This was another illustration of how Jose Mourinho has changed Spurs and a sign of the gulf that now exists between the two North London rivals. Tottenham were pre-match favourites and they delivered on that status, claiming the three points needed to take them back to the top of the Premier League table.
Mourinho’s game plan followed a familiar template, with the approach designed to give Harry Kane and Son Heung-min as much time and space in the opposition half as possible. The midfield platform of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Moussa Sissoko did its job, releasing Kane and Son who combined for the game’s two goals in the first half. Son’s opener was the pick of the pair.
It was a goal reminiscent of something another Premier League superstar would conjure up. While Mohamed Salah tends to cut inside off the right, rather than the left as Son did, before bending a curling strike into the top corner, there was a familiar shape to the way the South Korean found the back of the Arsenal net.
A comparison can be drawn between the role Son is playing for Tottenham this season and the one Salah has performed for Liverpool these past few years. In fact, when the layers of narrative are stripped back, and some lazy preconceptions dismissed of, there are some similarities between Mourinho’s Spurs and Jurgen Klopp’s Premier League champions.
The midfield three of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Fabinho give Liverpool’s front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Salah the platform and security they need to do damage further up the pitch. Hojbjerg and Sissoko, and Tanguy Ndombele when he is involved, do the same for Kane and Son.
While Spurs got the win they deserved, there wasn’t the degree of control in this performance that there was in the performances against Chelsea and Manchester City. This was a reflection of how important Ndombele is to Mourinho’s side, with Tottenham missing the Frenchman’s ability to keep the ball under pressure in the second half.
On the flip side, Arsenal learned nothing from the way City and Chelsea failed to break down Spurs, seeing plenty of possession without ever appearing likely to find the back of the net. If ever there was a team that might struggle to get through the Tottenham defensive block, it was Arsenal and yet Mikel Arteta did very little to change his side’s approach.
The sight of Arteta pushing a hobbling Thomas Partey back on to the pitch in an attempt to stop Tottenham’s second goal on the counter attack was symbolic of the Spaniard’s desperation. Thomas started, but was clearly not ready to so, labouring throughout with a hamstring injury. But Arteta needed his best players to give Arsenal a chance. Individual quality is all the Gunners have at this moment in time.
This derby clash underlined where these two rivals are in their development under their current managers, appointed at roughly the same time last year. Mourinho’s Tottenham are comfortable in their own skin, sure of themselves and well-versed in what is expected of them on the pitch. Arteta’s Arsenal, on the other hand, have no idea what they are.
Mentally, the difference between the two teams was stark, as is the difference between the two rivals in the Premier League table. While Tottenham have silverware in their sights, Arsenal are closer to the relegation zone than they are the top four. They say the form book goes out the window for derbies. Not this one.