Tottenham’s return to Premier League football didn’t quite go to plan, with our unbeaten domestic run coming to an end courtesy of a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal.
As Saturday’s early kick-off, the North London Derby marked the Premier League’s return from international football; simultaneously ruining Spurs fan’s weekends before they even started.
Despite being underdogs, there was a certain degree of optimism that Antonio Conte’s side could cause an upset and take something home which unfortunately wasn’t the case.
But since the final whistle, many in the media have denoted Spurs’ performances as one of an underperforming, uninspired side, yet this is far from true, as breaking the game down shows Spurs were not as poor as suggested.
Outside of a good chance for Richarlison, the first 20 minutes were rough, let’s not sugar-coat it.
Arsenal started well, put pressure on Spurs, and finally a Thomas Partey effort from about 20 yards out saw the hosts take the lead.
Spurs defenders were admittedly slow to pressure Bukayo Saka – who got the pre-assist, as his ball back inside to Ben White who teed up Partey could easily have been prevented.
But from there, Lloris stood little chance; the Ghanaian’s strike was perfect, but with an xG of just 0.02, it could be argued Tottenham were unlucky to be on the receiving end of a rare Partey goal which statistically occurs once in 50 attempts (Understat).
Surprisingly, the goal ended Arsenal’s dominance; Spurs grew into the game drawing level just 10 minutes later as Richarlison’s persistence won a penalty which Kane coolly converted.
Perisic also blazed over on the break, and somewhat uncharacteristically, Spurs squandered several more chances to punish Arsenal’s front-footedness with poor final passes, with Conte potentially feeling his side should have entered the break ahead.
Unfortunately, the second half started poorly, as Hugo Lloris’ blunder saw Gabriel Jesus gifted an unmissable chance just minutes after the restart.
In the past, Lloris has been erratic, and while not regular, mistakes weren’t uncommon. But in recent years the Frenchman has been generally consistent.
Spilling the ball for Jesus’ goal was an unacceptable error, but again from a Spurs’ point of view is a goal that we were perhaps unlucky to concede; hardly coming as consequence of any quality football from Arsenal.
With an xG of 0.85 – the highest of any chance in the game including Kane’s penalty, Jesus was never going to miss, and Tottenham’s misfortunes once again seen us trail.
15 minutes passed with little to note, but any hope of a Spurs comeback then ended owing to Emerson’s dismissal.
Culminating an hour-long battle that had left the Brazilian second-best to fellow countryman Martinelli; a rash, reckless, frankly unnecessary challenge well inside Arsenal’s defensive third saw Emerson receive a straight red.
Whether it was a red card or not is debatable, but from there, Tottenham faced an unsurmountable task, and just five minutes later Arsenal made their numerical advantage count.
Of the three goals, this was the one that Spurs have little to blame but ourselves, as poor defending allowed Granit Xhaka a free, close-range shot at goal.
Again instrumental; Martinelli’s run across the box drew the attention of Cristian Romero who followed the Brazilian, vacating the space he as the right center-back should have occupied.
Rather than passing Martinelli on, the Argentine’s pursuit of the winger left Xhaka space to run into, capitalising by drilling an easy finish past Lloris.
Romero doesn’t often make mistakes, so this uncharacteristic lack in concertation whilst poor can be forgiven considering the circumstances.
In truth, this was the last key talking point in the game, as the final twenty minutes played out as expected; Arsenal attacked and Spurs defended, and really, we did well to prevent an embarrassing score line unlike other derbies this weekend.
But for Conte and Tottenham moving forward, what are Saturday’s main takeaways?
Across the 90 minutes, Spurs’ best period was that between Arsenal’s opener and halftime.
We were optimistic, direct, and attacked with purpose and as consequence created several good chances and won a penalty.
Hopefully, Conte takes note of this period and applies the findings in the future, as when Spurs do play positively rather than exclusively waiting for chances of the break, they could trouble any side.
This should give him the confidence to go toe-to-toe with the league’s biggest sides, as had we continued to attack prior to Emerson’s dismissal could have at least had points to defend.
This brings us to the second key issue of Saturday’s game – Emerson.
Rightly so, the Brazilian has been under fire this season, and this could be the final straw in his immediate Tottenham career.
With a three-match ban, Conte will be forced to replace Emerson with either Spence or Doherty – it will presumably be the latter, representing a more attack-minded wingback akin to Perisic on the other flank.
Spurs fans have been crying out for a change at RWB, yet Conte has remained faithful to Emerson, so his inability to play the Brazilian for the next three league games could be a blessing in disguise.
Ultimately, Saturday won’t be a fond memory, but although the result was poor, Spurs fans can take refuge in the fact that our performance wasn’t that of a second-tier Premier League side – just unfortunate.
With a packed schedule ahead of the World Cup, Spurs must put this result behind them, and refocus on this week’s Champions League trip to Frankfurt to return to winning ways.
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