Spurs outgun Arsenal to reach League Cup semi-finals
Tottenham advance to the semi-finals as Arsenal beaten for second time in four days
Arsenal 0 Tottenham 2
Dele Alli felt his blood boil and who could blame him? There were 73 minutes on the Emirates Stadium clock when an Arsenal supporter took leave of his senses to hurl a water bottle in the direction of the Tottenham attacker, as he walked away from the touchline.
It hit Alli on the back of the head. There is simply no excuse for this type of thing, even amid the heat of derby passions. Alli had the perfect riposte. He turned to face the area from where the missile had come and flashed up the scoreline with his fingers. Two-nil to Tottenham.
He had done more than anyone to make it that way; to carry Mauricio Pochettino and his team one step closer to that elusive piece of silverware. It was Alli who made the assist for Son Heung-min’s composed opener but the best was yet to come. Fastening on to a pass from Harry Kane, who had just come on as a substitute, he found himself face to face with Petr Cech.
Alli’s first touch took him a little wide but the second had jaws dropping to the floor. With the outside of his right boot, he fashioned the deftest of chips and when it dropped down and in, the game was effectively over.
Arsenal had entered on the back of Sunday’s 3-2 defeat by Southampton that had ended their 22-game unbeaten run and they were second best again, surprisingly short of attacking ideas, despite Unai Emery’s constant tweaking. All the talk had been about whether Pochettino will join Manchester United next summer to replace Jose Mourinho.
His focus, and that of his players, remains on what the season can yield for Tottenham. It was feisty from the first whistle, the tempo fast and intense, and it ought to have been Arsenal in control after 12 minutes only for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to miss a gilt-edged opportunity. He had burst into the Tottenham box after swapping passes with Aaron Ramsey and, when Paulo Gazzaniga failed to narrow the angle, Mkhitaryan was one on one and odds-on.
The far corner gaped but Mkhitaryan dragged his shot and the goalkeeper blocked. It was a poor finish and it felt as though it had the potential to be a defining moment.
The feeling intensified shortly afterwards when Son showed Mkhitaryan how to do it. Played clean through by Alli, the Spurs forward took two touches to set himself before guiding an assured finish past Petr Cech. From an Arsenal point of view, the goal was soft. When Gazzaniga cleared long upfield, Sokratis Papastathopoulos appeared to have the threat under control only to slip, get into a tangle with Lucas Moura and watch the ball break to Alli.
Son made his run and the weight and spin on Alli’s through ball was one of the highlights of the match. Spurs went from one end of the field to other in two passes.
As always in the League Cup, the strength of the starting teams was a talking point and both managers went stronger than would normally have been expected against other opposition. This was not an occasion for saving things for the weekend or the cluttered festive programme. That said, one omission was surprising. Where was Mesut Ozil? Again.
Arsenal’s best-paid player was not even among the substitutes and moreover Unai Emery said the reason was “tactical”. It really has reached the point where it can be asked legitimately whether ?zil has a future under Emery. Pochettino’s 4-3-1-2 formation provided the ideal platform for Alli - in the role behind the striker - inviting him to sniff out the spaces between the lines but Christian Eriksen, too, was influential. He orchestrated the counterattack from which Spurs ought to have extended their lead on the half-hour.
Mkhitaryan wanted a penalty following Lucas’s challenge after an Arsenal corner had been half-cleared but the Spurs forward got the ball and, rather abruptly, the visitors were up and away; Arsenal looking open and exposed. Eriksen played the final pass and the chance was there for Moussa Sissoko. He blazed high.
Back came Arsenal. Ramsey had the home fans cursing when he wafted a backheel to nobody when well-placed after Gazzaniga had sparked panic by finding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a clearance but, moments later, there was better stuff from both players. Ramsey’s volley from Alex Iwobi’s cross was a beauty; Gazzaniga reacted smartly to brush it against the near post and away.
It is hardly a surprise to see Arsenal behind at half-time and nor are radical Emery alterations in an attempt to turn the tide. Here, he withdrew the frustrating Mkhitaryan, introduced Laurent Koscielny and switched to 3-4-2-1. He would also throw on Alexandre Lacazette, who clipped the outside of the post on 62 minutes.
By then, Spurs were 2-0 up and the travelling hordes could bask in Alli’s magic. Kane, who had not been fit enough to start because of illness, took a touch on his chest, span and, with the Arsenal defence dropping off, sent Alli clean through. The finish was a classic.