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Mikel Arteta’s prayers were answered as Arsenal emerged victorious from thrilling North London derby at Spurs



Mikel Arteta's prayers were answered as Arsenal emerged victorious from thrilling North London derby at Spurs

LONDON — Given everything that had happened in the last hour and a half, could you really blame Mikel Arteta for hoping that the gods might have a plan for him? Arsenal side? The game had been so ridiculous that it only seemed logical to assume that someone up there had good or bad plans.

With one of their worst halves of football in the Premier League this year, Arsenal somehow took a 3-0 lead. Arteta’s leaders stepped up their game considerably in the second half. Their reward? The most terrifying nine minutes of their season, Heung-min Son’s penalty following the moment when it looked like their entire title charge was about to fall apart, David Raya was so shocked by the sight of Cristian Romero pressing him that he came to the conclusion that the safest response was to give him the ball.

This is a game that defies much rational analysis, let alone coaching intervention. Arteta found himself powerless as Spurs lined up the siege weapons.

“I was praying,” he said.

Even a man who had so zealously predicted Arsenal’s coming greatness during his time in office felt his faith wavered in death.

At the final whistle it was reborn. Everywhere Arsenal looked there were miracles. Raya was freed from his previous mistake after twenty minutes, during which he caught everything. The visitors had converted two shots on target into three goals in the first half. Gabriel’s bottom was just small enough to play Micky van de Ven offside when he took the lead shortly after Arsenal from a goal by Piere-Emile Hojbjerg.

If this were February of last season, there might be cause for concern about how they were locked down by a team 20 points behind them, how they almost blew it all at the death. Let the warning signs be enough when the finish line is so close. They won’t face a better team than Ange Postecoglu’s between now and the end of the season anyway. Instead, they can only hope that the Tottenham manager or his counterparts join in Nottingham forestWolves, Fulham and West Ham can please them Manchester city.

The remarkable thing about Arsenal was how right they were. Keeping Thomas Partey in midfield gave them more options through the Tottenham press Kai Havertz, at his best in battle even when his teammates were struggling, excelled at the husbandman work required when Raya was forced to go long. Despite all this, Arteta had a simple focus. To get Bukayo Saka runs at Ben Davies. It worked to devastating effect on Arsenal’s second ball, a long ball from Havertz that was brilliantly controlled by the number 7, but even before that the visitors were in turmoil at half-time.

They might have had more of open play in both halves. Martin Odegaard was flagged for offside when the margins were tight enough to continue until Havertz scored. Saka was brilliantly denied by Guglielmo Vicario seven minutes into the second half. However, Arsenal’s great strength is that they are equally adept at winning the game from dead balls. Postecoglu may dismiss corners and free kicks as minor concerns as he tries to rebuild a football club, but the harsh reality is that those little details are costing his side a point, perhaps points, in a race for the top four that can be so tight. between Arsenal and City above them.

“If I thought fixing defensive set pieces was the solution to bridging the gap, I would put all my time and effort into that,” said the Tottenham manager. “It’s not where we’re at. We’re not that focused on the details.”

Postecoglu may be right when he says there is more to his club than just what they do when someone puts the ball in the mixer. He may also want to consider hiring someone else to look after the details, a permanent coach if you will, while he gets to work forging a new identity for Tottenham, as Arteta has done for this physical, robust Arsenal.

Their deadly aura seemed to merge with Tottenham’s own skittishness in such circumstances. Hojbjerg’s own goal was the header of a man determined to get something onto Saka’s cross before it got too close to Vicario. Ben White tickled his arm. All Spurs discipline was gone when Havertz slotted home from the back post to give Arsenal a 3-0 lead.

It was a remarkable advantage, mainly determined by the excellence of Saka and Havertz. It seems the German spent most of his time in England, not sure if he was a nine or a ten. The simple answer in recent months is that he is both: the kind of player who can provide a precise assist or soar the highest to reach the top. head of a thoroughbred poacher.

“He was sensational in every department today,” said Arteta. “He wasn’t 100 percent yet. He was sick before the match and was struggling a bit. Still, he put in the performance he did.”

Despite the weather conditions, Havertz did not disappear from the fight in the second. This also applied to Arsenal, who were not nearly as skittish as in the first half, when Romero twice came close to Spurs’ dead balls. Then Raya got a little over the top on a ball that was meant to be kicked in Saka’s direction. Tottenham believed in it even as Arsenal continued to score second balls, as they have done with so much regularity this season.

On the other hand, it is typical for the gods to punish mortals when their greatest qualities become too much. Declan Rice, the titan of loose balls, waved a right boot to steer the play to safety. Instead he made the cleanest of connections to the back of Ben Davies. A penalty for Son and Arsenal’s torment could begin in earnest.

High balls ruled down on them. Clearances did well to get them out of their own third. Somehow Arsenal held on; an away win against their great rivals was greeted less with ecstasy than bewilderment by an away player preparing to have his heart ripped out.

Maybe someone up there has a plan for Arsenal. If they do, they will certainly bring a heavy burden.