The first north London derby of 2023-24 was also the first in the entire Premier League era with both teams coming into the game boasting unbeaten records. After a 2-2 draw that meant both sides retained those unbeaten runs, we analyse the game from each team’s perspective
The Arsenal Perspective
The north London derby never disappoints. We were once again treated to a frantic, chaotic game between Arsenal and Tottenham as the spoils were shared at the Emirates Stadium.
It sums up the momentum shifts of the match that both sides are probably disappointed and relieved in equal measure to have come away with a point. At multiple times in the match, it felt like either team were in the ascendancy to win it.
Before the game, Arsenal would have been confident about coming away with all three points. They had every right to be. Tottenham’s away record in this fixture was very poor – they’d won just one of their last 30 Premier League away games against Arsenal (D11 L18). Mikel Arteta’s record in this game was fantastic as well, having won all three of his home games against Spurs.
The first act in our helter-skelter game spans the first half hour. Arsenal started with confidence and looked to spread the play out wide at every opportunity. In particular, they looked for Bukayo Saka on Arsenal’s right who was very threatening one-on-one against Tottenham’s left-back Destiny Udogie.
The young full-back was booked early on, which meant he was unable to get as tight to Saka as he would have liked, and that space allowed the Englishman to drift inside off the wing to create. Saka had more touches of the ball in the opening 30 minutes than any other player on the pitch. It’s rare for a winger to see so much of the ball, but that highlighted how much Arsenal looked to get him involved.
It was no surprise, then, that Saka created the first goal. Receiving on the right touchline, he used a brilliant overlapping run by Ben White – which attracted both Udogie and Brennan Johnson – to drop his shoulder and cut inside. Space opened up for him and he fizzed a curling shot towards goal (though it was going off target) that Cristian Romero could only divert into his own goal.
It could, and really should, have been two shortly after. James Maddison – who it must be said was fantastic throughout – got caught dawdling on the ball close to his own box. Gabriel Jesus, as he often does brilliantly, hunted him down, picked his pocket and went clear on Guglielmo Vicario’s goal. And then, as he often does a lot less brilliantly, he rashly skied his chance (worth 0.43 xG) over.
In a microcosm it was an insight into the brilliance and the frustration of Jesus; capable of so much and yet average in the one area you need your forward to excel at – putting away chances. Since Jesus’ Premier League debut, he has underperformed his expected goals by 15 – more than any other Premier League player.
That seemed to flick a switch. Arsenal’s cut and thrust was replaced by Spurs’ ability and threat in transition. Act two had begun.
In the 15 minutes before half time, Spurs broke constantly down the flanks. First, down the right, where Son Heung-min squared the ball across for Johnson to sweep into an open goal, only for David Raya to brilliantly keep it out. So much of the discourse around Raya vs. Aaron Ramsdale seems to peddle the former as a ball-playing goalkeeper and the latter as more of a shot shopper. Here, Raya proved he’s more than capable with his hands, and his full-length dive was reminiscent of David Seaman’s elastic save against Sheffield United in the FA Cup.
But he couldn’t keep out Spurs’ next big chance. The electric Maddison picked up a loose ball on the left after a Tottenham corner was half-cleared, rolled Saka with ease before squaring the ball for Son to tap in.
The scores were level at half-time but Arsenal hadn’t dominated in the way they usually do. Their tally of 134 successful passes was the fifth lowest they had managed in the first half of a home Premier League game under Mikel Arteta.
After half-time comes our third act: a chaotic second-half in which Arsenal were now shorn of their physical leader in midfield, Declan Rice, who was replaced by Jorginho after suffering a calf injury. That power and physicality in midfield had gone, and without Rice’s stability and presence in midfield, Arsenal were not able to exert the same control over the game as they’d shown in the opening exchanges.
It wasn’t like Spurs had much control over proceedings either, though.
We wrote earlier in the week about both side’s threat from set pieces. And Arsenal’s penalty came from just that scenario. A whipped Saka inswinger caused havoc in the Spurs box, the ball cannoned around and fell to White who turned and shot towards goal only for the ball to strike Romero’s hand. Penalty. Saka duly dispatched it after a lengthy VAR check.
But Rice’s intangible absence was laid brutally bare after Jorginho was caught on the ball inside Arsenal’s own half. Spurs sliced through Arsenal, with Maddison incisively slipping the ball for Son to double his tally.
With the score at 2-2, it felt like both sides were unsure whether to go for the kill or preserve what they had. In the end, saner heads prevailed and the game somewhat petered out for a draw.
Given the historic home advantage this fixture provides, and that they led twice, Arsenal will be disappointed to have dropped points. More worrying though, will be the apparent injury to Rice in the heart of their midfield.
The Tottenham Perspective
Spurs came into this game having only won one of their last 30 Premier League away games against Arsenal, with their only win at the Emirates Stadium having come in 2010, but they didn’t set out to play this game like underdogs.
Ange Postecoglou has transformed Tottenham into a possession-dominant team since his arrival in the summer, and has been adamant he would not compromise on his philosophy. There had been no test as big as this one so far in his tenure, but his team stuck to the game plan that has served them so well up to this point.
