For Antonio Conte, the delight lay in the dominance. It was physical, his Tottenham players running all over their Arsenal rivals; battering them, pounding them into submission. It was psychological, the visitors seeming to crumble in the face of a ferociously intense atmosphere. And it was tactical, Conte’s approach looking quick and incisive; easy on the eye.
Spurs knew they had to win to keep alive their hopes of pipping Arsenal into fourth place. They did that and more. This was a statement performance and one to seriously test their nearest and not so dearest. Arsenal do retain control of their destiny, with a regards to a Champions League finish, but Mikel Arteta has regrouped work to do before the pivotal trip to Newcastle on Monday.
Son Heung-min tormented the Arsenal defense, winning a penalty that Harry Kane converted for 1-0 and spooking Rob Holding to such an extent that the center-half was sent off for two fouls on him before the 33rd minute was up. Kane would score again, Son added the third and the home crowd came together in appreciation of Conte towards the end.
It is fair to say that everyone had been waiting for this. Since mid-January, when the original fixture was postponed after an application by Arsenal, who had a selection crisis. And, more broadly, since the stadium opened. At long last, the derby here could pulse to the rhythms of a sell-out. There was quite the noise inside the bowl – the acoustics really are something – and the Spurs fans in the South Stand had spelled out what they wanted in a striking typhoon. Dare, Dream, Do. They got their wish during a first half which had an almost gladiatorial feel.
It was Spurs who won the duels and it came to feel as if the occasion was too hot for Arteta’s young team. The visitors blinked first when Cédric Soares barged Son at the far post as the Spurs attacker chased a Dejan Kulusevski cross. Arteta raged, just as Conte had done moments earlier, protesting a yellow card against Ben Davies and earning one for himself. But the penalty was the correct decision and there was little doubt about the outcome when Kane addressed it.
Cédric versus Son had felt like a potential mismatch, although not like this – in an aerial challenge. The same was true of Holding versus Son. The pair had grappled on the floor in the early going and, when Son turned away from him on 26 minutes, beating him all ends up, Holding fouled him. He had his first caution.
Plainly, Holding had to tread carefully. Instead, just eight minutes later, he watched Son cut across him in pursuit of a high Eric Dier ball and checked him with no little cynicism. What was he thinking about? The second yellow card was a formality.
Spurs scented blood. Roared on by the crowd, they pressed high, winning their tackles. It was looking like an ordeal for those in red. Moments before Holding’s dismissal, Kane had seen a shot blocked by Takehiro Tomiyasu. He didn’t have to wait long for his second.
It was Rodrigo Bentancur who flicked on a Son corner and Kane was all alone at the far post to stoop low and head home. The half-time damage could have been heavier but, after Tomiyasu had again blocked from Kane, Ryan Sessegnon stood up a lovely cross and Emerson Royal lifted wastefully over.
Spurs’ third was a killer on every level for Arsenal. There was the timing – straight after half-time. But there was the sight yet again of a Tottenham player bullying his opponent. It was Kane this time, backing into Gabriel, trying to roll him and the Arsenal player struggling to hold his ground. With both men on the ground, the ball broke to Son, who lifted an assured finish past Aaron Ramsdale.
Arsenal had wilted in the first half, their attacking threat limited, with only Eddie Nketiah troubling Hugo Lloris with a 44th minute effort. And when Son scored the third, it was plain that they needed a miracle. Perhaps stopping the bleeding had to be the priority.
Arteta reconfigured to 4-1-3-1 – Tomiyasu alongside Gabriel in central defense; Granite Xhaka at left-back. Bukayo Saka was denied by Davies but there were oles from the home crowd, delight at how their team had their boot on Arsenal’s throat. And clemency was not a part of the mood.
Kane worked Ramsdale from distance and Son lifted over from a Sessegnon cross when he should have done better. Arsenal, who lost Gabriel to injury and finished with Xhaka in central defense, went close through Martin Ødegaard. For them, there was no consolation.