Rampant Arsenal claim derby spoils as first-half goal blitz sinks Tottenham

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<span>Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Inspired by Tottenham playing host to Anthony Joshua’s world title fight against Oleksandr Usyk on Saturday night, Nuno Espírito Santo had used boxing parlance to illustrate what he wanted to see from his team.

The Spurs manager said that they could not throw punches all the time and, when they took one, they had to cover up, to stop the bleeding. Their response to being dumped on to the canvas in the previous two Premier League games – the 3-0 defeats against Crystal Palace and Chelsea – had been non-existent.

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And yet Spurs continued in precisely the same vein. They barely threw a punch during a first half that they will want to forget in a hurry and, once behind to Emile Smith Rowe’s opener, they were taken apart by an Arsenal team in rampant mood.

It had felt as though the consequences of defeat might be more significant than the glory of victory – as strange as that sounds – and Nuno would find himself under an uncomfortable spotlight, not least because his starting tactic of playing only Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in front of the back four backfired spectacularly.

Arsenal overran Spurs before the interval, finding spaces between the lines at will, with Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard and Smith Rowe – a potent line behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – causing all manner of problems.

Aubameyang and Saka scored Arsenal’s second and third goals before the clock had reached 35 minutes and Mikel Arteta could reflect on a third league win in a row. He believes that his messages are getting through.

Spurs were better in the second half after Nuno had swapped Japhet Tanganga and Dele Alli for Emerson Royal and Oliver Skipp, switching to a more robust 4-2-3-1. They deserved their late goal through Son Heung-min and they made life more difficult for their hosts, with Lucas Moura hitting the crossbar in stoppage time.

But the damage had been done. “You’re getting sacked in the morning,” the Arsenal fans told Nuno in the 78th minute and they continued to taunt him when he emerged to conduct his post-match TV interview by the side of the pitch. It prompted him to walk straight back off, although he would return later. It was an ordeal that stung.

Joshua’s defeat had led to jokes from the Arsenal support about him losing all of his titles the moment that he entered the Tottenham stadium. Does this fixture still deserve heavyweight billing? It is true to say that its significance does not resonate quite as far afield these days. Both clubs are bracketed as being a part of the Big Six but a Big Four has emerged and north London’s warring tribes have come to feel a gap develop between it and them.

None of that seemed to matter for the 90 minutes and Arsenal tore into their rivals from the first whistle, pressing high, bristling with aggression. Nuno wants his team to be compact but could he reasonably have expected that with Alli and Tanguy Ndombele as the No 8s in his 4-3-3 system? Arteta opted for greater balance, bringing back Granit Xhaka after suspension in place of Nicolas Pépé, and it could not have turned out any better for him during a golden first half. Or any worse for Nuno.

Arsenal&#x002019;s Bukayo Saka holds off Eric Dier to scores the third goal against Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka holds off Eric Dier to scores the third goal against Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

It was impossible to say anything good about Spurs before the interval.They were timid in the one-on-ones, they failed to track Arsenal’s runners and, worst of all for Nuno, they were wide open, failing to keep the distances short between each other.

Xhaka, who would be forced off after jarring his knee badly in a collision with Lucas before Son scored, was involved at the start of the moves for his team’s goals. Once Arsenal were up and running, it really was a sight for the sore eyes of the home support.

The second goal was a beauty, Arsenal moving from back to front once Xhaka had taken a slighty risky pass from his goalkeeper, Aaron Ramsdale, and turned away from Højbjerg. There was a lovely flick from Aubameyang and it was Smith Rowe who supplied the final pass. Aubameyang guided the finish low past Hugo Lloris.

The opener had come when Xhaka chipped forward for Ødegaard, who went right to Saka. With little pressure on him from Sergio Reguilón, Saka pulled back for Smith Rowe, who sauntered into space to sweep home from eight yards.

The third summed up Spurs’s misery, with Harry Kane falling over the ball as he tried to create the space for a shot and Arsenal breaking quickly, Xhaka finding Smith Rowe and Saka then running at Reguilón. Kane had chased back but, when he leapt into a tackle on Saka, the ball broke for the Arsenal winger, who took a touch and beat Lloris. Thomas Partey had extended Lloris on 17 minutes, Son worked Ramsdale from a tight angle at 1-0 and Kane missed a free header from a corner just before half-time.

Nuno’s changes at the interval added belated stability, with Skipp making a difference. Kane was unlucky not to get a penalty after he was clipped by Ben White, and he fluffed a finish after an excellent first touch to kill an Eric Dier ball over the top.

Lloris saved from Saka and the Spurs goal came when another substitute, Bryan Gil, did well to find Reguilón, who crossed for Son. Ramsdale got his fingertips to Lucas’s last-gasp shot, tipping on to the crossbar, and Arteta could lead the wild celebrations.

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