Hungry and humble. That was how Mikel Arteta described Arsenal after October’s north London derby victory at Emirates Stadium.
Tottenham have been less humble, more humbled, by their meetings with the Gunners this season, and Sunday’s 2-0 home defeat made Spurs the victims of a first Gunners double in the north London derby since 2013-14.
With Arteta, Arsenal have a manager who understands his players, who draws the very best from them, and who might be just about halfway to a remarkable Premier League title.
In return, Arsenal’s players get all the praise under the sun, but they are asked to stay focused, and duly they obey their Spanish leader.
When Arteta and captain Martin Odegaard demanded the players walk away from a post-match disturbance, away they went, to celebrate in front of their own supporters at the other end of the pitch.
This was Arsenal’s first victory at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, they lead the Premier League by eight points after 18 games, and they have an awful lot to celebrate before putting on their next game face.
A fan in a Tottenham section appeared to aim a kick at Arsenal goalkeeper Ramsdale seconds after the full-time whistle, climbing on pitchside railings to do so before scampering away pathetically, oblivious to the existence of television cameras.
That buffoon will doubtless get his comeuppance and Spurs themselves may face FA sanctions. It was a sorry and needless way for the game to end from a Tottenham perspective, and it had already been plenty grim enough.
8 – @Arsenal are eight points ahead of second-place Manchester City in the Premier League table, with this their biggest lead in the competition when playing the same number of games as the side below since the final day of 2003-04, when they won the title by 11 points. Charge. pic.twitter.com/spqzvj76Aa
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 15, 2023
Ramsdale played his own brilliant role in a fine Arsenal victory, while opposite number Hugo Lloris had a nightmare, with his own goal setting the visitors on their way.
Arsenal won 3-1 at home in October to consolidate their early hold on top spot, when a fumble from Lloris in the first game allowed Gabriel Jesus to put the hosts 2-1 ahead.
Arteta said after that game: “It is a really hungry and humble team, believe me. We know where we are. There is nothing that we have done yet, and there are still a lot of things to improve, and that’s the direction that we are taking.”
His message still stands. The title is a long way off, but Arsenal do not look like a team about to implode.
Here, Arsenal nudged their way ahead in the 14th minute, with Bukayo Saka’s cross from the right taking an inconvenient nick off Ryan Sessegnon before former France captain Lloris juggled it over the line in shambolic fashion.
Son Heung-min probably should have put Spurs level three minutes later, but Ramsdale made himself big to block the South Korean’s shot after Sessegnon’s clever pass.
A stunning volley from Thomas Partey left the right post shaking in the 25th minute as Arsenal moved in for the kill, and Odegaard was lethal from 25 yards in the 36th minute, sending a scorching low shot inside the right post as Lloris – him again – failed to get across to the skidding ball.
Arsenal looked light years ahead of their hosts in terms of their use of the ball, slowly strangling all life out of Tottenham.
Grant Xhaka completed all 32 passes he played in the first half. Often simple, each time those passes kept Tottenham off the ball.
Just a walk in the park for Granit Xhaka so far in this #NLD derby.
32 passes attempted.
32 passes completed. pic.twitter.com/do95CjLkJq
— Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) January 15, 2023
Curiously, Tottenham’s 43.82 per cent share of the ball in the first half was their highest in a Premier League home game this season, but they were rarely hurting Arsenal.
Odegaard’s goal took him to eight for the season, making the Norwegian midfielder the team’s leading scorer. He is fulfilling the captain’s brief to lead by example quite marvellously.
Ramsdale saved well from Harry Kane’s header just before the break, with Kane one away from matching Jimmy Greaves’ Tottenham goals record.
Kane will have to wait for that moment. He would have recognised Arsenal’s superiority here, and it would have hurt him as much as anyone. Will Kane ever win a trophy at Spurs? It feels increasingly doubtful.
If there was any consolation in their bleak position at half-time, Tottenham may have been aware 16 of their last 17 Premier League goals had been scored in the second half of games, including their last night.
So what did they have left?
The early signs were bright. Dejan Kulusevski, coming in off the left, whipped a shot just over the bar, before Ramsdale saved brilliantly from Sessegnon as the former Fulham player looked sure to score.
But this was a tale of two keepers, and Ramsdale was rock solid.
For Arsenal, Xhaka thrashed a free-kick over, while Nketiah was twice denied by Lloris.
Then at the other end, Spurs substitute Richarlison fluffed a late chance as he allowed Ramsdale to make a comfortable claim.
13 & 8 – Martin Ødegaard has already surpassed last season’s tallies for both goal involvements (13) and goals (8) in all competitions:
2022-23: 23 apps, 8 goals, 5 assists
2021-22: 40 apps, 7 goals, 5 assists
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 15, 2023
Tottenham’s eight-game home unbeaten streak against Arsenal in the league is over. Though they sit fifth in the table, they are five points behind fourth spot, and 14 points now adrift of Arsenal, having played one more game than Arteta’s team.
London life is proving sweet for the men in red, with this a seventh win in seven capital city derbies this season, and a fourth away clean sheet out of four.
Arsenal had not won seven consecutive London derbies since the 2007-08 season. They have not been champions of England since 2003-04.
This is a season of change. A championship beckons. Such is their position of strength, we are getting close to the point where they would have to blow it. But this team are hungry and humble, guided by great leaders. Tottenham, and Antonio Conte, must feel pig sick.
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