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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Arsene Wenger's use of big three of Sanchez, Ozil and Lacazette pays off as Arsenal triumph over Tottenham Hotspur

Mauricio Pochettino tastes defeat in North London derby for the first time on a day when he substitutes both Kane and Alli.

Alexis Sanchez, left, is congratulated by Mesut Ozil after scoring Arsenal's second goal in their 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur. Paul Childs / Reuters
Alexis Sanchez, left, is congratulated by Mesut Ozil after scoring Arsenal's second goal in their 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur. Paul Childs / Reuters

On a day when there was much for Arsenal to savour, perhaps the most satisfying moment did not involve any of their players.

With a quarter of an hour remaining, two numbers were displayed on the fourth official’s electronic board, the 10 and the 20.

Off trundled Harry Kane and Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur’s lead, withdrawn. Each was returning from injury so there were reasons to be cautious but it felt that Mauricio Pochettino was raising the white flag.

For the first time, he lost a North London derby. Arsene Wenger extended a remarkable record at home. Tottenham have only prevailed at their neighbours’ various stadia once in the last 28 attempts and this was not an occasion to suggest the balance of power has shifted irrevocably towards Pochettino’s men.

Tottenham can still look down on Arsenal in the standings but the reality is that they have now lost to Chelsea, Manchester United and the Gunners already this year.

A title challenge was prolonged until May last season; there is unlikely to be a repeat.

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So the sense that Arsenal are trapped on the wrong side of history, receding while Tottenham advance took a battering.

Perhaps it was a 90-minute anomaly but Arsenal were energetic and excellent.

This was not a day to question their character and commitment; not as they won a league game against a full-strength top-six side for the first time since September 2016.

It helped that they were able to name virtually their strongest side. Pochettino has prospered on a budget. Wenger’s goals contained crucial contributions from the four most expensive figures in Arsenal’s history, men with a combined cost of £165 million (Dh800.8m).

Wenger picked Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette together against a top team for the first time. Shkodran Mustafi was fit to return at the back.

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The first goal was made in Germany. Ozil whipped in a free kick. Mustafi climbed high above Jan Vertonghen and angled his header in off the woodwork. Hugo Lloris stood no chance.

The fit-again Mustafi’s previous goal came against Manchester City: if some Arsenal players do not score often enough in the major matches, the centre-back may be a welcome exception.

His strike also stemmed both from a choice by Pochettino who pitted Colombian against Chilean when he chose to use Eric Dier in the centre of a back three but also from the refereeing of Mike Dean, who penalised one Sanchez, Davinson, for a tackle on another, Alexis.

It was a questionable decision but perhaps Dean simply concluded it was impossible to stop Arsenal’s Sanchez by legal means.

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Wenger gambled in keeping the Chilean when Manchester City were willing to pay £60m for a match-winner.

The Chilean has decided too few games of late; indeed, this was his first league goal at the Emirates for 181 days. He would have had a hat-trick but for two terrific saves from Lloris.

Lacazette had been benched against both Liverpool and Manchester City. He was trusted against Tottenham. The specialist scorer justified his selection by creating a goal, albeit in circumstances to irritate Spurs.

He was just offside before he delivered a low cross. Sanchez’s first touch seemed heavy. His second, thrashed into the top of the net, was unstoppable.

Tottenham are entitled to argue that fortune did not favour them. Christian Eriksen struck the woodwork three minutes before Mustafi scored.

Kane thought he might have had a spot kick for a challenge by Sead Kolasinac. Petr Cech produced a brilliant save to deny Eric Dier.

But Kane, scorer of 13 goals in his previous six away league games, was taken off.

It is simplistic to suggest this came down just to the respective front threes when Arsenal defended admirably, but he, Alli and Eriksen were below their best. Sanchez, Ozil and Lacazette were terrific.

The Galactico Gunners starred.