Saturday’s North London derby was one to forget for Tottenham Hotspur fans. They lost to rivals Arsenal for the first time in the Mauricio Pochettino era, stars Dele Alli and Harry Kane failed to perform while defeat dealt a crushing blow to their slim hopes of winning the Premier League this season.
Goals from Shkodran Mustafi and Alexis Sánchez gave the Gunners bragging rights in the first meeting between the sides this season, leaving Spurs 11 points behind leaders Manchester City, and three behind second-placed Manchester United.
And while many of the Spurs players left the Emirates Stadium with their tails between their legs, one player to emerge with a shred of credibility was Davinson Sánchez.
The young centre-back, signed in a club record £42million deal from Ajax in the summer, was given the unenviable task of keeping a rampant Gunners attacking trident of Sánchez, Mesut Özil and Alexandre Lacazette in check.
Arsenal may have sealed three points but Spurs supporters were pleased with another encouraging display from the Colombian, who passed another severe examination of his credentials at this elite level.
Sánchez On Sánchez
Of course, the defender was involved in the game’s most controversial moment. After tussling with his namesake for the ball, the Spurs man went to ground and poked the ball away from the Chilean’s feet.
As Spurs players moved, referee Mike Dean called play back and penalised Sánchez for a foul. The official said that the Spurs man had pulled the Arsenal forward’s shirt before making the tackle. However, replays showed that there was nothing in it. Sánchez had his forearm across the Gunners star’s chest, but there was minimal contact before he won the ball.
Almost inevitably, Arsenal scored the opener from the resulting free-kick. Pochettino was furious. “We were better than them but in the end, it is a massive mistake like this,” the Tottenham boss said when asked about the decision to penalise Sánchez.
“It is not one mistake, it was two mistakes. It wasn’t a foul and it was offside. It was very clear,” Pochettino fumed.
Whether Sánchez was the victim of questionable officiating is one question, but there was no doubt in the minds of Spurs fans that he was their team’s outstanding player on the day.
The former Atlético National centre-half, deployed on the right of Spurs’ back three alongside Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen, won the ball in the defensive third 13 times against Arsenal, which was more than any other player in a Premier League game this season, according to WhoScored.
In the screenshot above, you can see that Özil is attacking the space in a very promising attacking scenario for Arsenal. Sánchez looks as though he’s struggling to make it back. Most defenders would, but the 20-year-old’s stride allows him to cover the ground efficiently and catch up with the German.
Sánchez manages to block off the path to the by-line, forcing Özil to move inside. However, anticipating that exact move, Sánchez has already made his move in that direction and tidily pokes the ball from under the playmaker’s feet to win possession back for Spurs. This was indicative of his overall play on Saturday: making quick recoveries and decisive interventions to stop Arsenal running riot.
Sánchez made four clearances and three interceptions, as well as winning all three of his aerial duels. Although it was ultimately a defeat, the young defender acquitted himself well in what was another impressive demonstration of his abilities.
Rapid Progress Bodes Well For Future
His fee was enormous for a 20-year-old defender with zero Premier League experience, but Sánchez’s rapid progress to date explains why Spurs were prepared to part with such a significant sum of money to land him.
Like previous deals for Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, the Sánchez transfer already looks to be another shrewd piece of business by the club.
Signed just a week before transfer deadline day, Sánchez did not have the luxury of bedding into the Spurs team throughout pre-season. Instead, he was thrown into the thick of the action but has handled the difficulty of acclimitsing with consummate ease.
With a solid initiation into the North London derby under his belt, Sánchez can take further encouragement after impressing over 180 minutes in two difficult Champions League clashes with Real Madrid.
At the Santiago Bernabéu in particular, Sánchez stuck to his task remarkably well against none other than Cristiano Ronaldo, outlining the potential he possesses to become a world-class defender and a mainstay in this Spurs team for years to come.
It’s important that he maintains such a standard, though. With Alderweireld sidelined until at least January with the hamstring injury he picked up against Real Madrid, Sánchez will be a key figure at the back for Pochettino throughout the hectic Christmas schedule.
Perhaps that will be the sternest, most robust assessment of Sánchez. Last season with Ajax, the defender had a month off over Christmas. It’s going to be a busier festive period for the Colombian this year, though, with Spurs set to play six times in just 20 days between December 13th and January 2nd.
That may well come as a culture shock for Sánchez but, on the evidence we’ve seen recently, he has the physical and mental toughness to take it in his stride and become the club’s next defensive stalwart.