Arsenal survive late Spurs fightback to boost title charge with derby victory

Arsenal survive late Spurs fightback to boost title charge with derby victory

Everybody knew the backstory, how Arsenal had won their previous Premier League title almost 20 years ago to the day at White Hart Lane. To borrow a line from Mikel Arteta, it was about making their own history here, about doing everything they could to maintain the pressure on Manchester City, who would play at Nottingham Forest later in the day.

Arsenal achieved their ends, keeping their title hopes alive and kicking on the back of a clinical first-half performance that had seen them storm into a 3-0 lead. Nobody foresaw the second-half drama at that point, Arsenal oozing power, slickness and self-belief.

Their set-piece threat was again a huge part of it, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg putting through his own goal on one corner, Kai Havertz heading home from another. In between times, Bukayo Saka scored on a lethal counter and it was easy to imagine Arsenal’s players celebrating in front of their fans when it was all over.

Which they would do. But only after a scare which was triggered by David Raya’s horrible passing error that allowed Cristian Romero to make it 3-1. When Son Heung-min scored from the penalty towards the end after Declan Rice had fouled Ben Davies, the temples of the travelling support pounded. Their team was not about to blow it, were they?

The answer was no, Spurs emerging with credit for their fighting spirit but no points. The prospect of hurting Arsenal’s title challenge had been everything. Despite a few first-half near misses and their best efforts towards the end, they could not prevent a second successive home loss to the team that they most love to hate.

The din at kick-off had been really something, advertising more than this stadium’s superb acoustics. The sub-plots pounded. Arteta stuck with Thomas Partey ahead of Jorginho at the base of the midfield but it was Ange Postecoglou’s selection in this area that said so much. Højbjerg for Yves Bissouma suggested pragmatism rather than a doubling down on the fundamentals of Ange-Ball.

There had been eyebrows raised at Højbjerg’s inclusion among the Spurs fanbase and it felt as if their worst fears were realised when the midfielder erred with such terrible consequences in the 15th minute.

The corner had been conceded softly by Spurs after they tried and failed to play out from the back and when Saka whipped it over, Højbjerg found himself on the wrong side of Takehiro Tomiyasu. Stretching back in an attempt to rectify the situation, he succeeded only in flashing a header into his own net.

Spurs had teemed with intensity in the early exchanges, winning the duels, feeding off the energy of the home crowd. There was something of a turning point in the 10th minute, Partey accepting the ball in a dangerous area, dropping his shoulder and turning smoothly away from James Maddison, getting Arsenal moving. Maddison slipped over.

There was a storm or maybe call it a squall. Arsenal weathered it. They had gone close moments before the breakthrough goal, Martin Ødegaard ushering in Havertz only for the offside flag to go up and Spurs felt the fine margins go against them, too, during a traumatic first half.

Bukayo Saka fires home to double Arsenal’s lead at SpursView image in fullscreen

Romero headed just wide from one Maddison set-piece and hit the post on another. Spurs thought they had equalised when a Pedro Porro blast after a half-cleared corner broke for Micky van de Ven, his finish assured, the celebrations crazy, only for the VAR to intervene. Van de Ven had been just offside.

Now it was the turn of the Arsenal support to go wild and they would do so again when Havertz picked out Saka in acres of space with the perfect diagonal after Spurs had shouted unsuccessfully for a penalty. Dejan Kulusevski argued that he was tripped by Leandro Trossard; Maddison likewise after a Rice challenge. There was nothing in either.

It was Saka on the right against Davies, who had raced across. Did Saka have a right-footed finish? No. Could he cut back inside onto his left to shoot low past Guglielmo Vicario? Absolutely.

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There were boos from the Spurs support at the interval. They had just seen Son lift high after running onto a Porro ball over the top and by then their team was 3-0 down, Havertz getting in between Van de Ven and Romero to nod in Rice’s corner with trademark nonchalance.

It was Spurs’ first game since the 4-0 defeat at Newcastle on 13 April while it was Arsenal’s fifth since the 2-0 home loss to Aston Villa on 14 April, leading to questions about what was better – rest or rhythm?

The second half was a test of Spurs’ mentality, albeit not in the way that Postecoglou had envisaged. They had to show some pride in the badge. Tomiyasu headed high while Vicario made a stunning save with his foot to keep out a Saka volley from Havertz’s cross. That would have been 4-0.

Spurs did fight, especially Romero. He had headed off target again on 51 minutes when he made a pressing run from the back, staying high when the ball was played to Raya. He got his reward when the Arsenal goalkeeper tried to be way too clever with a chipped pass up to Partey. He got it all wrong, finding only Romero, who lashed past him.

Postecoglou had just brought on Richarlison in the No 9 role, moving Son to the left and the tireless Kulusevski into the No 10 position. Could Spurs salvage something?

Their hopes soared when Davies got to a loose ball on the edge of the Arsenal box before Rice and felt the Arsenal player kick him in the act of trying to clear. Son’s penalty conversion was nerveless. Cue some nervous late moments for Arsenal, especially when Vicario came up for an all-or-nothing last-gasp corner. They just about closed out the result.