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Tottenham 2 Arsenal 3: Quick start key again? What is Havertz? How unlucky were Spurs?

Written by on April 28, 2024

The title race remains on. Arsenal made sure of that at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

For Spurs, though, the race for a top-four spot looks less likely to be won after a chastening defeat to their north London rivals.

This derby victory put Mikel Arteta’s side four points clear at the top of the Premier League before second-placed Manchester City’s match against Nottingham Forest.

Though Arsenal deserved the win, Tottenham could have considered themselves unlucky after a first half in which they had a strike disallowed for a very close offside and could have been awarded a penalty. Pulling two goals back meant for a nervy ending and they almost nicked a point.

Ange Postecoglou will have much to ponder, but his side came up against a determined title-chasing Arsenal.

Here, Art De Roche, Charlie Eccleshare and Michael Cox break down the action.


(Another) quick start key for Arsenal?

Arsenal extended their record as the Premier League’s most potent force in the opening 15 minutes when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg directed Bukayo Saka’s corner goalbound. It was their 12th goal in that period of a Premier League game this season, the most in the Premier League, with Tottenham Hotspur’s 10 the second highest.

Those fast starts have been crucial to Arsenal’s title charge in the second half of the season specifically, with just three of those goals coming in the first 19 league games.

Equally important was the fact that their opener came from a set piece. It was their 20th set-piece goal of the season, also the most in the Premier League, and allowed them to capitalise on their best period of the opening 15 minutes.

Aside from those five minutes, Tottenham were on top. That is why having a routine of having players start at the far post to come to the near post, with Benjamin White causing confusion with the goalkeeper, can be so important. It opens games up and gives them a platform for more.

The same was the case for Kai Havertz’s 38th-minute goal. The corner came from the other side, but White stayed on Guglielmo Vicario while his team-mates ran across the six-yard box. The combination of these actions created enough chaos for Arsenal to claim their 21st set-piece goal of the season.

Art De Roche


Were Spurs unlucky?

The first half of this game was really strange.

You could be forgiven for looking at the scoreline and imagining that Tottenham had been outplayed. Or that they’d been in the game but naively caught out on the break. And while Saka’s goal did see them concede on the counter, it really wasn’t either of those two kind of games.

Tottenham were right in the contest and were extremely close to equalising on three occasions in the 12 minutes between falling behind and Saka making it 2-0.


(Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Put it this way, they’ve played much worse on occasions this season but been ahead at half-time. That said, they’ve struggled defending set pieces all season and this is an area they have to improve in.

In open play, Dejan Kulusevski was particularly impressive, giving the Arsenal defenders a really difficult time and fully justifying his selection. With better finishing and a bit more luck they wouldn’t have left themselves with such a mountain to climb.

Charlie Eccleshare


What is Kai Havertz?

Earlier this season, when Kai Havertz was struggling to make a consistent impact on games, it was fair to question precisely what he was. Was he a natural No 8? Not really. Was he a natural No 9? Definitely not. Where was his place in this system? What was he offering?

That seems a long time ago. Stylistically Havertz is something in between those roles, and on Sunday he was both.

Few No 9s in the Premier League are capable of dropping deep and spraying the wonderful diagonal ball out to Saka for Arsenal’s second goal. And few No 8s would be capable of ghosting into the six-yard box unmarked and nodding home from a corner for Arsenal’s third of the game.

Havertz’s aerial ability also proved useful when Arsenal wanted to go long, particularly in the opening stages when Tottenham were trying to press. And he won a couple of important headers inside his own box when Arsenal were defending set-pieces — an area where they’d looked vulnerable in the early stages.

Other striking options — Gabriel Jesus, Eddie Nketiah — offer something different. But in this form, Havertz is undroppable.

Michael Cox


Did Hojbjerg gamble pay off?

It’s rare for Postecoglou to spring a big surprise with his team selections, but opting to start Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on Sunday certainly fell into this category.

Doing so meant benching both Yves Bissouma and Pape Matar Sarr and picking someone who had only started six Premier League games this season, when others have been unavailable. In eight games he had started in all competitions before this, Spurs had won just once.

Did the decision pay off? You’d have to say no. Hojbjerg’s headline contribution was an own goal to open the scoring after an even first 15 minutes, and in general, this was an afternoon where his limitations were shown up.

The odd loose touch and misplaced pass is nothing to slate a player for, but this was an afternoon when Spurs needed to be perfect. After a loose touch in the first half that Saka pounced on, Hojbjerg puffed out his cheeks knowing he had to up it.

He improved as the match went on, but it was a difficult game for a player who may well have just played his last north London derby.

Charlie Eccleshare


How did Davies deal with Saka?

Bukayo Saka against Ben Davies was always going to be the key match-up. With Destiny Udogie out for the season, that was the match-up most were looking at going into the game and it was clear Davies wanted to make an impression from the off.

He was tough-tight on Saka when received the ball in the opening exchanges. The main objective was to ensure the winger did not have time to turn and run at him. That somewhat worked throughout the first and second half before he grew frustrated late on and was booked for fouling the England international on 80 minutes.


(BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)

The issue for Davies came in open spaces. Saka knew that, so as soon as Havertz got his head up on the break, he was calling for the ball. Once under control on the right, the 22-year-old used Davies to perfection, committing him before cutting inside and finishing into the far corner.

Arsenal looking to hit Saka quickly has been a theme against Spurs for the past three seasons. It led to the opener in the first north London derby of this season, both goals in Arsenal’s 2-0 win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last season and two of the three goals in their 3-1 win over Spurs in September 2021.

Saka stepping up is not new for Arsenal. His goal also ensured that this is the best scoring season in the Premier League of his young career (15 goals).

Art De Roche

(Top photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images)


What did Ange Postecoglou say?

We will bring you this after he has spoken at the post-match press conference.


What did Mikel Arteta say?

We will bring you this after he has spoken at the post-match press conference.


What next for Spurs?

Thursday, May 2: Chelsea (A), Premier League, 7.30pm BST, 2.30pm ET

It’s another big London derby for Ange Postecoglou’s side, and this time it’s the ‘Mauricio Pochettino-Antonio Conte-Jose Mourinho Clasico’ at Stamford Bridge.

The two sides last met in November, as Chelsea ended Spurs’ unbeaten start to the Premier League season with a 4-1 win that saw the home side reduced to nine men after 55 minutes. Chelsea have a superb record at home to Spurs: the latter have only won once at Stamford Bridge in 34 years, and that was back in April 2018.

What next for Arsenal?

Saturday, May 4: Bournemouth (H), Premier League, 12.30pm BST, 8.30am ET

Andoni Iraola’s travel to the Emirates in Saturday’s early kick-off. Arsenal won the reverse fixture 4-0 in September and have never lost to the Cherries at home in the Premier League (six wins from six).

The most memorable of those encounters is undoubtedly the 3-2 comeback win in March 2023, in which Arsenal were trailing 2-0 with half-hour remaining. Goals from Thomas Partey and Ben White drew the Gunners level before Reiss Nelson scored a 97th-minute winner to inspire euphoria in the home crowd.


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