Tottenham 3-0 Arsenal analyzed: Savvy Kane and Son, Holding left exposed, Arteta failing to adapt

Tottenham Hotspur beat Arsenal 3-0 on Thursday to reignite the race for fourth place and a spot in next season’s Champions League. Two goals from Harry Kane and one from Son Heung-min saw Spurs, in fifth, finish the evening one point and one place behind their north London rivals in the Premier League table with two games to play each.

Here, Jack Pitt-Brooke and Art de Roche analyze the big talking points from the match…


Cristian who?

Cristian Romero was not missed as much as many expected. Spurs fans were crestfallen when the news came through that the Argentinian had not recovered from a hip problem, forcing Antonio Conte to bring in Davinson Sanchez for his first start in nearly three months. And in the early minutes, when Arsenal were pressing so well and Spurs struggled to play out from the back, Romero’s absence felt costly. Some home fans even let their frustration get the better of them as Sanchez dallied on the ball.

But in the end it barely mattered. Tottenham did not have their usual smooth build-up but they still found a way to get the ball forward and create chances. They took their opportunities and got that crucial lead. With the confidence of the home crowd behind him, Sanchez looked like a different player after those early hiccups, carrying the ball forward and finding his team-mates, as Spurs closed out the second half.

Tottenham show ‘winning mentality’

This was a win all about mentality and efficiency. Spurs did not start at their best but they were more intelligent.

It was Arsenal who conceded the early penalty and who had a man sent off. Tottenham just had to pounce on those errors.

Kane, like Spurs, started slowly but he buried his penalty and then took his brave, sharp header at the far post for the second goal. Son, meanwhile, was so smart. He won the spot-kick Kane converted and then also the battle with Rob Holding that resulted in the Arsenal defender being sent off. Then his clever finish at the start of the second half caught Arsenal off-guard and killed the game.

There is an experience gulf between these two teams and it made all the difference here. Kane, Son, Eric Dier and Hugo Lloris have been here before, and it showed. This is what a “winning mentality” looks like in practice.

Could Tottenham have won by more?

Spurs were so dominant in the second half, it does feel like a bit of a mystery they did not score more than three.

Emerson Royal had a header kept out by Aaron Ramsdale, who also saved from Kane. Son missed a chance he would usually take. Tottenham were creating big chances almost every time they attacked against a dispirited 10-man Arsenal. But equally, it felt at times as if Spurs were happy to conserve some energy, given how big their last two games, at home to Burnley and away to Norwich City, are. In the jubilant second-half atmosphere – the best this stage has seen since it opened just over three years ago – passes were being olé’d by the home fans before the hour mark.

But when Conte took off Son and Dejan Kulusevski with 18 minutes left, it felt as if Spurs were taking their foot off the gas. They are going to be needed when Burnley show up on Sunday desperate to preserve their Premier League status.

Jack Pitt-Brooke


Arteta’s choice of formation led to lack of control

Before the match, the debate around how Mikel Arteta would set up his Arsenal team was rife – for one major reason. He had a plan that worked in similar circumstances away to Chelsea both this season and last.

Deploying a fluid 3-4-2-1 that could turn into a back four in each of those games at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal were able to control the spaces. A year ago to the day, the pressing of their attacking midfielders resulted in Emile Smith Rowe’s winner. Three weeks ago, that pressure led to Eddie Nketiah’s opener. In the latter match, Benjamin White’s inclusion as a right-sided center-back in a three (and right-back in a four as the side morphed formation) meant Arsenal had an extra body when the ball came into their half.

With Arteta keeping the flat back four from Sunday’s 2-1 home win over Leeds United, Holding was exposed from incredibly early on. Whenever Son dropped deep to receive the ball, he was determined to get tight, which was a recipe for disaster. Holding fixedated on that battle rather than his primary job.

Two fouls he committed on the South Korea international in the 10th and 12th minutes saw him lucky to go without a booking. Both his yellow cards, which came within seven minutes of each other less than a quarter of an hour later, were a consequence of Holding being too tight. Neither Holding nor Cedric had a grip on their respective flanks.

Even if White was not fit enough to start, Takehiro Tomiyasu’s versatility gave Arteta an option to deploy a tried and tested formula – it was a massive opportunity missed.

Arsenal struggle again in adversity

Arsenal have had a good season, but this loss is the latest example of them faltering when matches do not go to plan. They have now lost nine of the 10 games where they have conceded first (the 2-1 home win over Wolves in February is the outlier).

Responding to in-game adversity is still an area where Arteta needs to improve. His failure to adapt to the situation quickly enough after Holding’s red card just past the half-hour allowed Spurs to gain even more control before doubling their lead soon after.


Mikel Arteta needs to be more adaptable during matches (Photo: Adrian Dennis / Getty Images)

Arteta decided against making a substitution at half-time and instead moved to a back five – Cedric, Tomiyasu, Gabriel, Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Martinelli – which gave Spurs even more initiative when the match resumed after the break.

By not varying their play, it looks as if Arsenal resign themselves to defeat after falling behind. If Plan A is not working against Newcastle United or Everton in their two remaining games, Arteta will need to actively find a solution. Next season’s return to European football will require even more adaptation.

Predecessor Unai Emery’s constant changes ultimately led to confusion but they did pay off early in his Arsenal tenure. The 4-2 north London derby win in December 2018 – when Arsenal were 2-1 down at half-time before Aaron Ramsey (two assists) and Alexandre Lacazette (one goal) came on – was the best example of that.

Arteta’s reluctance to make changes until late in games often leaves his team looking stale.

Considering he has worked hard on the training ground to instil adaptability in his players, the manager’s in-game stasis is difficult to explain – and frustrating.

Art de Roche

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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