There have been prettier wins. There have been easier ones, too.
But for Tottenham Hotspur, there haven’t been a whole lot that felt as consequential or cathartic as Sunday’s 2-0 win over hated Arsenal in the 180th North London Derby, and the final one at White Hart Lane.
Because the victory, from second-half goals by Dele Alli and Harry Kane (from the penalty spot), not only kept Tottenham on Chelsea’s tail in the Premier League title race, reducing the Blues’ lead again to four points. But it also ensured that, for the first time in 22 seasons, Spurs will finish above the Gunners in the Premier League.
It suggests – confirms, perhaps – that the tide has finally turned in North London. Tottenham has the better team, the more promising team, the younger team. And as of next season, Spurs will have a new stadium to rival Arsenal’s cash-printing Emirates.
Certainly, Tottenham has the more appreciated manager in Argentine Mauricio Pochettino. His counterpart, Arsene Wenger, hangs onto the job he has had for more than two decades by a thread. A sixth straight failure to beat Spurs won’t help his cause any. It’s now been more than three years – March 16, 2014 – that Wenger managed to vanquished the arch-rivals.
Then there’s this: Tottenham has all of its key players locked down to long-term contracts – although, admittedly, that guarantees nothing in soccer – while there are serious questions about how long Arsenal stars Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will hang around, as both don’t have long to run on their deals.
On Sunday, painfully, Spurs were not only superior, but they also could have run the score up further if a pair of fat first-half chances for Alli and Christian Eriksen had gone in. And had Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech not kept the score in check late in the game.
Arsenal was largely happy to surrender the possession and to press Tottenham very high for stretches, in hopes of breaking out and letting Alexis make the difference. It was a coherent plan, except that things fell apart in the execution. For the Gunners mustered almost no chances and were endlessly wasteful when they did have the ball.
There was an embarrassing amount of this.
Spurs may finally finish above Arsenal this season, but at least Arsenal fans get to watch sexy football. pic.twitter.com/A3igt4tqFj
— Miriti Murungi (@NutmegRadio) April 30, 2017
But it took Spurs uncomfortably long to convert their superiority into goals. In the 22nd minute, Kane’s shot was half-blocked and soared to Alli. But Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s challenge, throwing his body into Alli’s, sufficed to keep him from heading on target in front of an open goal.
The excellent Son Heung-Min steamed up the left flank. His shot was deflected but fell to Eriksen, whose left-footed volley on an open goal nicked the top of the bar.
For their part, all the Gunners created by way of serious threat was Aaron Ramsey’s low curler, which was pushed wide by Hugo Lloris.
Spurs forced a breakthrough early in the second half, when Arsenal opened up some. A well-worked attack by Son led to a feisty shot by Vincent Wanyama, pushed over by Cech.
In the 56th minute, Alli found a winner. A long ball was held up by Kane. Alli got the ball to Eriksen, who opened himself up with some trickery but was denied by Cech. However, Alli slid onto the rebound and poked it into the back of the net.
Just over a minute later, Gabriel inexplicably kicked Kane in the shin in his own penalty area and the England striker converted the spot kick himself.
Belgian central defenders Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld each came ever so close to getting a third but were denied by Cech. And Alexis should surely have been called for a handball in his own box, and therefore a penalty.
In Tottenham’s second-to-last game at White Hart Lane, Arsenal was spared further humiliation.
They used to have a name for the day when Arsenal would inevitably ensure that it would finish above Spurs in the standings. St. Totteringham’s Day. For the first time in 22 years, there won’t be one in 2017.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.