Dele Alli helps Tottenham eclipse Arsenal and stay on Chelsea’s tail
For Tottenham Hotspur, it was a bittersweet day. Yet they have waited so long for this kind of one-upmanship against Arsenal, the team they always measure themselves against, it would feel impolite to start with the negatives when, finally, they can remind themselves what it feels like to finish the season looking down on the old enemy.
It has been 22 years since the last occasion and, to put that into context, the scorer of their first goal here, Dele Alli, had not even been born during that troubled season for Arsenal when George Graham was sacked and Stewart Houston’s side came in 12th, five places below the team from White Hart Lane. Spurs have now won nine games in a row and, in the process, they have moved 17 points ahead of an Arsenal side that have only five more matches to go. This season, there will be no St Totteringham’s Day. The schadenfreude now belongs the other way round and, though it has been inevitable for some time, that will not lessen the jubilation for Tottenham’s fans when it happened to be Arsenal who were the opponents on the day it was confirmed.
Against all that, it was difficult not to leave with the sense that another splendid season for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, still unbeaten at home in the league and having already established their best-ever points total of 77, will also incorporate a measure of frustration given the positions at the top of table – and, specifically, the message Chelsea delivered in their 3-0 victory at Everton, the game most observers reckoned might be the toughest assignment of their run-in.
Perhaps it was no coincidence, taking in the demoralising news from Goodison, that Spurs took a while to get going. Once they shook their heads clear, however, they were utterly dominant during the second half and, in the far corner, Arsenal’s supporters could be seen heading away in droves long before the final whistle. Once again, their team had come up short and another set of crowing supporters could be heard chanting how much they wanted Wenger to stay. The Frenchman will, almost certainly, grant them their wish but these are the kind of occasions that will harden opinion against him.
It could conceivably have been even worse as well if the referee, Michael Oliver, had not given Alexis Sánchez the benefit of the doubt with a handball in the penalty area during that period of second-half pressure when the home side repeatedly threatened Petr Cech’s goal and Wenger’s players seemed to be in the grip of a collective meltdown.
By that stage Harry Kane had already scored with one penalty, courtesy of Gabriel’s naive trip, and there were the telltale signs in Arsenal’s defence that they had reverted to all their bad habits. For Alli’s goal, there were half a dozen players in red and white shirts in close proximity inside the penalty area. Yet not one made a challenge as Christian Eriksen weaved past Nacho Monreal and Laurent Koscielny to create the first shooting opportunity for himself. The rebound fell to Alli and, again, the inaction of his opponents was staggering.
To begin with, Arsenal had looked reasonably competent, quick to the ball and strong in the tackle, and their main problems in the first half often came on the counterattack, most notably the quick, incisive break after 25 minutes that led to Son Heung-min eluding Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and sending in a shot that spun off the nearest defender, Koscielny, to leave Eriksen with the best chance of the opening period.
Eriksen’s volley skimmed off the crossbar and, at half-time, Spurs could also look back on the opportunity a couple of minutes earlier when Kane tried his luck from a difficult angle and, again, the deflection could have worked in their favour. This time it was Alli, with a far-post header, who could not redirect the spinning ball into the goal.
The most alarming part for Wenger must be the way his side disintegrated after the break. At 2-0, Jan Vertonghen was denied a wonderful goal when Cech clawed away a curling shot that was heading towards a top corner. Spurs attacked with great purpose, accumulating 20 shots on Cech’s goal, whereas Arsenal rarely threatened to save themselves. It was only the second time they have failed to score on the last 37 occasions these sides have met in the league and they will not enjoy looking upwards at the old enemy.