When August ended, Tottenham topped the Premier League and Arsenal propped it up. One had the right sort of 100 percent record, the other the wrong kind. The subsequent role reversal was summed up in a first half that was sublime for Arsenal and shambolic from Tottenham.
The Gunners eviscerated their rivals and can now look down on them in the table. It ranked among the finest days of Mikel Arteta’s reign, the endorsement of an ethos as his faith in youth was rewarded when a 21-year-old and a 20-year-old, in the excellent pair of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, had scored before the break, sandwiching a goal from the rather older Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. This has been an admirable response to their awful August.
But Tottenham have had an increasingly sorry September. They were shocking when it mattered. A team who began the campaign with three consecutive 1-0 wins have fallen apart since.
Breached three times each by Crystal Palace and Chelsea, they let in three goals in 35 minutes to an Arsenal team who had only scored twice in five previous league games. When plenty of Spurs fans left before the break, it was a vote of no confidence.
Spurs were outwitted as well as outclassed and outrun. Arsenal were quicker to the ball and speedier of thought. They had better, brighter ideas and the confidence and class to execute them. Tottenham were off the pace, hampered further by Nuno Espirito Santo’s strangely direct tactics. They were caught on the counter-attack, outflanked as Nuno’s oddly narrow system backfired.
Arsenal had more energy and more excellence. Aubameyang led from the front. Saka and Smith Rowe were exuberant and irrepressible.
Arsenal’s opener was made in London, forged in their academy, coming from a combination of two young locals who started on either wing. Saka engineered the room to cross and picked out Smith Rowe with a low cutback and he sidefooted in a first league goal in the No. 10 shirt.
After Thomas Partey and Aubameyang threatened to double the lead, Arsenal’s second goal stemmed from a move begun by the goalkeeper, Aaron Ramsdale, albeit with a risky pass to Granit Xhaka that Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg almost intercepted, and finished by the striker.
Kieran Tierney released Smith Rowe into space and his cross was tucked in by Aubameyang. It was a sign of how much Japhet Tanganga struggled against Smith Rowe when he was substituted at half-time, along with Dele Alli.
The third came courtesy of another swift break, but it was doubly disastrous for Harry Kane. He lost possession deep in Arsenal territory, tracked back in a bid to make amends and managed to block a Saka pass, only for it to fall obligingly for his England team-mate to arrow a shot in.
It amounted to another chastening afternoon for Kane. He remains the record scorer in the North London derby but could not add to his tally or open his account in this season’s Premier League.
A first-half header flew wide while, after the break, Ramsdale saved well before Kane prodded a shot wide when he sprang the offside trap while he was denied a penalty when the otherwise impressive Ben White caught him on the edge of the box.
Referee Craig Pawson’s decision to play on summed up Kane’s fortunes. The persistent Heung-Min Son had been the first to test Ramsdale, from an acute angle, and was the first to score against the goalkeeper in his Arsenal career, finishing well from Sergio Reguilon’s cross. Ramsdale still had to touch a deflected Lucas Moura shot on to the bar, but 3-2 would have flattered Tottenham. Perhaps 3-1 already did.