A clinical Tottenham side exposed Arsenal’s defensive frailties on Wednesday night as the Gunners were defeated 2-0 at Emirates Stadium, though in the long run there will be plenty of lessons learnt from the comprehensive loss to their cross-town rivals, who scored from two of their three shots on target.
Unai Emery’s side simply weren’t clinical enough in front of goal and should had taken the lead when Henrikh Mkhitaryan shot straight at Paulo Gazzaniga, while Aaron Ramsey hit the post and Sokratis Papastathopoulos headed wide from a corner.
Spurs meanwhile scored from a simple Gazzaniga drop-kick which Son Heung-min latched onto, while a slick second-half strike from Dele Alli put the game to bed and secured a place in the Carabao Cup semi-finals for Mauricio Pochettino’s men. Harry Kane, who started on the bench, had only been on the pitch for 66 seconds before assisting Alli’s goal. Alexandre Lacazette’s second half cameo couldn’t replicate the England striker’s impact.
Going into the clash, Arsenal had only won one of the previous five games they’ve trailed in at half-time this season, though that comeback victory did come against Spurs earlier this month. Pochettino’s men, however, clearly learnt their lessons from that crushing defeat in the Premier League by scoring two crucial goals when it mattered and held onto their lead.
The defeat does come with its positives though, giving Arsenal an extra breather in a packed January month of fixtures, where the squad is already suffering from a plethora of injuries in defence.
That said, there can be no hiding that Emery wanted to progress in the competition as he fielded the strongest possible line-up – albeit with the omitted Mesut Ozil, who wasn’t even named in the matchday squad for ‘tactical reasons’.
Emery’s tactical changes have raised eyebrows in recent games, mostly due to the fact that he’s seen his defence depleted by injury. Granit Xhaka’s new-found role at centre-back continued on a chilly night in north London and the Swiss international struggled, as did Arsenal, without his bounce in the deep lying role that he usually plays in.
The ease with which Tottenham pierced through Arsenal for both goals will be particularly worrying for the Emery, who saw Southampton put three past a makeshift back four on Sunday.
Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal have both recently returned from long-term injuries but they haven’t looked nearly convincing enough in either game, which will surely prompt head of recruitment Sven Mislintat to bolster a paper-thin defence when the transfer window opens next month.
As for Arsenal’s silverware hopes, another one bites the dust.
Their chances of progressing in the Europa League are high while the chase for a top four spot is on the right track, although they will need to cut out the naïve defensive mistakes if they are to secure a place among Europe’s elite next season.
Emery meanwhile was left to answer to the biggest question of the day – why was the highest paid, most creative player in the squad left out for a huge derby match in place of youngsters on the bench?
It was a decision which only weakened Arsenal against Spurs and could have been the difference between getting something from the game or going out.
“Tactical decision” was repeated again in his post-match press conference, before stating: “Today I’m happy with our performance but not happy with our result.
“We are doing our process and [Tottenham] are ahead of us in this process. We need to continue creating our identity and to be more consistent in games.”
Additionally, Emery was unwilling to give a clear answer as to whether he wants Ozil, who watched the match from the stands with Sead Kolasinac and Shkodran Mustafi at the Emirates, to stay at the club.
Whatever’s going on behind the scenes at Arsenal, it’s Tottenham who will get their day out at Wembley.