The Gunners’ £ 140million summer spending spree included six under-23 signings. Four of them started on Sunday in a squad averaged just over 24, a profile further bolstered by the inclusion of their two brightest local talents – Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka – who both marked and were the epitome of the club’s spirit and effort throughout.
They started with a goal Spurs lacked completely, an attitude exacerbated by a bizarre game plan in which they apparently tried to beat Arsenal without playing a midfielder. Tanguy Ndombele and Dele Alli have too often left the central area of the pitch, leaving Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg completely overwhelmed by the locals who invaded them.
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Spurs regained some semblance of form in the second half, but the game had long ended as a contest by then as Smith Rowe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Saka swept Arsenal with a three-goal lead in 34. minutes – the first on either side has ever scored so much in a North London derby. Son Heung-Min managed a 79th-minute consolation to bring minimal respect to the score during a half in which substitutes Oliver Skipp and later Emerson gave them some momentum, but Make no mistake: Spurs were almost entirely absent during the periods of the game that really mattered.
Harry Kane finally appeared. Even as the shadow of his best, it was still an improvement over what had happened before, testing Aaron Ramsdale with a low shot from outside the box before lifting another effort beside the goal. after a first brilliant touch. Still, his expectation of a Premier League goal this season continues.
The sight of Kane applauding an almost entirely empty full-time Spurs ending almost summed up the current unease: a player unwilling to be at the club trying to greet supporters who had already left disillusioned as the squad approached. Kane has been denied the summer move to Manchester City he wanted, but while his body is still present, his mind seems to be elsewhere.
This remains one of the most pressing issues for Nuno Espirito Santo to resolve. President Daniel Levy asserted in May that Spurs would appoint a coach to replace Jose Mourinho who “would return to football in the style we are known for – fluid, attacking and entertaining”.
The confusion that followed – chasing various late-stage candidates including Hansi Flick, Erik ten Hag, Antonio Conte, Paulo Fonseca, to name just four, and there were more – before settling on Nuno bled on the ground. Spurs just don’t know what kind of team they are trying to be, caught between Mauricio Pochettino’s company and Mourinho’s pragmatism.
“A lot of things have gone wrong, starting with the decisions I made,” Nuno said bluntly. “The game plan didn’t work because we didn’t decide it well. “
Meeting room machinations aren’t always reflected so directly in the results – the presence of Spotify owner Daniel Ek alongside Arsenal legend Thierry Henry at Emirates Stadium was a reminder of the change in ownership which many attendees would still love to see despite Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE) summer spending – but the correlation at Spurs is clear.
KSE kept their faith in Mikel Arteta after a dismal start because they believed in the Spaniard’s vision for the future. There is no guarantee that this dynamism will continue – confidence is more temperamental in these areas than most – but Arteta can now point to a tangible return to validate his discourse on a “process” and a “transition”, words. fashionable management that can seem hollow without the performance to back it up.
Arsenal won the FA Cup in 2020 under his leadership, but it was achieved with a security-focused defensive setup designed to contain and counter top teams, particularly Manchester City and then Chelsea in the semi-finals and final. This victory over Tottenham was the opposite, on the front foot throughout, crushing their fiercest rivals with an irresistible mix of quality and control to the boisterous glee of red-clad fans.
“When you try to rebuild and do the right things you have to stay true to your values,” Arteta told BBC Sport. “Now we are creating the link with our supporters. “
There is a warning from history, however. Arsenal beat Spurs in March but only won one of their next five to end their hopes of qualifying for European competition. Two years ago, they came back from a 2-0 draw with Spurs in September to win four of their next 22 games in a race that cost Unai Emery his managerial job.
Arsenal will face Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace on either side of next month’s international break before a home game against Aston Villa and a trip to Leicester City. It is a race which is not without dangers but which offers a way for further progress.
Spurs have the Europa Conference League to complicate games against Villa, Newcastle United, West Ham United and Manchester United in the same span, and Nuno is already in a race against time to establish an identity for this team. He has led the Spurs in just 10 competitive games and they end a painful day in points with Arsenal, even after such a punishing 90 minutes, but it already feels like the pressure is on.
Neither side is where they want to be right now, but only one looks set to make the climb right now.