LONDON – Harry Kane started this season seeking a move away from Tottenham, but he will end it spearheading a late surge for Champions League qualification.
The North London derby is his fixture: Kane was already the all-time top goal scorer in these games before netting a brace on Thursday, which extended his personal record to 13 and eased Spurs to an emphatic 3-0 win over ten-man Arsenal to blow the top-four race wide open.
Tottenham had to win here and they did, courtesy of their talisman stepping up in a manner he has done so many times before, securing their biggest league win over Arsenal since 1983.
The added significance this time is that securing a Champions League place will enhance Spurs’ chances of retaining Kane beyond the summer while also helping to provide a cash injection required to fund Antonio Conte’s desired overhaul of this squad to the extent they can soon compete for the Premier league title.
Tottenham can move above Arsenal if they beat Burnley on Sunday lunchtime, a situation Conte was able to begin preparing for during a second half that became a procession after two minutes as Heung Min-Son slotted home a third goal, picking up a loose ball as Gabriel tried to halt Kane’s advance into the box.
It will be a source of embarrassment to the Gunners that Spurs were so comfortable that Conte could withdraw Son and Dejan Kulusevski for the final 18 minutes, the former particularly unhappy as he stands just one behind Liverpool‘s Mohamed Salah (22) in the Golden Boot race.
But this was not a night to think about individual prizes. Both Arsenal and Spurs need the prestige and financial power that comes from Champions League football, and the stakes in play only augmented what was a long-awaited night in this stadium.
Tottenham’s new £1 billion arena opened in April 2019 but scheduling quirks and COVID-19 meant Thursday was the first derby to be played at this stunning venue in front of a capacity crowd. And how they enjoyed it.
There were always question marks about how this young Arsenal side would handle such an occasion. Even in their four most recent wins – against Chelsea, Manchester United, West Ham and Leeds – the Gunners have had a 15-20 minute spell where they lost their composure. On those occasions, they had enough to ride out those periods but this time it ultimately cost them the game.
The deafening noise will undoubtedly have made it easier for referee Paul Tierney to award a 22nd-minute spot-kick after Cedric nudged Son in the back as he attempted to head toward goal. It was a marginal decision that went in Spurs’ favour, Kane dispatching the penalty with customary precision.
Rob Holding seemingly targeted Son from kick-off. He was booked after 26 minutes for pulling back the South Korean and dismissed seven minutes later for a stray elbow pushed in Son’s direction. He committed four fouls in his time on the pitch, the most he has ever made in a Premier League game and all of them were on Son.
Arsenal have now had 13 red cards since Arteta took charge in December 2019, five more than any other side. Arteta, for his part, was incensed by both the penalty decision and Holding’s dismissal.
„If I say what I think I am suspended for six months,“ he told Sky Sports. „I don’t know how to lie so I prefer not to say what I think.
„I cannot say what I think. I am not unhappy with my players. I am proud of my players. I want the referees to come in front of the camera and explain his decisions. It’s a shame because such a beautiful game was destroyed today.“
Kane doubled the advantage on 37 minutes, stooping to head home Rodrigo Bentancur‘s flick-on from Son’s corner. Eddie Nketiah lost Kane at the far post and, in that 15 minutes, Arsenal’s evening was essentially over.
Spurs threatened to miss Cristian Romero early on as they struggled to play out from the back under a menacing Arsenal press but the most keenly felt absentee on the night was perhaps Ben White, only deemed fit enough for the bench following a hamstring problem.
Arsenal lost Gabriel late on to a similar injury but it was telling White was still not introduced. Instead they ended the game with a back-four comprising Cedric, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Granit Xhaka and Nuno Tavares – quite a quartet for a game of this magnitude. White was presumably being saved for Monday’s away trip to Newcastle, a game that takes on even more importance with their lead now a solitary point with two games each to play.
Significantly, Champions League qualification remains in Arsenal’s hands but the momentum is now all with Tottenham after a derby day sure to enthuse the hosts and demoralize the visitors.
The challenges ahead require cool heads and strong characters. Kane may have seen his move to Manchester City fail to materalise last summer and again in recent days following their capture of Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, but he will be front and centre for Spurs as they look to salvage their season.