The Arsenal marksman Alexandre Lacazette, coolly stepped up to send Hugo Lloris the wrong way and hand the Gunners all three points on Sunday
What was it that Alexandre Lacazette screamed down the lens of the television camera, after his winning goal on Sunday? Nothing too triumphalist, one hopes. Lacazette had, after all, benefitted from an utterly woeful passage of play that somehow came to separate these teams. Not unjustly, though. The best team, and by some distance, won.
Arsenal were brave, Tottenham hugely disappointing given the ground they need to make on the top four. They ended the game with ten men, Erik Lamela sent-off, so even the perpetrator of the most marvellous piece of play in the game – a first-half rabona goal – didn’t end in credit. As for Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, he deserves plaudits for a courageous decision that could have backfired horribly.
Arteta demoted his captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to the substitutes’ bench for a breach of club discipline. Aubameyang took one of his holographic chrome-wrapped Ferraris to the ground – believe it or not, he has many – but too late for the arranged meeting time.
It is not the first occasion he has been tardy, apparently, and Arteta has plainly had enough. He removed Aubameyang from the starting XI, giving the armband and his place to Lacazette. It was a bold move and by scoring from the penalty spot, Lacazette delivered.
So kudos to Arteta. He has a strong sense of duty and discipline and no fear of applying it. Unfortunately, it is often his most talented players that need the firmest hand.
Mesut Ozil could have been a literal game-changer for Arsenal; Matteo Guendouzi was a very bright prospect in midfield. Arteta was swiftly in we-move-on mode having publicly admonished Aubameyang but let’s see if the player feels that way. He looked on hatchet-faced when Lacazette was substituted late on, and he wasn’t introduced.
Arteta’s message was strong, though: play by our rules, or we go without you.
Whether Arsenal could go with Lacazette as their first option is another matter. It is hard to argue he deserved the opportunity that became the winning goal. It was a penalty, but hardly one that came without controversy.
Lacazatte chased a ball into the box, swung a boot and missed his kick completely. Unfortunately, Davinson Sanchez, the Tottenham defender, could not stop his challenge and clattered into him. Michael Oliver gave the penalty, despite the fact the danger had passed before contact was made. Sanchez was incredibly clumsy, but it still seemed harsh. Many thought it would be overturned by Paul Tierney, the VAR. Many were wrong.
Having got lucky, at least Lacazette’s penalty was well executed, low and out of the reach of Hugo Lloris. His celebration seemed to suggest some point had been proved. Hardly. This is the first time in six meetings Arsenal have beaten Tottenham, and any other result would have been a historical first between the sides.
Tottenham have never gone six consecutive north London derby games without losing. At least, after the game, Lacazette had the humility to admit an element of fortune in Oliver’s call. Tottenham may be irked by his dismissal of Lamela, too. Certainly they protested his initial booking for a foul on Thomas Partey. Given the circumstances, though, his forearm on Kieran Tierney five minutes later was just foolish. He gave Oliver no choice, really, which is possibly why a player with the talent to score rabona goals starts on the bench.
Tottenham nearly snatched a late point, though, even down to ten men. Harry Kane hit a post with a free-kick, then blasted another over as Arsenal held on. Yet there can be no complaints. Emile Smith Rowe eclipsed Gareth Bale as a wide player, just as Arsenal eclipsed Tottenham as a forward threat. It did not help that Son Heung-min was lost to injury after 19 minutes. Of course, that is what brought Lamela into the game.
At half-time, the first two goalscorers, Martin Odegaard and Lamela, walked off side by side, the Arsenal man still grinning from his late equaliser. Maybe he was smiling at something else too, being of the generation that delights in football consumed as morsels, bite-sized tricks and moments of wonder played out as a highlights reel. A part of him would actually have loved Lamela’s goal, even though it was against his own team.
The rabona. So called because it was first performed by Ricardo Infante for Estudiantes against Rosario. The layers of language were too beautiful to resist. Estudiantes translates as ‘students’, Infantes means ‘infants’ and Infante had hooked his shooting leg around his standing leg, to strike the ball in a totally unique way. Rabona is another word for skipping school – for playing hooky. The football magazine El Grafico produced a front cover featuring Infante dressed as a schoolboy with the caption ‘El infante que se hizo la rabona’. It means: ‘The infant plays hooky.’
Since then the ability to perform, let alone score with, a rabona kick has fascinated. All the greats have tried a rabona at some time – Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Luis Suarez, Johnny Giles, Robert Lewandowski, Roberto Baggio, Rivaldo, Neymar, Roberto Carlos. Few, however, are quite as good at it as Erik Lamela. This wasn’t even his first rabona goal. He scored one as a youth player with River Plate and in a Europa League tie against Asteros Tripolis of Greece in 2014, in a 5-1 Tottenham victory. That was barely needed on the night, however. This initially looked vital.
That it was against Arsenal, obviously, makes it important. All Tottenham goals against Arsenal matter and vice versa. Yet, equally, Lamela’s rabona was close to Tottenham’s first meaningful touch in the Arsenal half after 33 minutes of play. They had been very much second best to that point, and had lost Son to injury, when he had chased down a channel ball and pulled up lame. Lamela was his replacement. It wasn’t the most auspicious start – loudly rebuked by Jose Mourinho for not getting ready for action quickly enough.
All smiles after his moment of magic, though. What can a manager do but marvel at the sheer audacity of a successful rabona? Sergio Reguilon struck a volleyed cross into the box which found Lucas Moura, who held it up well and introduced Lamela. There was no question that he meant what happened next, that he placed it, low and curling into the bottom corner, left boot around right leg. One of the goals of the season? You bet. Reguilon held his head in his hands in disbelief – the reaction of Ben Davies in 2014 had been pretty similar.
It was hugely frustrating for Arsenal who, until that point, had been dominant. Smith-Rowe, in particular, was outstanding on the left flank. It was his shot that struck the bar from the outside of the D on 15 minutes, and his cross that should have put Lacazette in after 26 minutes, Arsenal’s captain sending his shot spinning so wide, it went out for a throw-in.
A loose ball that Cedric Soares reached first, having won a furious foot race with Moura, was struck against a post after 37 minutes before, in the final minutes before half-time, Odegaard gave Arsenal the parity they deserved. It was a fine cross from Tierney on the left, met by Odegaard and taking a deflection off Toby Alderweireld to leave Lloris struggling. No rabona, mind, but they all count.
Culled from MailOnline