With Spurs’ performances exceeding all expectations so far this season, there was only one thing that could dampen the mood: a terrifying match away to North London rivals, Arsenal. The first North London Derby of the season was here, as Tottenham Hotspur travelled to Emirates Stadium in what was to be an exciting but tense encounter with a fair few goals.
Ange Postecoglou sprang one surprise with his selections, bringing Brennan Johnson into the side for his first start at the expense of Manor Solomon. The rest of the XI carried over from the last-gasp win against Sheffield United, and Spurs fans were hoping for a similar result to that match - albeit preferably not coming about in the same late manner, with all the gnawing of fingernails that would have ensured. Summer signing Alejo Veliz also made the bench for the first time, in what was his first of hopefully many appearances.
The match started out with some excitement, as Tottenham captain Heung-Min Son had the ball in the net early; but his celebrations were muted as he knew immediately that he was offside. Arsenal had their own opportunity to open the scoring soon after, as Bukayo Saka played a ball across the box to Gabriel Jesus, crashing the far post; however, Guglielmo Vicario threw himself across and made an excellent save to keep the ledger even.
The Arsenal press resulted in some early nerves from the Tottenham players, as they struggled to play out under pressure. There were a couple of poor passes and touches, exemplified by an awful backpass from Destiny Udogie which Arsenal pounced on, forcing Vicario into action once more.
Unfortunately, Vicario couldn’t do anything about the opening goal. Udogie handed Saka off to Johnson to track another forward run, but Johnson totally overshot his mark leaving Saka in acres of space to curl a shot. It was probably heading wide, but Cristian Romero stepped in front of the ball in an attempt to block the effort and could only deflect it into the Tottenham net, leaving Vicario totally wrong-footed.
Saka continued to harass Tottenham, driving through midfield to start an attack that was only cut out by a good piece of last-ditch defending from Mickey Van de Ven, before Arsenal’s press again created another huge chance as James Maddison turned the ball over in Spurs’ own box. Spurs, though, soon had a huge chance of their own, as a flowing move resulted in a cutback from Son to Johnson. The Welsh international scuffed his shot, but it still took a brilliantly athletic save from David Raya, who threw himself full-stretch to palm the ball away.
That didn’t stop Tottenham though, who soon hit back through their captain, Son. Arsenal cleared the ball after Johnson spurned another chance, where Udogie intercepted possession. He linked up with Maddison, who wriggled his way away from Saka into the Arsenal box, before cutting the ball back to Son. The Korean’s finish was superb, bouncing in off the far post and levelling the scores at 1-1. The scores remained that way until halftime as the referee directed the players back to the tunnel.
Arsenal made some interesting changes at the halftime break: Kai Havertz and Jorginho replacing Fabio Viera and Declan Rice, who apparently were suffering knocks. It didn’t slow down Arsenal though, who soon won a penalty for a Romero handball. VAR checked it for what seemed like an age, but it was eventually given. It was possibly the right call, but nobody knows what the handball rule is now anyways so potentially in another match it would be waved off. Saka stepped up and put Arsenal into the lead.
It wasn’t for long, however, as Son soon had his second. Jorginho dawdled on the ball, and Maddison was excellent in the press to nick the ball. He drove forward and played an incisive pass through the Arsenal defense which Sonny accepted gleefully as he slotted past David Raya for the second time. Spurs were showing their resilience, and the scores were even once more.
Tottenham’s first change followed soon after, and it was an enforced one. Brennan Johnson pulled up while tracking Ben White with an apparent hamstring injury (obligatory: I am not a doctor), and Manor Solomon got his chance to make an impact. Eddie Nketiah then tried to make an impact of his own with a horrendous late sliding tackle on Vicario; he should have probably been sent off, but the referee opted to show Nketiah a yellow card only.
Son had a chance for a hat trick soon after, as Spurs broke forward. Dejan Kulusevski played a gorgeous ball into the Spurs #7, but Sonny’s shot was partially blocked and it was the side netting that rippled. Fears then abounded amongst Spurs fans, as Maddison went down in the build-up to the chance. He was clutching at his knee with an apparent injury but was soon back to his feet (albeit gingerly).
More substitutions soon followed. Reiss Nelson came on for Gabriel Jesus, before Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Richarlison came on for a limping James Maddison and Son, denying the captain a further chance at his hat trick. Arsenal and Tottenham both would have been hoping for all three points, and ten minutes of added time gave both sides belief they could snatch a win; however, bar a few late chances, no clear opportunity presented itself for either team to capture a late victory, and the match finished 2-apiece.
- OK guys, we can breathe now.
- All things considered, that was a damn good performance this early in Postecoglou’s tenure, and a fantastic away point. Arsenal are no joke, and to go there with our history at the Emirates and play them even on possession, shots, and xG (well, almost) is a strong sign that this Spurs side is for real.
- Arsenal’s press really killed us early on, and nerves came to the fore, especially with some of the players who have been our stars so far this season. Udogie, Bissouma, Romero, and Maddison all looked very shaky, but Spurs escaped this early period relatively unscathed, as the press dropped off after 35 minutes or so.
- The Spurs press, however, clicked into gear in the second half, and early in the second 45 Tottenham really caused problems for Arsenal playing out of the back, before the press created the second goal.
- There’s not much more I can say about Heung-Min Son. He was great, and we are lucky to have him. A shout out though to Vicario, with some crucial saves, as well as Van de Ven and Dejan Kulusevski, who I thought were excellent today. Mickey made a number of vital defensive plays, and Deki worked tirelessly to drive the team forward down the right, constantly providing an outlet and a big part of a lot of the positive work that Spurs did in attack.
- Down the left though, the story wasn’t quite the same, where Brennan Johnson had a bit of a rough time on his debut. He did well on a number of occasions to get into positions to shoot, but on all of those chances his actual shooting was poor, and off the ball he really struggled. His positioning and movement (or lack thereof) meant he was never really an option down the left as we tried to play out, and he really should have caused Saka more problems on the first Arsenal goal, instead looking like Bambi on ice as he skidded past him. Hopefully his injury isn’t too severe and he can improve on this start.
- Man, Eddie Nketiah really should have been sent off for that tackle on Vicario. It was late, and with a scissoring motion. Malo Gusto for Chelsea, playing at the exact same time, got sent off for a similar challenge, and I don’t know how Nketiah stayed on the pitch.
- Please please PLEASE let James Maddison’s injury be nothing more than a knock!!!
- The solitary point means Spurs (and Arsenal) drop behind Brighton and Liverpool, who won their respective fixtures; but make no mistake, if this is a sign of things to come then Tottenham are well-placed to be high up the table come the business end of the season. BELIEVE.