Is Arsenal better than we thought and Tottenham significantly worse?
Let’s overthink a small sample size for a minute and overlook the fact that the following question isn’t necessarily an either/or affair.
Is it more likely that Arsenal’s 3-1 North London derby win over Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday signals that Mikel Arteta’s Gunners are much better than we thought or that Spurs might be quite subpar?
Arsenal is now the only Premier League club to win its last three matches while Tottenham is one of only two to lose its last three (Norwich City is 0-6).
So while there’s a good chance Arsenal’s desperate and commanding performance joined Tottenham’s sleepy start to represent the perfect derby storm, might the match and both clubs’ changing fortunes signal a significant shift in how we view North London’s two top clubs?
The case for Arsenal being much better than we thought
Let’s start with this from Opta: Arsenal has now won 15 of its 28 Premier League matches in 2021. That’s the fifth-best total in the league even with the Gunners’ 0-3 start to the season.
The Gunners were also without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, and Thomas Partey over COVID-19 isolation, and Thomas also missed time with injury. For a player who’d start on 95% of the teams in Europe’s top leagues, that’s not a minor absence.
The club was also working Ben White into the fold and had designs on letting Aaron Ramsdale take the goalkeeping reins from Bernd Leno.
Oh, and they took a while to land Martin Odegaard, a key piece in their attack.
Now consider that the losses occurred with many of the above absences and against Brentford, Chelsea, and Man City, two who’ve proven to be good and a third with the potential to be one of the best promoted teams in some time.
Anyone saying that the wins came against Norwich City, Burnley, and Spurs should be made to contend with the above notion in a firm and direct fashion.
Arsenal had also underperformed its expected goals for and its expected goals allowed, another feather in the cap of someone proposing that the Gunners are okay.
The case for Tottenham as significantly worse than we thought
Tottenham leaves the embarrassing loss to Arsenal with the Premier League’s second-worst expected goals, fifth-worst expected goals allowed, fourth-fewest actual goals, and three-straight losses that saw the opponents score three or more times.
They hung onto Harry Kane, but has Harry Kane hung onto them? The Spurs striker had a couple of chances on Sunday but was far from the force than combined so well with Heung-min Son last season.
And for those requesting a change in manager, remember how the project was viewed by big name bosses when Spurs had to work so hard to land Nuno Espirito Santo. The ex-Wolves boss, by the way, beat Arteta’s Arsenal twice last season and can’t make any tackles or produce any shots.
Spurs have produced just 35 shots in open play and conceded 71.
There’s also this: Tottenham has been produced four-straight performances below 1.00 in expected goals, and was bossed in that department during its most memorable win of the season.
What’s more likely?
Look, there’s no way that a team with Harry Kane, Heung-min Son, and Nuno Espirito Santo lacks the pride to rise above midtable and into the top-six discussion at some point this season.
Bad defending aside -- we have to think Cristiano Romero rises above Eric Dier to start at center back more often than not -- Spurs aren’t nearly as bad as their first half versus Arsenal.
As for Arsenal, the club did what it did today without Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe contributing, and Arteta is still working several pieces into the fold.
That said, there are more questions about Arteta as a manager than Espirito Santo.
Force us to project and we’ll say Arsenal will out-punch a few teams this season and does seem to have it defending in an improved state. We’ll vote that it’s more likely Arsenal is decent than Spurs very poor.