Arsenal ran out deserved 2-1 winners, coming from behind through Martin Odegaard’s deflected strike and Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty to leave Erik Lamela’s stunning Rabona goal as an afterthought. Spurs finished with 10 men after the Argentine substitute was sent off.
Mourinho was hired to improve Tottenham’s record in the biggest matches and ultimately win the silverware that eluded his predecessor.
The Portuguese may yet succeed in this regard if his side beat Manchester City in next month’s EFL Cup Final or go all the way in the Europa League but, for now, Mourinho has lost his knack for delivering in big games.
Back in the autumn, Spurs appeared to be mounting a top-four or even title challenge based on an ability to beat the top sides in classic Mourinho fashion. The 2-0 home wins over City and Arsenal were controlled and patient, suggesting Mourinho was still one of the best at managing one-off occasions.
Since beating their north London rivals on December 6, however, Spurs have lost to Liverpool twice, Leicester, Chelsea, City, West Ham and the Gunners, as well as Brighton and Everton after extra-time in the FA Cup. Their biggest win in that period was over Leeds.
Their spring renaissance of five consecutive wins — including League victories over Burnley, Fulham and Crystal Palace — came to an abrupt halt yesterday, in what was Spurs’s first real test since losing at West Ham. Instead, it is Arsenal who look revitalised and Arteta who feels like a manager with a knack for delivering on high-stakes occasions.
Mikel Arteta delghted with north London derby win
The Arsenal boss was decisive and brave in dropping captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from the starting XI to the bench for a breach of the club’s pre-match protocols, reportedly for tardiness. His replacement, Lacazette, won and scored the winning penalty following a foul by Davinson Sanchez.
Last season’s FA Cup semi-final and final — against City and Chelsea, respectively — remain the best examples of Arteta’s habit for getting it right in big games, as well as the win over the Blues in December, when the pressure on his job was mounting.
More recently, victory over Benfica over two legs in the Europa League saved Arsenal’s season, while they also comfortably beat Olympiacos 3-1 in the first leg of the last-16 on Thursday. Mourinho, by contrast, was neither decisive nor brave in his approach. Despite naming a side with Harry Kane, Heung-min Son, Gareth Bale and Lucas Moura up front and the attack-minded Tanguy Ndombele in a midfield two, Spurs set up in a familiar low block to contain and counter-attack.
Even after Lamela’s audacious goal had offered a timely reminder of Spurs’s wealth of attacking inspiration, they continued to rely on their defenders to try to win the game.
Arsenal were prepared for Mourinho’s approach and took full advantage, snuffing out the visitors’ breaks before they had begun and taking control of the game through the excellent Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe, who struck the bar at 0-0. Cedric Soares also hit the woodwork in the first half.
Odegaard equalised just before the interval with an effort which deflected off Toby Alderweireld.
Both sides lost key forwards to hamstring injuries by half-time, Son pulling up after 18 minutes and Bukayo Saka unable to emerge for the second half.
Despite that, Arsenal continued in the ascendency and referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot after Lacazette was caught by Sanchez following an air-kick from the Frenchman.
Lamela’s first red card for Spurs came via a second booking for a hand to Kieran Tierney’s face, but Spurs still produced a customary late rally, with Kane having a goal disallowed and striking the post. It only served as a reminder of their attacking quality that had until then been wasted on another important occasion.