KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Jose Mourinho’s project to rebuild Tottenham in his own teams’ image is gathering pace. They welcomed back their fans – at least, a permitted 2,000 of them – by defeating troubled Arsenal 2-0 in the North London derby.
Premier leaders Spurs thus won consecutive local derbies for the first time since a run of three from 1980 to 1982. Their nine-match unbeaten run is the longest currently in the Premier League and this was the first time in two years that they had won five consecutive home games.
They continue to lead Liverpool on goal difference.
Equally pleasing for Mourinho was a fourth successive league clean sheet from his reorganised, more aggressive team who boast the division’s best defensive record of nine goals conceded in 11 games.
Mourinho had never lost a home match to Arsenal in his managerial entire career and the Gunners had last won away at Spurs in 2014.
However, derby games are always difficult to predict because of the effect of the additional local rivalries. This was one of the reasons for Mourinho being more cautious than ever ahead of Spurs’ first appearance in front of the permitted maximum 2,000 of their own fans since the 3:2 defeat by Wolves in front of a ‘real’ crowd on March 1.
Harry Kane had been thought as a doubt before the match but he not only started but created the 13th-minute opening goal.
The counter-attacking goal was classic Mourinho: Tottenham cleared an Arsenal cross, Kane escaped Gabriel to collect the ball inside his own half before turning and picking out Heung-min Song on the left wing. The Korean cut inside and shot beyond Bernd Leno from 30 metres.
Son’s goal was his 13th of the season in all competitions from Kane’s 10th league assist. Their partnership has proved lethal in a surprising manner considering that Kane had always been considered the main striker. Opponents, as Arsenal proved, are still struggling to understand and cope with the role reversal.
Arsenal pressed forward for the rest of the first half but without creating any serious danger. Twice it was the all-action, all-pitch Kane who provided decisive defensive headers. Right on halftime Spurs duly broke forward and this time it was Son who provided the assist and Kane the second Tottenham goal.
Kane’s goal was his 250th for club and country and a top-scoring 11th in the north London derby.
Arsenal were down to 10 men as Kane scored after new midfielder Thomas Partey limped off during the build-up. Dani Ceballos substituted at half-time and enabled Arsenal to raise the tempo at the start of the second half.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, anonymous in the first half, should have done better than head over the bar from a Tierney left-wing cross. But Arsenal’s captain continued to struggle to find form. Previously he had only two league goals to his name.
Spurs sat back out of tactical choice in the first half but now they were being forced on to the back foot against their will.
Arsenal, despite their improvement, came nearest to a goal only when Alexandre Lacazette forced a diving save out of Hugo LLoris midway through the second half.
** Liverpool celebrated the return of fans to Anfield with a comfortable 4-0 win over Wolves. Goals from Mohamed Salah – whose 84th in the Premier League matched the number scored by Cristiano Ronaldo – Georginio Wijnaldum, Joel Matip and a Nelson Semedo took Jurgen Klopp’s side back level on points with leaders Tottenham. They had the added bonus of the return from injury of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Naby Keita.
** Jamie Vardy was shown a yellow card for breaking a corner flag but the Leicester striker did not complain because it was celebrating the late goal with which the Foxes won 2:1 at Sheffield United. Vardy raced away from halfway to punish a midfield mistake by Sheffield’s John Fleck. Vardy, since Brendan Rodgers’s first league match in charge of Leicester 21 months ago, has scored 41 top-flight goals, nine more than any other player.