he north London derby rarely follows the agreed script and, as much as in any other big fixture in the Premier League, it is often wise to expect the unexpected when Tottenham and Arsenal come together. Not today.
Spurs returned to the top of the table with a 2-0 win over their neighbours in a meeting that almost entirely conformed to pre-match expectations and saw fans return to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for the first time since March.
In between the goals and after the interval, Spurs barely registered 30 percent possession as Arsenal pegged their rivals in their own half, but the hosts defended manfully and always looked a threat on the break. Spurs’ display was similar to the victory over Manchester City a fortnight ago, and the second half comparable to last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Chelsea.
It was another win right out of Jose Mourinho‘s playbook, and offered further evidence of Tottenham’s transformation under the Portuguese and their staying power in the title race.
Arsenal, meanwhile, continued their worst start since 1981 with an occasionally chaotic display that will leave manager Mikel Arteta under more pressure.
The Gunners became the latest side to fall victim to the brilliance of Kane and Son, who have combined for 31 Premier League goals, second only to Lampard and Drogba with 36 in the competition’s history.
Son’s opener was textbook from both, with Kane picking up the ball deep inside his own half with his back to goal and swivelling to play a brilliant pass into the path of the South Korean.
Son still had work to do, surging down the left flank, cutting inside on his right foot and letting fly with a superb curling finish from 30 yards.
It was his 10th League goal of the campaign, taking him level with Arsenal, and Kane’s 10th assist in the competition already. It was also the eighth time that Kane has set up Son this season alone. They are both on course for history.
Son returned the favour in first-half stoppage-time, as Spurs doubled their lead from another counter. Enjoying their best spell of the game, Arsenal committed too many players forward and Spurs were suddenly four-on-two following an interception from Serge Aurier.
Son slipped in Kane, who finished emphatically off the underside of the bar with his left foot.
To add injury to insult, Thomas Partey, who had impressed on his return from injury, pulled up during the move and was immediately replaced by Dani Ceballos.
Predictably, Mourinho shut up shop in the second half, making just one change before the 86th minute, with Ben Davies replacing Giovani Lo Celso, as Spurs went to a back three.
There were uncomfortable moments for the 2,000 returning home fans, including a smart Hugo Lloris save to deny Alexandre Lacazette and some last-ditch challenges, but the damage had already been done by Kane and Son.
Hojbjerg made for these occasions
There was surely not a better piece of business over the summer than Tottenham’s capture of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Southampton for £3million plus Kyle Walker-Peters. The Dane’s impact on this Spurs side has been transformational.
Here, Hojbjerg was fantastic again, keeping Tottenham ticking over with the ball, while leading their gritty rear-guard without it.
He had the most touches of any Spurs player – 61 – and completed the most successful passes, with 35. He was also superb in defence, snapping and snarling into tackles, some of which he celebrated like a goal.
He constantly seemed to be in the right place to clear the ball during after spells on tricky Arsenal pressure and he was tactically excellent, dropping into defence to form a back three in possession or else covering at full-back, along with Moussa Sissoko, on the rare occasions that Sergio Reguilon or Aurier got forward.
It is hard to think of a more Mourinho player, and it is no surprise that the manager said this week that he already cannot afford to play without Hojbjerg in any game.
Spurs supporters create stirring atmosphere on return
Mourinho had called on the returning fans to ‘play the game’ and ‘wear a Tottenham shirt’ and he cannot have been disappointed with their response.
Despite numbering just 2,000, the supporters behind created an atmosphere in the cavernous 62,850-seat stadium on their first match here since March.
The majority of supporters were in the single-tier South Stand, which was designed as a “17,500-seat megaphone”, according to the stadium’s designers, with acoustic panels on the roof to magnify sound.
They had plenty to celebrate, with new favourites in Hojbjerg and Sergio Reguilon to serenade, along with old favourites Ledley King, back on the touchline as part of Mourinho’s backroom staff, and Gareth Bale, who was an unused sub.
Helped by Son’s early goal, the fans were soon running through the usual repertoire and creating an impressive wall of noise, which was genuinely stirring after such a long absence.