FOR ALL of Arsenal’s attacking talent and youthful exuberance, it was always going to be their lack of defensive cover that could cost them.
And after a complete capitulation against their North London rivals, this may well be the game that sees them lose grip on fourth.
Kieran Tierney’s absence since early March with a knee injury has caused chaos to the backline with no real left-back replacement.
Nuno Tavares – a natural left-back – has proven not to be trusted in big games, so in this instance Mikel Arteta played right back Takehiro Tomiyasu in that role.
Cedric Soares – again, not Arsenal’s first choice right-back – came in while Rob Holding continued at centre-back with Ben White only fit enough for the bench.
Your frailties catch up with you eventually, and it did here for the Gunners in spectacularly catastrophic style thanks to Cedric and Holding.
Rather than an Antonio Conte masterclass from the Tottenham dug-out, this was a group of Arsenal players doing all they can to throw a result away.
Cedric’s needless shove on Son Heung-min in the box gifted Tottenham and Harry Kane a 22nd minute goal from 12-yards after Arteta’s men had actually begun brightly.
And then Holding. The Englishman has been a reliable asset for Arteta this season, coming in when needed to see out games, and even grabbed his first Prem goal against West Ham.
But here, in the heat of battle and in Arsenal’s biggest game for years, he lost his head completely. The word to describe it is ‘brainless’.
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Holding was clearly tasked with stopping Son turning on the counter, but took it too far with two clear fouls before finally getting booked in the 26th minute.
Seven minutes later, he then decided to elbow an on-rushing Son in the face. The fact he was shocked with the decision Paul Tierney made says it all.
Holding spoke previously about how he is relishing the current competition at centre-back with Arsenal, especially with William Saliba returning from loan in the summer.
But if the club end up now missing out on the top four – just a point ahead of Tottenham with two games remaining – it is hard to see Arteta trusting him ever again.
Arteta’s glum face said it all as Son grabbed another less than a minute into the second half after more shambolic and desperate defending.
The only positive is that White will be back for their now critical visit to Newcastle where anything but a win could see Spurs jump above them.
Yet more negatives were to come late on as Gabriel hobbled off with what looked like a hamstring injury.
Whatever happens now, if Arsenal end up playing Champions League or Europa League football next campaign, Arteta knows where he must strengthen to avoid a similar meltdown in the future.