London: Harry Kane has soared and scored before in the north London derby. The Tottenham striker rates his late headed winner against Arsenal from February 2015 as the finest goal of his career. He was at it again here in a moment to sum up the difference between bullying Spurs and fragile Arsenal.
Ben Davies’s cross from the left was inviting and Kane made the ball his. Timing the leap to perfection, he appeared to hang in the air for an age, towering above Laurent Koscielny, before planting the header into the far corner. Arsenal’s players shouted for a push on Koscielny; so did Arsène Wenger, but the appeals smacked of desperation. It was Kane’s seventh goal in seven Premier League matches against Arsenal.
Tottenham turned on the power after a tepid first half to demonstrate their current supremacy. Where Kane and his team-mates asserted themselves and made things happen, those in red shirts shrank. The die was cast after Kane’s header and the only mercy for Arsenal was that this did not turn into a beating. They owed a debt of thanks to Petr Cech for keeping the scoreline respectable. With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on board and the attacking pair having been instrumental in last Saturday’s 5-1 thrashing of Everton, the optimism in north London’s red half had surged. Here, it was shattered here. The pair were anonymous.
There was so nearly a late twist. Wenger had sent on Alexandre Lacazette and, after lifting one shot high, he scurried on to a pass from another substitute, Alex Iwobi, in stoppage time. It was a gilt-edged opportunity but he shot low and just wide. Had he scored, it would have got Arsenal out of jail. It would not have masked their deficiencies.
How Arsenal needed a statement victory over a big-six rival away from home. They have to go back to January 2015 to find one – the 2-0 success at Manchester City. That was 17 matches ago. They now find themselves six points off the Champions League pace, having played a game more than Liverpool. Tottenham are up into third place.
The win over Everton had framed the contest from Arsenal’s point of view, firing the pre-match mood, although it felt strangely typical that the hat-trick hero, Aaron Ramsey, had felt his groin so was ruled out. Wenger’s response was to start Mohamed Elneny at the base of a central midfield trio and the balance of his lineup had felt decent enough. Tottenham’s high line, as ever, was pronounced, with Davinson Sánchez a part of it. He was given the nod over the fit-again Toby Alderweireld – a huge vote of confidence. There were a couple of moments in the early running when Arsenal almost sprang through on counterattacks but the final pass was not there. Unsually, Mesut Özil was culpable.
It was physical; it was tight. The first half featured flickers from the creative talents but they found that the margins were fractionally against them. Jack Wilshere allowed the ball to run across his body in the 13th minute before releasing a lovely low through-ball for Aubameyang only for the striker to be flagged for offside as he ran through. The decision was fiendishly tight. Tottenham had more of the ball before the interval and they came to press on the front foot but chances were sparse. The big one came on 27 minutes when Christian Eriksen uncorked a wonderful delivery for Kane, who had peeled into space. Kane stretched but he could not direct the header.
Cech, who passed a late fitness test, was called upon to save in the early running from his own player, after Shkodran Mustafi had slid in to deal with a Dele Alli cross, which was intended for Kane. Tottenham could also point to a Mousa Dembélé mishit, which Eric Dier almost turned in. The intensity was strangely absent in the first half. Tottenham brought it with a vengeance after the break and Arsenal cracked. Cech had caused a few flutters when he dropped his shoulder to beat Kane – just – and bring the ball clear but Tottenham’s talisman had the scent of blood.
His opening goal was a classic centre-forward’s header and Arsenal’s complaints looked feeble – just like their efforts to live with Tottenham during the pressure that followed. They pressed for the second goal and were close to getting it. Dier crossed for Kane and, having found a seam in between Arsenal’s centre-halves, he looked odds-on to finish. Instead, his header went the wrong side of the far post. Kane also worked Cech with a stinging volley from Kieran Trippier’s cross while the goalkeeper pawed away an Eriksen free-kick that was bound for the top corner.
Wenger changed his personnel, if not the team’s shape. Lacazette came on for Mkhitaryan, with Aubameyang moving wide, and Iwobi entered in midfield at Elneny’s expense. Wilshere extended Hugo Lloris with a thumping shot but it was all Tottenham. Alli and the substitute, Erik Lamela, could not finish when gloriously placed while Cech kept out a Trippier volley. Lacazette almost salvaged a point at the end but it was not Arsenal’s day.