José Mourinho had said that he could not wait for the season to finish and, given the gloomy mood that shadowed Tottenham into this derby and the state of the Premier League table, it was easy to see why. Yet there was a dose of unexpected cheer at the expense of their in-form neighbours when Spurs found a way to turn the tide of a second half that seemed to be slipping away from them.
The decisive blow was struck late on by Toby Alderweireld, who rose to flick Son Heung-min’s corner into the roof of the net. Defensively Arsenal broke down – why was Kieran Tierney marking Alderweireld? – but Spurs had done enough. It was not a vintage performance from them yet Mourinho would not have cared. He needed this and what it meant was plain. At full-time the Spurs substitute goalkeeper, Paulo Gazzaniga, hammered a ball high into the sky and there were big hugs from Mourinho for his staff.
Arsenal had led through Alexandre Lacazette – Son would find an immediate riposte – and they controlled the game in the first half of the second period. It might have been different if a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang shot had been a little lower, rather than hitting the crossbar. But Spurs found a way in the closing stages to move above Arsenal into eighth position.
Mikel Arteta stuck with his 3-4-3 system, demanding intensity from his Arsenal players and advanced starting positions, and they went ahead when they were able to win the ball high up – something that the manager has demanded.
Serge Aurier read a pass from Granit Xhaka for Aubameyang but his touch was heavy and set up a 50-50 with Xhaka, which the Arsenal midfielder won, sending the ball spinning towards Lacazette. The striker took two touches before unfurling a rising drive that fizzed past Hugo Lloris into the top corner from the edge of the area. It was a scorching finish.
Spurs were not behind for long and when they levelled, Mourinho’s impassioned celebrations betrayed an element of vindication. He had started with two strikers for the first time at Spurs – Son alongside Harry Kane – in order to give his team more presence and threat in the final third.
It was Son who profited from a dreadful back pass by Sead Kolasinac, which had been intended for David Luiz but was off the mark. Son was onto it in a flash, holding off the Brazilian and clipping a lovely finish over Emiliano Martínez. The TV camera focused on David Luiz looking sad but Kolasinac had to carry the can.
Behind-closed-doors football is weird but this game was more weird than normal. Derby day in these parts is normally frenzied and there were plenty of the usual on-pitch accoutrements in the first-half – off-the-ball digs, a high tempo, yellow cards, thrills and spills. We were left merely to imagine how the crowd would have seethed.
Spurs might have taken an early lead. Lucas Moura shot straight at Martínez after Kane had leant on David Luiz but the big chance came after Nicolas Pépé lost the ball cheaply and allowed Lucas to run away from him. Lucas’s ball was dropped over David Luiz for Kane but Martínez used all of his 6ft 5in frame to stand tall and save the first-time lob.
Spurs could also point to the first-half moment when Ben Davies rattled the crossbar with a bang from 30 yards. Héctor Bellerín had cut back for Aubameyang after beating Davies and Harry Winks only for the striker to fluff his lines, while Pépé would curl just wide and Aubameyang was off target with a free-kick.
Arteta shouted plenty of his instructions in Spanish with a bit of French thrown in when he was encouraging Lacazette. His team began the second half on the front foot, monopolising possession, probing for openings and they fashioned a glorious one when Pépé robbed Alderweireld on the edge of the Spurs area and found Lacazette. Aubameyang peeled away into the area on the left, Lacazette found him and the Arsenal captain struck viciously for goal. He was denied by the crossbar.
The thrust of the first half was slowed by Arsenal taking a more measured approach in the third quarter. Spurs stayed in their 4-4-2 shape but they dropped deeper, looking happier to punch on the counter.
The lull prefaced a grandstand finish from Spurs. Son went close after Kane got the better of David Luiz and, after Aubameyang had extended Lloris, Kane was denied by the advancing Martínez. Spurs might even have embellished the final scoreline only for Martínez to save from Kane and Son to shoot into David Luiz.