To hear Mikel Arteta tell the story, Premier League officials came from on high and stole three points from Arsenal. Still, those that watched saw the Gunners get what they deserved against a better Tottenham team in a lopsided 3-0 Spurs win.
Although Arsenal started the match on the front foot, it was apparent early Spurs had a significant advantage with Heung-min Son matched up with Rob Holding at centre-back. Son was working to maneuver in the space between Holding and wing-back Cedric Soares.
Son’s first opportunity at almost nine minutes in saw the attacker turn near midfield and proceed to dribble some 30 yards toward the Arsenal goal before being tackled by Gabriel – Arsenal’s only successful tackle of the half.
Arsenal was trying to start a tussle with Tottenham. Fortunately for Spurs, they did not take the bait.
Arsenal was determined not to give Son the space he needed to operate following that run from that point on. Despite having neither the pace nor poise to play tight to Son, Arsenal’s game plan was to give the South Korean zero space and rough him up a little. The physicality Holding was trying to bring to bear against Son on the proceeding goal kick.
Spurs had controlled the Aaron Ramsdale longball, and Ben Davies had played the ball up the line to Son’s feet near midfield. This time, Holding came sprinting up behind Sonny and fouled him with an extended leg as Son went to turn. Then, instead of backing away and complaining, Holding kicked Son in the ribs.
It was the kind of cheeky play Spurs fans used to see from Dele Alli before VAR was in use. Arsenal and Holding were trying to get into Son’s head. In fairness to Arsenal, Son is a player who has lost his cool in the past. That does not make it an intelligent game plan, but it was the plan to try and slow Son down nonetheless.
We do not know whether VAR looked at the extra-curricular kick, but Holding was now on referee Paul Tierney’s radar and should have been smarter, as moments later, Holding and Son were again locked in action.
Son again got the ball to his feet near midfield with his back to Holding. This time Rob did his namesake and held onto Son until both men tumbled to the ground. As Sonny tried to get up, Holding gave him a little extra grab preventing the action.
That extra grab led to Son seemingly swinging his elbow toward Holding as he tried to wrestle free. Arsenal fans are showing that one moment of a multi-movement action to complain, but the reality is Holding was unnecessarily Holding and asking for more.
So in less than three minutes, Son had dribbled almost the entire attacking half and had been fouled twice, with extra activity after each interaction. To say the burner was starting to boil was probably an understatement. Holding jumped up, smiling as he walked away, thinking he was getting away with something when he would simply be going away several minutes later.
Things were seemingly cooling off between Son and Holding as Spurs found their footing in the game. Some excellent challenges and aggressive passing had given Spurs their first real spell of possession. The game shifted as Spurs managed to get a couple of crosses off over three minutes.
The third cross in the series was most dangerous and led to the penalty, which put Spurs in command. It would help if he attempted to play the ball for those wondering, which Cedric did not as he turned his back and jumped blindly into Son. He was rightfully penalized as a result.
Kane did not miss, and Spurs went up, giving Tottenham the start they wanted.
After the penalty, Tottenham was in command when the Holding yellows started.
At this point, down a goal, Holding again decided to start his act back up with Son. The crowd was roaring in song as Spurs were knocking the ball around. It was Spurs’ sixth straight pass when Ryan Sessegnon played a simple ball up the line to Son. Sonny held the ball well as Holding went outside to try and win the ball.
Realizing Holding was now out of position, needlessly having tried a tackle, Son turned and started to go toward the goal. Holding had no real options at this point as he grabbed at Son and pulled him back for his third foul on Son and a yellow card.
Down a goal and on a yellow, players must be more intelligent; this was not the direction Holding chose. Almost as if on queue, as Lee Dixon talked about how the Gunners would not step up out of the back for fear of Son, a straight ball from Eric Dier led to Holding’s final actions on the day.
He could have been sent off at least once prior and could have been booked four times on the day. Instead, he got his two yellows, one red, and will miss the Gunner’s next match. Ultimately, Mikel Arteta and Arsenal can complain, but any footballer will tell you that Holding got his just deserts for his actions.