Son Heung-min was the bane of Arsenal’s life on Thursday night as he helped Tottenham Hotspur win 3-0 to keep their top four hopes alive.
Arsenal went into the game in control of the race for the Premier League’s top four, knowing a win would secure their return to the Champions League – while also ending Tottenham’s hopes.
The Gunners got off to a decent enough start, pressing Tottenham high and looking to take advantage of any early nerves in the hosts’ game. But they couldn’t make it count and once Paul Tierney pointed to the spot in the 21st minute, there would be no saving them.
Although Cedric Soares will shoulder the blame for his foul on Son to concede the penalty, the South Korean had made himself a nuisance in the early stages and attacked a cross at the back post that caused the Arsenal defender’s brief loss of mind.
Some may feel the penalty decision was a soft one, but it was never one that was going to be overturned once given. Harry Kane stepped up and dispatched the spot-kick, improving his own excellent record against Arsenal and setting himself up for a lot of the post-match plaudits (especially as he latter added a second). But Son’s influence cannot be understated.
Once again it was Son who played a part in the second big decision of the game, Paul Tierney showing Rob Holding his second yellow card. Son had been tormenting Holding for the 33 minutes he was on the pitch, and the Arsenal defender actually picked up both of his yellows for fouls on the South Korean. In fact, all four of Holding’s fouls came on Son.
The first yellow card for Holding came likely due to an accumulation of fouls on Son, and the second a shoulder barge (with a late hint of elbow) borne truly out of frustration. Holding couldn’t have had too many complaints if a straight red was given.
Son’s shining moment came just after half-time though, as he made it 3-0 and put paid to any hopes of an Arsenal comeback. After good work from Kane, Son was inside the box to slam home his 21st of the season, closing the gap on Mohamed Salah in the race for the Premier League’s Golden Boot to just one.
Son Heung-min's game by numbers vs. Arsenal:
89% pass accuracy
5 fouls won
5 duels won
3 chances created
1 penalty won
— Squawka (@Squawka) May 12, 2022
The South Korean also moved to joint-third in the list of Tottenham’s highest-scoring players in the Premier League, with only Kane (181) and Teddy Sheringham (97) managing more than his 91.
“If he became available, every top team in Europe, in the world, would want him straight away,” Gary Neville said of Son while commentating the game for Sky Sports.
“They wouldn’t even blink. Get him in, he’s a dream. The numbers are big.”
Arsenal will have breathed a sigh of relief when Son was subbed off in the 72nd minute, but the South Korean wasn’t happy with the decision, perhaps with an eye on the Golden Boot.
“Obviously I want to play always but what can I say? I have to accept it,” he later explained on Sky Sports.
“We have a game on Sunday so that’s why. I am not angry just disappointed. I have to move on. I wanted to keep playing.
“We have an important game so I need to be ready, recover well and be fresh again.”
But for Arsenal the damage was done. The Gunners must now quickly recover, needing to win both of their final two matches to secure their spot in the top four – and they’re not easy games, against Newcastle United and then Everton.
The result was also a blow for Chelsea, who could have seen their spot in the top four secured ahead of their FA Cup final against Liverpool on Saturday.