Arsenal produced a brilliant first-half display to beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in the north London derby at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Arsenal were the dominant force in the opening 45 minutes of the Premier League fixture and made that pressure count with two goals late in the period from Shkodran Mustafi and Alexis Sanchez. Both were tinged with controversy, though, as they were preceded by a debatable foul and contentious offside decision, respectively.
Spurs improved after the break and had a lot more of the ball. But Arsenal were resolute in defence and able to nullify Tottenham’s array of attacking quality, so much so that both Harry Kane and Dele Alli were both withdrawn.
The win for the Gunners leaves them just a point behind their local rivals, whereas Spurs are eight points back on Manchester City having played a game fewer.
The match started at a typically frantic pace, with both Alexandre Lacazette and Kane going close for their respective sides.
While Arsenal always looked the more dangerous, there were chances for Tottenham, too. The in-form Christian Eriksen was a whisker away from giving Spurs the lead just after the half-hour mark, when his strike rattled the post.
Not long after, the Gunners were ahead. Davinson Sanchez was deemed to have fouled his namesake, and the resulting free-kick was curled into the box by Mesut Ozil, where Mustafi planted a brilliant header past Hugo Lloris.
The home fans celebrated, but the visitors fumed. Paul Newman of the Daily Mail outlined why:
Paul Newman @Paul_NewmanDM
That is never a free kick against Davinson in a million years. And Mustafi was offside....great work Mike Dean2017-11-18 13:10:08
With the Emirates Stadium buzzing, Arsenal continued to pile forward, and the movement of Lacazette was causing them continued issues. It did so again in the 42nd minute, as he was played into the right channel and his cross was controlled and turned in by Alexis.
Once again, there was a hint of offside in the buildup, but the Gunners were in dreamland at this point, with Spurs uncharacteristically rattled.
Sam Tighe praised the impact of Lacazette ahead of the break:
Sam Tighe 🐯 @stighefootball
Lacazette 👏🏼 what a run and cross. A striker’s cross is often better than you’d expect, as they appreciate where the ball needs to go. #afc2017-11-18 13:14:45
After half-time, Tottenham were much improved, as they pinned Arsenal back for spells and started to find some gaps. Kane was involved in their best moments, first having a penalty appeal waved away and then seeing a shot blocked from close range.
Arsenal, meanwhile, were trying to play on the counter through the likes of Alexis and Lacazette for much of the second period. But the fizz they showcased in the opening period was in shorter supply here.
As journalist Jonny Singer noted, the home side were beginning to look a little leggy as the clock ticked beyond an hour:
Jonny Singer @Jonny_Singer
Arsenal looking tired and sloppy. Subs needed. Now2017-11-18 13:55:46
In such a draining game, the pace seemed to get to some of the Spurs stars, too. Kane and Alli, who both withdrew from the recent England squad due to fitness concerns, had both faded in the contest, and Mauricio Pochettino took them off despite the two-goal deficit.
With that double change, Spurs appeared to deflate, with neither Heung-Min Son nor Fernando Llorente doing much to trouble the Arsenal defence after coming off the bench.
In the end, it was the Gunners who came closest to netting again, with both Alexis and Alex Iwobi spurning decent opportunities. Nevertheless, with little sign of a Spurs fightback at the other end, this was a victory those in red and white were able to savour long before the final whistle blew.