They came up against a ferocious and brilliantly organised Arsenal press, however, and despite having a lot of the ball, they struggled to make it out of their own third early on. They had 55% of the ball up until the opening goal of the game on 26 minutes.
That goal came via the shin of centre-back Cristian Romero, who had a day to forget on a personal level (more on that later), as he turned Bukayo Saka’s shot from the edge of the box into his own net.
There was no change to the gameplan, though, as Spurs continued to play patient, possession football. They were very nearly made to pay for overplaying at the back shortly after conceding when James Maddison received a pass on the edge of his own box facing his own goal and had his pocked picked by Gabriel Jesus. The Brazil forward was left one-on-one with Guglielmo Vicario in the Tottenham goal but fluffed his lines and blazed high over the bar.
The momentum then shifted, though, with Spurs enjoying 70% possession over the remaining 15 minutes of the first half. New signing Brennan Johnson, making his first start for Tottenham in an unfamiliar role on the left side of attack, had just failed to score from close range twice in quick succession when Maddison twisted and turned away from Saka before finding Son Heung-min to turn the ball into the net.
Spurs would have been buoyed by the news at the start of the second half that Declan Rice and Fabio Vieira would not be reappearing on the pitch, but Arsenal came out after the break the better of the teams, and took only nine minutes to score again. They have been the most effective Premier League team from corner kicks since the start of last season, and it was following a corner that Ben White shot from close range and hit Romero’s hand to win a penalty. Romero became the first Tottenham player in Premier League history to both score an own goal and concede a penalty in the same game, and he added a yellow card to his unwanted stats tally later in the second half. Saka converted from the spot and Arsenal led again.
But Spurs came into this game second to Liverpool (9) for points won from a losing position in the Premier League this season (7), and their heads didn’t drop. They didn’t have to wait long to earn an eighth point after going behind as Maddison robbed Jorginho in midfield and then played Son in to score his second. There were just 98 seconds between the goals.
That goal meant Postecoglou had become the fourth manager in Premier League history to see his team score at least two goals in each of his first six games in the competition, after Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea), Pep Guardiola (Manchester City) and Craig Shakespeare (Leicester City).
Son, meanwhile, had become the first Spurs player to score two goals away at Arsenal in the Premier League since John Hendry in May 1993, a game Spurs won 3-1. Simultaneously Maddison went joint first for assists in the Premier League this season, with four, and also become the first Spurs player to assist two goals away at Arsenal since Rafael van der Vaart in the aforementioned 2010 victory at the Emirates. The momentum was with Spurs and the omens were good, but there was to be no win on this occasion.
Having edged the first half in terms of chances (0.9 xG to Arsenal’s 0.76), Spurs will probably come away from this game content with a point. Arsenal had 54.8% possession in the second half and chances worth 1.32 xG to Tottenham’s 0.6. After Son’s equaliser, Tottenham offered little in attack and although they did get into some decent positions on transition, they struggled to get into good goalscoring positions. Ultimately, Postecoglou could just about claim to be the happier of the two managers. This hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Spurs in recent years and a point – and an extension of their unbeaten start to the season – will do them just fine.
Our Opta match centre below delivers you all the Arsenal vs Tottenham stats for the north London derby at the Emirates Stadium.
The match centre below includes team and player stats, expected goals data, passing networks, an Opta chalkboard and more. It gives you everything you need to do your own analysis during and after the game.
Underneath the match centre you can find the official Opta facts for the game, as well.
Arsenal vs Tottenham Opta Stats
- Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou is the fourth manager in Premier League history to see his side score at least twice in each of his first six games in the competition, along with Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea), Pep Guardiola (Manchester City) and Craig Shakespeare (Leicester City).
- Arsenal and Tottenham both remain unbeaten at least six games into a top-flight campaign for only the second time in the Premier League, after 2004-05.
- After failing to score or assist in his first nine Premier League north London derbies, Son Heung-min has since contributed six goals and two assists in his last eight games against Arsenal. Son became the first Spurs player to score a brace away at Arsenal since John Hendry in a Premier League match in May 1993.
- Tottenham have earned eight points from losing positions in the Premier League this season, the second-most of any side behind Liverpool (9), also avoiding defeat against Brentford (D), Burnley (W) and Sheffield United (W) despite trailing in each match.
- Cristian Romero became the 11th player in Premier League history to score an own goal and give away a penalty in the same game, and the first Spurs player to do so.
- Son Heung-min’s second-half goal came just 98 seconds after Bukayo Saka gave Arsenal a 2-1 lead from the penalty spot.
- Tottenham’s James Maddison has been directly involved in 21 goals in his last 22 away games in the Premier League (10 goals, 11 assists), while he has been directly involved in six goals away from home in the competition this season (2 goals, 4 assists), the most of any player.
- Bukayo Saka has been directly involved in 19 goals in his last 19 Premier League games for Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, scoring 13 goals while registering six assists. He has scored or assisted in each of his four league games there this season (3 goals, 1 assist).