second half, scoring the winner (8)
Ramsey – along with Lacazette made a big difference as Arsenal came storming back (8)
Guendouzi – Not on long enough to make a real impact (N/A)
Lloris – kept Spurs in at times, could not do much about the goals (7)
Davies – offered nothing going forward, was steady (6)
Foyth – apart from being robbed of possession for the third goal was Spurs’ best defender (6)
Vertonghen – unusually rash, made more than one poor decision. (4)
Aurier – plenty of energy and drive, not much quality (6)
Sissoko – see above (6)
Dier – scored Spurs’ first but lost the midfield battle (6)
Eriksen – largely anonymous (6)
Alli – worked hard but did not have much impact on the game (6)
Kane – well marshalled and starved of service (6)
Son – Willing runner, constant threat for the first hour, then faded. (7)
Lucas – not on long enough to judge (N/A)
Winks – showed more passion than others but not on for long (N/A)
Rose – only had 5 minutes (N/A)