Arteta proves why his Arsenal “project” will “pop” with a deserved Derby win in the coming weeks
LONDON – This was a win for Mikel Arteta as well as Arsenal. An afternoon that began with Arsenal facing unexpected disciplinary issues ended with a win over a Tottenham Hotspur, the Erik Lamela Placed after scoring a contender for goal of the season.
The irony will not be missed by Arteta, who decided to fire the club’s captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after the striker reported too late at his training base in London Colney on Sunday morning. It was a controversial decision made by Aubameyang’s most recent form – nine goals from his last twelve games – and the identities of their opponents, supported by recent results and the feeling that Son of Heung-Min, Gareth Bale and Harry Kane eventually formed the formidable triumvirate that was widely expected at the start of the campaign.
As it turned out, Son left the field with an injury after 20 minutes, Bale was substituted off before the hour and Kane was anonymous save for one late whirlwind in which he ruled out a goal for offside and hit the post with a late free kick .
Spurs didn’t deserve any of this, and that’s thanks to Arteta. Aubameyang is an influential figure in the Gunners’ locker room, and the coach will know the consequences of ditching his talisman at such a late point in time. The Gunners also battled fatigue after making a 3,000-mile round trip to Athens for their Europa League round of 16 first leg at Olympiakos, while Spurs played Dinamo Zagreb in north London that same evening.
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Yet Arsenal have been more energetic all along, save for the last hectic 10 minutes or so when Spurs finally decided to break the conservative Jose Mourinho form and go on the offensive. And as it turns out, Arteta could make his point on Aubameyang and still win three points.
“I made what I think was the right decision and we are drawing a line and now let’s go back to it,” he said. “We know how important Auba is for us and for the club and that’s it. It’s done, now it goes on.”
“To me, [off-field standards] are the foundation and the platform that we can build something in the medium and long term that is sustainable and can bring us joy and happiness. Without that, I don’t think it would happen. That’s why I keep talking about it and acting on it. “
Arteta was rightly criticized in the second leg in December for falling into Mourinho’s trap and conceding two goals as individual mistakes undermined their general play. Here they controlled the game for long periods of time, denying Kane the room if he dove deep to connect the piece, and causing constant problems for visitors, especially on the left, there Kieran Tierney and Emile Smith Rowe gave Spurs right-back Matt Doherty a hot 90 minutes.
Arteta wanted Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard, on loan from Real Madrid, on the same team to give Arsenal more creativity and they were very influential here, offering far more than Spurs’ celebrated strikers could muster.
They were helped by an early injury from Son, who hobbled off after 20 minutes. The South Korea international admitted last month that he was feeling tired and that the accumulation of games seems to have taken its toll.
Kane was deprived of Son’s pace at break and struggling to sway the game, and the Spurs owed a moment of brilliant brilliance with Son’s replacement Lamela. Lucas Moura played a short pass behind the Argentine and he improvised with a cheeky Rabona finish that shot into the far corner. Sergio ReguilonHe, Spurs’ closest player, ran away with his hands on his head in disbelief.
It was Tottenham’s only shot on goal in the first half that Arsenal consistently dominated. Smith Rowe had already hit the bar with a 25-yard approach and later set it up Cedric Soares to hit the post Alexandre Lacazette had declined a chance to shoot. A minute before half-time, Tierney crossed from the left and Odegaard was free in the penalty area, his shot ripped off Toby Alderweireld and rolled past a huge Lloris.
“We played really badly in the first half,” Mourinho later told Sky Sports. “The 1-1 draw didn’t adequately reflect the first half. We were bad. We defended badly. No intensity or pressing. Some important players were hiding. Really bad.”
Lost in the noise of Aubameyang’s appearance on the bench were other important calls Cedric preferred Hector Bellerin Right back, leave Nicolas Pepe off until an achilles tendon problem for Bukayo Saka arranged for his admission during the break. And it was Pepe’s incisive pass in the 64th minute that led to the crucial moment, Lacazette controlled and slashed his shot terribly wide Davinson Sanchez come to tackle.
Referee Michael Oliver missed a penalty for contact, and with Aubameyang off the field, Lacazette converted. He is now the fifth Arsenal player to score 10 or more league goals in at least four consecutive seasons, after Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Olivier Giroud.
Lamela was sent off in six minutes after two yellow cards, the second was an unnecessarily aggressive palm movement by Tierney with one arm in front of his face. Mourinho wanted a second yellow card for Granite Xhaka after he fouled Moura in a similarly central position on the square, but they seemed to need a sense of injustice to bring them to life, a crushing indictment of how shallow they were to that point.
Spurs still hold the upper hand on the table but this has been a blow to their hopes of ending the talks in the top four while Arteta has a result to back up his claim earlier this week that his “project” is popping “Will” in the coming months. That bold claim needs tangible evidence to look believable, and here, in less likely circumstances, it was.