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Granit Xhaka adds gloss after Emerson sees red as Arsenal sink Tottenham

History repeated itself, but there is a growing sense Arsenal can write a new legend. For the second successive season they blew Tottenham away here, this time shrugging off the complication of an equaliser, and their superiority in all areas spoke of a side reaching for new heights.

Both clubs know the opportunity at stake between now and May as a recalibrating top four jostle for position. On this evidence, Arsenal, irresistible when they operate with this flow and intensity, are significantly the more likely to grasp it.

Aside from a 15-minute spell before half-time, when Tottenham threatened to build on the lifeline of Harry Kane’s penalty, Arsenal were clearly superior and a greater winning margin would not have been unjust.

Emerson Royal’s red card with the score at 2-1, greeted with bemusement by his teammates, was a flashpoint, but did not feel pivotal at the time. The home side had already scented the kill and quickly finished the job; that it was Granit Xhaka, reborn this year as a potent attacking threat, who settled the matter with a clinical finish epitomised the feeling of possibility pulsating around these parts.

Arsenal’s performance levels have become ominously consistent, but the biggest encouragement for Mikel Arteta may be their response to adversity. They have nurtured a habit of shrugging off discomfort: Fulham and Aston Villa had already been seen off at the Emirates after pegging them back and their latest test came when Gabriel Magalhães fouled Richarlison and watched Kane convert from the spot.

That goal tarnished a dominant opening half-hour and erased a lead afforded them in spectacular fashion by Thomas Partey; they no longer crumble in such circumstances and gained rich reward for doubling down on Arteta’s methods.

Harry Kane equalises for Tottenham by sending Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale the wrong way with a penalty
Harry Kane equalises for Tottenham by sending Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale the wrong way with a penalty. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

Fast starts form part of his credo and Arsenal produced yet another one, tearing into Spurs and rattling the outside of a post through Gabriel Martinelli within three minutes.

Just as Tottenham appeared to have scrambled a foothold, Richarlison drawing a smart save from Aaron Ramsdale after a free-kick, they were broken by Partey’s 22-yard curler. It was swished first-time into Hugo Lloris’s top-left corner after Bukayo Saka and Ben White had worked possession infield; Spurs had sat deep enough to extend several shooting invitations already, courting their own punishment.

Kane was subdued for the vast majority, the excellent William Saliba having his number and doing enough to be serenaded off the pitch to the tune of “Tequila”.

But Spurs enjoyed a brief purple patch after Kane levelled, stringing a series of counterattacks together and suggesting this would become the ding-dong between contrasting styles that had been anticipated by the neutrals.

Testing Lloris after a mesmerising run, Gabriel Jesus served notice that Arsenal’s menace would not abate. But Tottenham had been three down by the same point in September 2021; coming in on terms must have felt like a job well done even if they had looked far scratchier than their slick, confident hosts.

The good work, such as it had been, became a distant memory four minutes after the restart. Spurs had begun the second half enterprisingly enough, Cristian Romero causing brief flutters with a run into home territory. But when Saka shifted the ball on to his left foot before shooting from the right side of a crowded penalty area, Lloris could only half-parry straight in front of him.

Romero could not react in time as the ball ran free, instead sending it squirming back under his keeper, and Jesus was able to bundle in from close to the line. It was a mess of a goal and Arsenal did not care one bit.

Gabriel Jesus bundles the ball home to restore Arsenal’s lead against Spurs
Gabriel Jesus bundles the ball home to restore Arsenal’s lead. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

Jesus missed two headed chances to deepen the joy and, at the time of Emerson’s dismissal, Tottenham had been reduced to the incoherent group that lurched through those early exchanges. They were waiting for another moment of inspiration from their front three but then Emerson, pursuing Martinelli as the forward tidied up deep inside his own half, conceded a cheap foul.

The instinctive reaction was that he should be booked but Anthony Taylor had noticed the dangerous planting of Emerson’s studs, plum on to the ankle of Martinelli, and dismissed him. Spurs raged, but the challenge looked messier with each subsequent viewing.

Arsenal knew they could make hay now and did so within five minutes. Xhaka’s emergence as a force in the final third assumed new proportions as he took the ball from Martinelli, whose run had been halted, and arrowed accurately past Lloris from 15 yards.

Antonio Conte made five substitutions with the clear intention of limiting damage, but it had already been done. His side had come to look passive and one-dimensional; it is Arsenal, who will lick their lips at welcoming Liverpool next Sunday, who looked primed to shoot for the stars.

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