Amid the joy of inflicting a big defeat on a rejuvenated rival, the natural question that the perennially frustrated Arsenal support will ask of Arsene Wenger’s regime is why their team cannot raise their performance to this kind of level more often.
Against Wenger’s side the Tottenham Hotspur team that swept aside Real Madrid 17 days earlier was twisting in the wind for much of the first half, and then simply unable to force themselves back into the game after the break.
It was a poor performance from Mauricio Pochettino’s team, especially in the first 45 minutes which left them too much to do to get back in the game. It was also a vintage display from the home side.
Arsenal pressed Spurs high in the first half and compressed the space around Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli, both starved of possession. They shut down Harry Kane, who still looked short of his usual sharpness.
When the chances came for Arsenal, Skhodran Mustafi and then Alexis Sanchez took them although both first half goals had the hint of offside about them.
It was a great derby game, with no margin for error on either side and although Arsenal might have surprised their own fans with their quality, the old tensions were not far from the surface. The home support reacted furiously to Wenger’s decision to replace Alexandre Lacazette with Francis Coquelin 17 minutes from the end.
Pochettino responded by substituting Kane and Alli, both of whom had struggled to make an impression on the game. The Spurs manager will be concerned by this performance, a much more worrying one than that which resulted in the narrow defeat away to Manchester United at the end of last month. His team looked strangely vulnerable, and having fallen behind lacked Arsenal’s intensity.
It was a performance that was excellent throughout the Arsenal team, including Mesut Ozil and Sanchez, the two contract refuseniks who, despite the uncertainty they have created themselves over their future responded to the occasion. Mustafi was exceptional in a fine defensive performance.
The home side were well-organised in the first half, attacking that left side of the Spurs defence relentlessly and that was eventually where the second goal came from, although there had been other chances too. It was a bad afternoon for Ben Davies who, in the left wing-back position had a couple of bad touches early on and never quite recovered his poise.
This was a different kind of Arsenal, who pushed up into space and pressed as a single unit. They were on top by the midway point of the first half and Spurs looked stretched. Chances came down their left side that required some drastic interventions from the Spurs defence and Hugo Lloris had to be quick off his line to tackle Sanchez outside the box.
The first goal came from a questionable free-kick awarded by Mike Dean for a foul by Davinson Sanchez on his Arsenal namesake. It looked like a clean tackle although in the aftermath, Dean seemed to point out to the protesting Eric Dier that the Spurs defender had grabbed his opponent’s shirt at the shoulder.
Ozil’s free-kick was headed back past Lloris by Mustafi with the Spurs goalkeeper flat-footed this time. At the point the free-kick was taken, the German was also very marginally offside. By this time Arsenal were well on top. They got their second before half-time when Lacazette released Hector Bellerin down the right and he crossed to the near post where Sanchez’s strength and determination saw him finish. Again, Lacazette looked marginally offside.
In the second half Pochettino brought on Harry Winks for the struggling Mousa Dembele and later Heung-min Son and Fernando Llorente but his side continued to play in front of Arsenal rather than get behind them. There was a fine save by Petr Cech from Dier’s header although precious few chances were created by Spurs. If anything Arsenal, and Sanchez in particular, looked the more likely to get another on the breakaway.