EPL Gameweek 35: Tottenham 2-0 Arsenal

A win in the final North London derby held at White Hart Lane would guarantee Tottenham their first finish above Arsenal in 20 years. Spurs were under even more pressure after Chelsea’s victory at Goodison Park just moments before kick-off. But Mauricio Pochettino’s men continued to improve their reputation as genuine title challengers with their 14th consecutive home win.

Mousa Dembélé wasn’t deemed fit enough to start which saw Son Heung-Min step in as Spurs reverted to a 4-2-3-1. The versatile, Eric Dier, lined up alongside Victor Wanyama while Kieran Trippier got the nod ahead of Kyle Walker at right-back. The former Burnley defender doesn’t possess the same pace as his teammate but has impressed in his few league starts, particularly with his delivery.

Arsène Wenger continued with the same 3-4-2-1 formation which brought narrow wins away at Middlesbrough and home to Leicester. The Frenchman made three changes from their last match with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud replacing Hector Bellerín, Francis Coquelin and Theo Walcott respectively.

Shots fired
The home side made the most of the atmosphere and looked the more likely to score from the first few minutes when Harry Kane tested Petr Cech with a low-drive. Tottenham would go on to pepper Cech’s goal with 13 of their 20 attempts on target. Nine of those came in the second half, while Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen failed to hit the target from very good positions in the opening 45 minutes.

These opportunities were the result of Tottenham’s territorial advantage. Both sides had a similar number of completed passes (326 to 312) and subsequent possession (51.1% to 48.9%), but it was Spurs who racked up 106 to Arsenal’s 77 in the attacking third.

Arsenal’s lack of end product was best summed up by Spurs defender, Jan Vertonghen, coming closer to scoring than any of the visiting players with two decent attempts from outside the area.

The Gunners were kept at bay as they failed to create any clear-cut chances. All of their efforts on target were from distance which rarely troubled Hugo Lloris in the Tottenham goal.

Eriksen v Özil
The battle of the playmakers saw Tottenham’s in-form Dane get the better of his German counterpart as Mesut Özil continues to struggle. The former Real Madrid man has been linked with a move away from the Emirates and recent performances suggest his employers will be best off cashing in.

Eriksen only had three assists and no goals in his first 11 league appearances this season. The following 22 appearances have yielded an impressive eight goals 14 assists.

Özil is clearly talented and his 19 assists last season further validates that. But much like former Spurs player, Dimitar Berbatov, he suffers from his nonchalant appearance as it can irk supporters if things aren’t coming off. If it works, he makes it look effortless, but if it doesn’t, he looks like he’s lacking effort.

Of the five games Özil has missed, Arsenal have only won one (Crystal Palace at home), drawn one (Bournemouth away) and lost three (Liverpool home and away as well as West Brom away).

During this encounter, Eriksen managed to create four chances, double Özil’s two, which he managed with nine fewer passes in the attacking third.

Eriksen should have opened the scoring in the first-half when he side-footed Son’s deflected shot onto the crossbar, but his effort in the 55th minute provided Dele Alli the chance to convert the rebound and open the scoring. Özil, on the other hand, failed to muster a single attempt at goal.

After taking the lead, Spurs smelt blood and doubled their advantage just three-minutes later when Kane drew a foul from Gabriel to earn his side a penalty. The England striker made no mistake from the spot as he found the bottom corner with great accuracy to score in his fifth successive appearance against Arsenal.

For the next 20 minutes, Tottenham managed six attempts, three on target, as their opponent’s goal came under siege. Only Cech prevented the hosts from truly embarrassing their North London rivals.

The away side were also fortunate not to concede a second penalty as the largely anonymous Alexis Sanchez handled the ball on the byline. Referee, Michael Oliver, instead awarded a corner as the Spurs players protested while Sanchez proclaimed his innocence by pointing to the side of his torso. Replays showed it hit his raised arm but we shouldn’t rely on the Chilean to clarify where a ball strikes him following his antics against Leicester last Wednesday.

Tottenham’s run
Much like Eriksen, Tottenham got off to a pretty slow start this season. The four consecutive draws in October/November was their longest winless streak. But since they ended that run with a dramatic turnaround at home to West Ham, Pochettino’s side have averaged an impressive 2.43 points per game (56 points in 23 games). To put that in perspective, the table below shows all Premier League winners and their average points per game:

As you can see, this season’s Chelsea are on the third highest points per game average since the Premier League started in 1992. If Antonio Conte’s side win their remaining four matches then only José Mourinho’s debut campaign with the Blues would have bettered their tally of 93 points (2.45 points per game).

Whilst Spurs are likely to miss out on their first title in 56 years, they can be mightily proud of their general performances. It’s no embarrassment to be beaten by a team that accumulated such a return of points but Pochettino will be desperate to build on this campaign and fly out of the blocks at the start of next season.

Arsenal’s ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League took an expected hit on Sunday despite both Manchester clubs failing to win.

Amongst the Gunners’ remaining five games are home ties against Man Utd and Everton as well as an unfavourable trip to Stoke City. They do at least have an F.A. Cup final against a rampant Chelsea side to ‘look forward’ to, but that could be another disappointment given both teams’ respective forms.

For Spurs, this was a big one and not just for sentimental reasons. Finishing above Arsenal means more to the fans than the club but this summer presents an opportunity to start establishing a superiority that’s been the complete reverse since Wenger arrived.

Failing to win a trophy will become an issue next season if they perform well under Pochettino without any silverware to show for it. The psychological barriers they’ve broken this season: finishing above Arsenal, winning games emphatically or late on, and ending Chelsea’s winning streak; should provide them in good stead for the future as long as they retain and add to the current squad.

EPL Results (Gameweek 35):
Southampton 0-0 Hull
Stoke 0-0 West Ham
Sunderland 0-1 Bournemouth
West Brom 0-1 Leicester
Crystal Palace 0-2 Burnley
Man Utd 1-1 Swansea
Everton 0-3 Chelsea
Middlesbrough 2-2 Man City
Tottenham 2-0 Arsenal
Watford 0-1 Liverpool