Tottenham Hotspur hosted Arsenal in the last-ever North London Derby at White Hart Lane on Sunday. To say that this was a big match is an understatement: Spurs entered the game knowing that Chelsea had defeated Everton 3-0 to maintain their lead at the top of the table, but also that a win over the Gunners would mean finishing ahead of their arch rivals for the first time in 22 seasons.
And despite the enormousness of the situation, Tottenham were anything but Spursy in this match, scoring two goals in two minutes to send White Hart lane into jubilation. Dele Alli got Spurs off the mark in the second half, and Harry Kane earned -- and converted — a penalty kick to see off the Gunners, who are now serious doubts for top four.
Spurs’ lineup was, for the second big game in a row, unexpected. Mousa Dembele, who picked up a knock in the midweek match against Crystal Palace, started on the bench, and Spurs reverted to a 4-2-3-1 with Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama in the pivot. More surprisingly, Kieran Trippier got the start at right fullback over Kyle Walker, who was named to the bench.
The match started brightly, with Spurs playing a very high line and Spurs looking to attack from the opening kick. Harry Kane had the first chance for Spurs just 15 seconds into the match, firing a low shot and forcing a save from Petr Cech.
Spurs had the bulk of the possession in the early stages of the first half, but there were few clear cut chances for either side. Toby Alderweireld had one of the better ones in this period, putting a powerful header wide of goal off of a Spurs corner.
Tottenham focused much of their attacks on the left side of the pitch, with Son Heung-Min and Ben Davies combining to try and put the ball up quickly on the flank, and challenging the right side of Arsenal’s back three.
But perhaps the best chance of the game came from the other side of the pitch. In the 23rd minute, Harry Kane received the ball from Christian Eriksen inside the box, held the ball up well and put a lofted chip to the back post. Dele Alli timed his run perfectly, but couldn’t get his wide-open header on target from point-blank range with the net gaping. It was a huge miss for Spurs.
Two minutes later, Spurs had another huge chance go begging. Sonny, after pushing the ball up the left side of the pitch, poked the ball towards goal. The ball took a deflection and fell to a wide-open Christian Eriksen, who inexplicably grazed the top of the crossbar and out for a goal kick.
Despite mostly conceding the ball to Spurs, Arsenal had one good chance late in the half. Ben Davies cheaply gave the ball away in Spurs’ half, and Arsenal set up Aaron Ramsey for a low curling effort that forced a low diving save from Hugo Lloris.
Jan Vertonghen had one final curling effort just before halftime that forced another save from Cech, but the first half ended in a frustrating 0-0 draw.
Neither side opted to make any changes for the start of the second half, but both team came out looking to make a quick impact. This is the derby, after all, and neither club was going to sit back and defend.
Victor Wanyama had the first bite of the apple on a counterattack in the 47th minute, but his rifled shot from outside the box was just tipped over the bar by Cech. Son had another crack 30 seconds later that hit side netting.
Spurs finally got their goal in the 55th minute in a scrappy fashion. Kane received the ball in the box and found Dele Alli, who was quickly closed down. He dumped the ball of to Christian Eriksen, whose close-range effort was blocked by Cech. The rebound, however, fell to Dele Alli three yards from goal who poked the ball into the bottom corner to give Spurs the lead.
Two minutes later, Harry Kane was brought down by Gabriel in the box. While Kane looked to have embellished the contact, it was an easy call for Michael Oliver to make. It was Kane himself who stepped up and fired an unstoppable low shot in the corner to put Spurs up 2-0. It was Kane’s 19th goal in 26 appearances in a London derby.
Arsenal went from a team in with a shout for an upset win at the Lane to a shellshocked team down two goals, but they still had dangerous moments. Olivier Giroud had a chance to halve Spurs lead in the 59th minute, but he mishit his shot and it was easily collected by Lloris. Alexis also had a chance on an Arsenal counter, but again Hugo was up to the effort.
But Spurs never let up on the pressure. Jan Vertonghen nearly scored on a long-range effort, Harry Kane had a near post header that went just wide, and Michael Oliver denied to call a clear handball penalty by Alexis Sanchez in Spurs’ box.
Wanyama nearly enabled Spurs’ third goal in the 78th minute. After pinching a turnover in Spurs’ half, he started a counterattack, and found Harry Kane who’s shot was again saved by Cech. Arsenal’s keeper was again called to make a big save shortly after, when Alderweireld had another open header on goal palmed away.
Spurs didn’t make a substitution until the 79th minute, when Mousa Dembele came on for Son Heung-Min. Kyle Walker eventually came on for Trippier in the 87th minute. Dele Alli went off for Moussa Sissoko in added time.
Arsenal were desperate for a goal and threw everything they had forward, but despite a few half chances, they couldn’t get past Spurs’ defense. The final score ended 2-0, with Spurs finally banishing St. Totteringham’s Day after 22 seasons. The win was Spurs’ ninth consecutive league win, the first time that has happened since 1960-61, the last time they won the first division.
- What a game! What a team! What a season! MIND THE GAP!
- This doesn’t quite make up for Arsenal winning two titles at White Hart Lane in 1971 and 2004. But it’s a pretty good start.
- It’s an NLD, so of course there were a few nervous moments defensively, but on the whole Spurs’ defense was more than able to deal with whatever Arsenal threw at them. Anything that got past Spurs’ back line, Hugo took care of.
- Harry Kane was absolutely immense today.
- The crowd at White Hart Lane was absolutely incredible. I know there were a few Carty-Free people at the match today, and I’ll be anxiously awaiting their reports of crowd atmosphere.
- Spurs went up 2-0 almost in spite of their midfield, which without Dembele lacked in both creativity and passing efficacy. But it’s another example of how Spurs’ reserves have stepped up when important players have gone down this season.
- Call your Gooner friends, wear your colors proudly in the street. NORTH LONDON IS OURS!
- A reminder as we contemplate what looks like another title run that will come up just short:
Another IMPORTANT REMINDER from Cartilage Free Captain pic.twitter.com/25Vbcu4Tzo— Cartilage Free Capt. (@cartilagefree) January 16, 2017