Tottenham Hotspur settle dreary derby: Neil Humphreys
Alderweireld's late winner can't hide North London Derby's lethargy
(Son Heung Min 19, Toby Alderweireld 81)
(Alexandre Lacazette 16)
Toby Alderweireld delivered a late winner, but Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal struggled to deliver a memorable North London Derby this morning (Singapore time).
Spurs fans will not care in the slightest, obviously, as the 2-1 win against the old enemy alleviates the pressure on their manager, but this was the first high-profile contest that really felt like a match too far for post-coronavirus football.
Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was the empty stadium. But the North London Derby produced some existential questions about the English Premier League this morning. Namely, what is the point of it now?
Yes, Spurs and Gunners supporters will mutter something about Europa League qualification and the chance to watch their sides trudge across the continent to play at empty stadiums next season.
And critics may justifiably point at Jose Mourinho's stubborn tactics of attrition, particularly in the second half, when Spurs' 4-4-2 gave way to a cautious 4-4-1-1, allowing his side to pinch victory from a late set-piece.
Mikel Arteta's supporters will rightly recognise that his Gunners are in transition and the Spaniard is using the final games to test and trial younger players.
But the lack of urgency, speed, creativity and atmosphere was undeniable.
With the EPL trophy already on its way to Anfield and the Covid-19 death toll still unreasonably high in England, these contests struggle to enthuse their audiences.
Both Arsenal and Tottenham mostly played as if they wanted to be where they usually are at this time of year, in a beach bar watching the Euro 2020 final.
The fact that the Euro 2020 final would've been played in the early hours of this morning only underlined what we are all really missing.
The derby only wobbled to life with a couple of fine goals and assists from clowning defenders in the first half.
Serge Aurier stepped up first in the 16th minute, failing to clear his lines and then following up with the touch of a serial killer, gifting the ball to Alexandre Lacazette.
From a full 20 metres, the Frenchman attacked the ball as if it had wronged him in a past life, smashing his strike so hard and so true into the top corner, it left Hugo Lloris looking like he'd taken off in a different time zone.
But Spurs were level 137 seconds later, with Sead Kolasinac demonstrating that anything Aurier could do, he could do worse. Kolasinac under-hit his pass back to David Luiz so badly, it appeared that the two centre-backs were socially distancing from each other on the pitch.
Luiz was left wrong-footed, which tends to be his natural state of being in a Gunners jersey. Son Heung Min nipped in and chipped a cool finish over Emiliano Martinez.
On the same weekend that the football community mourned the loss of England great Jack Charlton, a no-nonsense centre-back famous for his ability to find the back of the stand with every clearance, a couple of EPL defenders had forgotten how to defend.
As Charlton proved for many years, no striker ever scored from row Z.
But there was an overriding sloppiness in north London.
Perhaps stung by the latest criticism, Mourinho opted for a 4-4-2 formation, encouraging Lucas Moura and Moussa Sissoko to pull wide and support Son and Harry Kane as often as possible.
While Arteta gave rising star Bukayo Saka a breather, but still picked a front three, with Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang either side of Lacazette.
And yet, clear-cut chances were rare as both sides plodded, rather than purred.
Thankfully, Alderweireld added a little gloss in the closing stages, heading in Son's corner in the 81st minute.
But the game was mostly lethargic and forgettable. Hopefully, it will prove the exception rather than the rule.