It was a breathless North London Derby on Saturday with end to end attacking, which involved plenty of opportunities from both sides. Arsenal made headlines prior to the match with a unexpected starting XI by Unai Emery. Lacazette started up the middle in place of Aubameyang while Guendouzi and Ramsey got the nod over Torreira and Ozil. It was a daring decision for Emery and stated in his pre-match press conference that he wanted high energy from his side. Personally, it was understandable to start Lacazette up top since his ability to hold the ball up would allow the wide players, and Ramsey, to move into more threatening positions. Unfortunately, Lacazette was unable to convert on a couple good opportunities, one of which came within the opening minutes of the match.
The first ten minutes were filled with a surprisingly well choreographed defensive display by Arsenal’s back line. Most notable among them was Sokratis. The Greek defender, who arrived from Dortmund last summer, was effective in preventing threatening balls from reaching Harry Kane and Heung-min Son in the middle. Arsenal were rewarded for their strong opening performance with a mistake by Davidson Sanchez for Tottenham. It resulted in Lacazette being able to pass the ball onto a sprinting Ramsey who remained composed with defensive pressure at his back and got around Loris for an easy finish.
The remainder of the first half was wide open with Tottenham being able to find the ball into dangerous spaces, particularly in the right corner since Monreal would push forward when Arsenal had possession. Mkhitaryan and Iwobi were both incredibly important to Arsenal’s first half success thanks to their willingness to track back on defense. Both attacking players were effective with the ball in the final third supplying skillful passes and aggressive dribbles. Iwobi had a wonderful chance late in the half with a shot that was well placed but ultimately just missed the goal.
Guendouzi also performed admirably with his skill in controlling Tottenham’s stronger midfield, but he also was able to place some nice passes to Ramsey and Mkhitaryan. Leno gave Arsenal further confidence heading into the half with two wonderful saves that prevented Tottenham from leveling it up. His quick reaction to deny a shot off of a whipped in cross and subsequently reacted in time to hit the follow up shot just above the net. Emery’s pre match strategy had worked magnificently.
The second half, while still open, was marred by two controversial penalty decisions. The first, a correct foul called on Mustafi, who went into the back of a threatening Kane from a set piece, that resulted in a well placed penalty shot. The controversy was in the fact that Kane should have been deemed offside prior to the foul call. It was quite close, but with VAR making its way to the Premier League next season, it surely would have been deemed offside.
Arsenal got a generous foul called on Aubameyang in the box with only a few minutes remaining in the half. Aubameyang went down rather easily, although there did appear to be the slightest of contact from Sanchez. Regardless, the Gabonese striker had the perfect opportunity to make his mark on the game after being disappointed to start on the bench. Unfortunately, he seemed to lack confidence in the lead up to the shot and was left with a poor attempt which was easily parried away by Loris. It was clearly evident that Aubameyang was disgusted with himself when the cameras showed him walking off the pitch after thanking the traveling supporters.
It was deflating to see Torreira receive a straight red for his tough tackle on Danny Rose while trying to go for a loose ball. His studs were showing, and as the commentators on NBCSN rightly suggested, if the game is trying to reduce player harm then the call for his removal was the correct one. Torreira will now miss a crucial home match against Manchester United next weekend when his services would have surely been needed to deal with the imposing United midfield.
Arsenal fans will feel hard done by the 1-1 draw, which a win could have seen the Gunners go within a point of Spurs for 3rd in the table. However, Arsenal now find themselves 5th after Manchester United came back to beat Southampton later in the day. Arsenal were surely the better side throughout the match, and should be proud of their performance at Wembley, especially on defense. Emery would also have gained even further confidence in his abilities for implementing an effective strategy against Pochettino’s side.