Arsenal dispatched Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in a one-sided North London Derby and went eight points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
The Gunners took the initiative from the off, probing Spurs’ backline and finding joy. It didn’t take long for Antonio Conte ‘s side to crumble, as Hugo Lloris flapped a cross-come-shot from Bukayo Saka into his own net in the 14th minute, a howler from Tottenham’s formerly reliable goalkeeper.
Martin Odegaard then doubled Arsenal’s lead before half-time, whizzing in an effort from 25 yards out to all but kill the contest. Spurs mustered a fightback in the second half but couldn’t sustain much, unlike Mikel Arteta ‘s rampant Gunners.
Here are six talking points from the North London Derby.
1. Tottenham’s early let-off
“And lads, don’t give them anything cheaply.” Like any manager from Sunday League to the Premier League, words to that effect could well’ve been Antonio Conte’s final message to his players before kick-off.
Unfortunately for the Italian, Tottenham almost gave Arsenal a leg up after only seven minutes, as captain Hugo Lloris was forced to make amends after succumbing to the Gunners’ high-pressing forward line. A ball out to French compatriot Clement Lenglet left the Spurs defender in trouble, with his pass being deflected back the Tottenham penalty area thanks to Martin Odegaard’s interception.
Gabriel Martinelli efficiently guided the ball to Eddie Nketiah, but Arsenal’s striker couldn’t beat Lloris from close range. Gary Neville described it as “defending on ice” and Spurs cracked soon after.
2. Lloris caught lacking
Oh, Hugo. While being a fantastic servant to Tottenham and still still among the game’s most revered ‘keepers, Lloris has also had his fair share of miserable moments in recent years, and the 14th minute here can be added to the growing list.
On the week of his retirement from international football, after a record 145 caps for France, the 36-year-old stalwart made a shocking error to literally hand Arsenal the lead. With Bukayo Saka shaping up for a cross on the right-hand byline, the Gunners No.7 decided to fire an effort at Lloris, whose attempted parry away from goal inexplicably put the ball into his own net.
To the disbelief of almost everyone inside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Arsenal had managed to gain an early advantage without breaking sweat. Lloris made a smart stop shortly after the Gunners’ opening goal, but fans had seen his frailties and links this week of a move for Everton shot-stopper Jordan Pickford no-doubt sprung to mind.
3. Sinking Spurs
In contrast to Arteta’s task of keeping the ship steady heading towards the spring, Conte needs to change a whole host of things about his team if they’re to qualify for the Champions League once again. Having pipped Arsenal last year, Tottenham appear to be heading backwards this time around.
Their demanding Italian boss will no-doubt plead for new signings in the ongoing January transfer window, but a lack of cohesion in his current crop of players is perhaps the most immediate part of his task. With Man United, and Newcastle only getting better, Spurs face a huge challenge to finish in the top four.
4. Odegaard doubles up
When these teams last met at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in April, you could hardly separate North London’s two giants. Whether it be points or performances, both teams looked level. Eight months later, though, the gulf if class is clear and this matchup did truly look like first versus fifth.
After Lloris’ clanger, Spurs struggled to get out of their own half and invited an Arsenal onslaught with a lack of intensity off the ball and wits on it. It felt only a matter of time before the Gunners would double their lead, and a breakaway move in the 36th minute gave Odegaard – a captain who had a much better afternoon – the chance to make it 2-0.
As Tottenham centre-back Cristian Romero backed off, the Norwegian playmaker unleashed a shot from 25 yards out which zipped across the turf and into Lloris’ left-hand corner. Commentator Neville reckoned that the Spurs goalkeeper should’ve again done better, but the amount of space that his dawdling outfield teammates gave to Saka and Odergaard in the build-up criminal, and Conte’s men were rightly punished.
5. Xhaka and Conte’s spat
Two highly-strung characters, what else did we expect? As Tottenham respond to their first-half malaise with a much-improved display in the second period, the derby began to get more contested and brought with it some spice.
With Dejan Kulusevski and Harry Kane doing their best to turn the screw for Spurs and test Aaron Ramsdale in the Arsenal goal, Conte’s side opened up at the back, leaving the already booked Romero vulnerable to counter attacks. In one move on the hour mark, the Argentine defender clipped Xhaka and the Gunners vehemently appealed for a second yellow card.
Red shirts swarmed referee Craig Pawson, but he wasn’t willing to get his cards out to please the visitors. Amid the appeals, Xhaka rose to his feet and began nattering with Conte – hardly in a friendly manner. The pair gesticulated at one another and as the TV cameras moved on, they kept going at it for a few minutes longer, adding some needle in an already fiery encounter.
6. Arteta’s eight-point cushion
Are Arsenal the real deal? Well, we’re not even halfway through the season yet, so we won’t know the answer for quite some time. Nevertheless, the Gunners still boast an eight-point lead over champions Manchester City and look like the team to beat at this early stage.
Hosting in-form Manchester United next Sunday, we’re sure to see Arteta and co face a series of tests between now and May to figure out whether they’re truly capable of winning their first league title in 19 years. They passed this one with flying colours, though, dealing with a late flurry of Tottenham chances to come away with all three points.