Football Features

Arsenal 2-2 Spurs: Five things learned as ‘lethal’ Lacazette kickstarts recovery

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:39, 1 September 2019

After another pulsating afternoon of football, the north London Derby ended all-square as Arsenal and Spurs played out a thrilling 2-2 draw.

Spurs raced into a two-goal lead with some devastating counter-attacking play before Arsenal goals either side of half-time levelled things up and set the stage for a breakneck end-to-end finale.

1. Lethal Lacazette

Praise is lavished upon Harry Kane and Roberto Firmino pretty much all the time, and rightly so – they are fantastic. Sergio Aguero is somehow underrated as a forward despite his vast list of accomplishments but he too gets some garlands to add to his glory. Alexandre Lacazette, meanwhile, is never spoken of in the same bracket as those players – yet in terms of quality he is certainly on their level.

Lacazette is a miracle of a striker, an incredibly balanced player who has no weaknesses in his game. He’s strong enough to hold the ball up, fast enough to run in behind, and smart enough to make the right kind of movements and know when exactly to do what with the ball. He can shoot for finesse or power off either foot and has a wonderful eye for a pass as well. There’s nothing he can’t do.

Well, he can’t pass to himself. And that’s his big weakness: he plays for Arsenal and often in a system that doesn’t prioritise him getting the goal. Today against Spurs he was isolated up-front and mostly starved of decent service until late in the first half when he collected a barreled pass in the area with absurd ease and then with his second touch pulled off an impossible balancing act by deliciously flicking the ball beyond the challenge of Jan Vertonghen before running onto the ball and absolutely battering it into the back of the net.

That goal gave Arsenal hope in a game where they had absolutely none. And it came from the boot of one of the Premier League’s best strikers.

2. Trigger Man

Who is Spurs’ best player? Kane, right? No one could argue that the English striker is the best player Spurs have. A truly world-class talent. But here’s a thing: who is Spurs’ most important player? The instinct to answer Kane is strong but last season and the start of this one shows that perhaps, with the way the side has evolved, Spurs’ most important player – the trigger man that makes their whole style of play work, is Heung-min Son.

Obviously Kane is supreme and Christian Eriksen’s creativity is always important, but it is Son’s ability to exploit spaces on the break and his sublime ability to find a defender’s weak spot and hammer it like they were a video game boss that makes him Mauricio Pochettino’s big man on the break.

The South Korean’s movement against Arsenal was just sensational and at no point could any Arsenal defender get a handle of where he was; as exemplified for Spurs’ first goal when his delightful jink and surge forward into Arsenal’s half set the whole move in motion, and the second goal when he appeared in so much space that he almost forced Granit Xhaka into a desperate lunge to concede the penalty.

That Spurs basically ceased to be a relevant attacking force when Son, lacking in fitness compared to his team-mates, began flagging was so very telling. The Korean stayed on the pitch but was basically a ghost for the last half an hour and as a result Spurs couldn’t mount an attack worthy of the name. Son is definitely their trigger man.

3. Arsenal can out-gun (almost) anyone

Arsenal are a strange side, because they are obviously broken with glaring weaknesses that any top-quality side would be confident in exposing.

However, they also have a glorious attacking unit that, when they get going, can absolutely devastate opponents. Spurs went 0-2 up against the run of play but when they had to go and get some goals, Arsenal’s strikers stepped up.

Two stunning goals from Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pulled Arsenal level, and the second half saw the Gunners lay siege to the opposing goal and only a couple of stunning saves from Hugo Lloris kept them at bay. It was incredible to see Arsenal just unload on Spurs in such a way that Pochettino’s men could barely even get out. It proved that when Arsenal are in the right mood there are very few sides around that can withstand their devastating barrage. Certainly this is an attack capable of firing the Gunners to third.

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4. Wrong-back

When Kyle Walker got a bit fresh and started demanding modern wages, Pochettino kicked him out the door and made Kieran Trippier the starter with no hesitation. Now Trippier performed admirably for a season and average for a season, and late in this summer’s window was sold to Atlético Madrid with little fanfare and, crucially, no replacement.

Obviously there is Kyle Walker-Peters, who looks a quality player – but he and Serge Aurier now represent Spurs’ only recognised right-backs, with the latter strongly linked with a move away before the transfer deadline.

So, today against Arsenal Davinson Sánchez played right-back and, well, he performed about as well as you would expect a young centre-back playing right-back to. The Colombian was all at sea at the Emirates and was unable to cope with anything Arsenal could throw at him.

One almost wonders what carnage could have been wrought were Nicolas Pépé a left-winger and able to put his formidable dribbling up against the poor Sánchez. As it was he got ripped to pieces by Sead Kolasinac’s overlaps and Arsenal got so much joy attacking him. If Spurs are to have any joy this season they need to hope Walker-Peters can stay fit until January and there they need to sign a right-back.

5. The north London Derby rocks

Derby games aren’t always the most enjoyable to watch. They can be captivating, but most derbies are too intense to be fun – there’s way too much to lose and unless one team is utterly dominant (i.e. recent Manchester Derbies, El Clásico)). Then the games can be agonising to watch. The north London Derby, however is nothing like this.

This is a game which always delivers on entertainment. Part of that is because neither side can really defend yet both possess a fair amount of quality in attack. Great teams that know how to defend can make for a dull match because good defending can be quite dull. But Arsenal haven’t been able to defend for about a decade now – no player has conceded more penalties than Xhaka since the start of 2016/17 – and Spurs’ good players turn into jelly-legged wobblers against the Gunners.

The other factor is the sheer will to win on the part of both sides. Neither side is ever happy with a draw. The close proximity of the two teams means that players are fully aware of just what the result means to fans. Winning is everything and so the teams simply do not give in. Even today when they were exhausted, Spurs still managed to mount a couple of dangerous attacks at the death because that’s just how this fixture plays out.

A point is never enough, although ironically this is the most-drawn fixture in Premier League history with 23 out of 55 games ending all square. But because no one wants to draw, when they do even if it feels disappointing the game itself has been fun.