As North London derbies go, this was perhaps one of the tamest to begin with. Matches between the two London rivals have traditionally been quick starters, like gunpowder kegs with very short fuses. But this match failed to ignite, particularly in the first half.
Both managers went with identical formations; electing to three in the centre of midfield; Wenger choosing Mohammed Elneny at the base with Jack Wilshere and Granit Xhaka either side of him. Upfront, new boy Pierre Emerick Aubameyang continued as the lone striker in between Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
This wasn’t the best game for the Arsenal by any stretch. Spurs were impressive with how well they interchanged positions and passes. But for all of their good work, they could not find a way past the Arsenal back line. The away side have always been accused of shoddy defending, especially when away against the big teams, but none of that was on show in the first period. For the most part, Arsenal defended stoutly and resolutely. That is apart from the mandatory heart in the mouth moments for any Arsenal defence.
There were even a couple of chances to break away on the counter but sloppy passing let the Arsenal attackers down again and again.
The second half so very different however. Despite being the first team out on the field for the start of the second half, it was almost like the Arsenal team didn’t want to start the half. In quick succession, Harry Kane, which was kept pretty quiet in the first half, was allowed a trio of very good chances. The first, he headed past Petr Cech from a Ben Davies cross for the only goal of the game. The second the headed wide from another cross and the third he hit straight at the Arsenal goalkeeper. That was not the end of the chances for the home team. Eriksen had a free kick saved, Dele Alli shot was blocked, Lamela and Trippier were denied by Cech. Somehow, Spurs were only one goal up.
A response was required from the away team and the manager tried to spark that by introducing the only two Alexs left in the team; Iwobi and Lacazette for Mkhitaryan and Elneny. Initially, the changes seemed to have no impact but as the match wore on, Arsenal began to gain a foothold on the game.
Lacazette was presented with two very good chances close to the end of the match. The first he blasted way over, the second he dragged wide of Lloris and the post.
In the end, Spurs were perhaps the worthy winners but what really made the difference on the day was how clinical the home team’s number nine was on the day.