This time last week, Spurs fans up and down the country were counting down the seconds, minutes and hours before the kickoff at the Emirates stadium for the first North London Derby of this Premier League season.
With talk of “the power balance shifting in North London” over the last couple of seasons, expectations were high amongst Spurs fans, who have seen their arch rivals celebrate multiple Premier League and FA Cup wins in the last couple of decades under Arsene Wenger.
Spurs headed in to the game with several high profile players struggling to regain full fitness in time for kick off, with Harry Kane and Dele Alli making the starting XI despite serious doubts about their readiness for the game. Toby Alderwiereld, the ever-reliable centre half who is seen as one of the best defenders in the Premier League, missed out due to a Hamstring injury which he picked up in the second half of the Real Madrid Champions League victory at Wembley two weeks ago – Eric Dier filled in as the third centre back for him.
19 Dembélé (Substituted for Winks at 62 minutes)
10 Kane (Substituted for Llorente at 75 minutes)
20 Alli (Substituted for Son Heung-min at 75 minutes)
As any experienced Spurs fan knows that supporting Tottenham Hotspur Football Club is never easy and will almost certainly take years off of your life. Saturday was one of those games.
From the very first whistle, Arsenal were more up for it, more determined and just generally better than us in every single aspect of the game. Hunting down in packs, slick in their passing and playing like 11 possessed men, they disrupted Spurs’ flow and prevented any sort of Spurs build up from the back taking place whilst ensuring Kane and Eriksen, Spurs’ two lynchpins, were starved of service.
Going 1-0 down thanks to a Mustafi header via a cross into the box from a free kick which shouldn’t have been awarded by a referee who’s been accused of having a Spurs bias in the past was bad enough. Then, watching Sanchez, a player who’s wanted out of the club for nearly a year now take full advantage of a Spurs defensive mix up to put Arsenal 2-0 up hurt even more. Spurs had lost before the half time whistle had even been blown from Mike Dean.
As the second half progressed, hopes amongst the away support in the corner of the stadium faded and were all but extinguished when Kane and Alli – both 50% fit at best for the game and were visibly not up to scratch – were taken off with 15 minutes to go. A couple of half chances from Spurs substitute Son Heung-Min didn’t even trouble Cech in the last couple of minutes and Arsenal saw out the game to secure a 3 points which saw them go a point behind their neighbours in the Premier League table.
A hugely disappointing result, performance and day overall. Spurs didn’t get going at all and at no point looked as if they were going to cause any sort of trouble against an Arsenal side who fully deserved the victory. Some fans may point towards the fitness issues in the Spurs squad which prevented Mauricio Pochettino from fielding a fully fit starting XI, but when the players who do play resort to smashing 40 yard long balls over the top in the hope of finding a knock down from a Spurs player instead of playing the normal attractive passing game out from the back everyone is so used to seeing from this side, there can be absolutely no complaints.
On to Dortmund for the Champions League on Tuesday night.
Having already qualified from the group after the 3-1 win against Real Madrid at Wembley, Spurs headed to Dortmund to play Peter Bosz’s struggling side. Dortmund, who had not won for 5 Bundesliga matches, were low on confidence and were there for the taking, should Pochettino decide to go strong in Germany with his team selection.
Should Spurs win, they would guarantee top spot in the so-called “Group of Death” and theoretically get an easier draw in the knockout stages of the competition but with Bayern Munich and Juventus looking like they will finish second in their respective groups, concerns have been raised.
Pochettino went strong, with Kane, Dele, Eriksen and other senior members of the first team all starting the game. The full backs were rotated, with Aurier and Rose starting – Rose in particular making headlines yet again after admitting he was “furious” with being left out of the Tottenham squad for the game against Arsenal on Saturday.
Spurs line up:
23 Eriksen (Substituted for Sissoko at 85 minutes)
20 Alli (Substituted for Dembélé at 81 minutes)
7 Son Heung-min
10 Kane (Substituted for Llorenteat 86 minutes)
With all of Dortmunds attacking threat, Spurs looked rattled in the early exchanges and nearly conceded an early goal when Aubameyang missed a clear 1v1 opportunity. However, he made up for the miss a few minutes later, putting Dortmund 1-0 up through with a goal which saw some superb build up play by Ukranian winger Yarmolenko.
Spurs went into the break 1-0 down through that goal, but come out in the second half looking much better, with Harry Kane smashing a hard shot low past Dortmund keeper Roman Burki. Dortmund were rattled and following their recent Bundesliga form were visibly demoralised, enabling Spurs to push on for a winner. Dele, who had a disappointing game against Arsenal in the Premier League a few days before picked up the ball outside the Dortmund penalty area and drove on, laying the ball off to Son who took a touch and brilliantly bent the ball in to the top right hand corner of the goal to put Spurs 2-1 up – a lead in which they held on to.
To finish top of a group which contained two of Europe’s perceived heavyweights is a phenomenal achievement and a testament to the work Pochettino has done (and continues to do) at the club and only enhances both the club and his own reputation.
There was several players who stood out in the win on Tuesday but Winks, who dictated the midfield from the first minute, was further enhancing his reputation as one of the best young central midfielders in Europe and played a key role in Spurs getting the win on the night. The 21 year old has gone from strength to strength this season and is proving to be one of the first names on the team sheet – you don’t put in performances like he did in the Bernabeu and Signal Iduna Park if you’re not a special talent.
A special mention must go to Davinson Sanchez as well – the Colombian centre half who was signed from Ajax in the summer for £36m has been nothing short of sensational in his first 4 months at the club and is proving to be one of the signings of the season. Very rarely outmuscled or outpaced in a foot race, he will make Alderwiereld’s absence in the next few months much easier.
Spurs face managerless West Bromwich Albion next in the Premier League on Saturday 25th November, 3pm kickoff.
Interact with me on Twitter @eastterrace00