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Tottenham thriving without Harry Kane as James Maddison and Heung-min Son form new deadly duo

Heung-min Son did not miss a beat when asked if he knew how good James Maddison was before the ­midfielder joined Tottenham in the summer.

“Yes,” Son said, without elaborating.

Still, Maddison’s quality and force of personality have genuinely left others at the club pleasantly surprised since his £40million move from Leicester, and he was outstanding again as Ange Postecoglou’s young side earned a statement result with a 2-2 draw at Arsenal.

Maddison twice set up Son to equalise in another individual display brimming with swagger and ingenuity, and suggesting their partnership can be every bit as effective as the South Korean’s with Harry Kane — the deadliest pairing in Premier League history.

For nearly a decade, Kane dominated this fixture, scoring 14 goals in 17 League appearances to become the top scorer ever in north London derbies, and before Sunday’s game Postecoglou had admitted Spurs might finally come to “feel the void” left by his departure against their bitter rivals.

Between them, however, Son and Maddison — who has taken Kane’s No10 shirt — are making up for the lost creativity and goals.

“Obviously, Harry Kane is one of the best players in the world, but Madders thinks he can go to the same category as him,” Son said. “Taking the No10 is not the easiest job, but he loves the pressure, loves the responsibility which makes a great player [even] more.”

Deadly duo: Heung-min Son and James Maddison combined to glorious effect against Arsenal (Getty Images)
Deadly duo: Heung-min Son and James Maddison combined to glorious effect against Arsenal (Getty Images)

While Son — who is already halfway to his tally of 10 League goals from last season — finished his chances with the composure of a seasoned centre-forward, both Spurs’s equalisers were more about Maddison, who turned Bukayo Saka inside out for the first and pickpocketed Jorginho for the second.

“In every single game he’s the star boy,” Son added. “He’s very, very clever. He always pictures before he receives the ball what he wants to do. His movement is very clever and he’s very unselfish.

“I don’t think people always see it. People see the stats [and say], ‘Look, he needs more goals, needs more assists’. But he’s doing an amazing job for the team with and without the ball.”

While the visitors produced a true team performance, full of the bravery and verve Postecoglou demands, the head coach afterwards described Son and Maddison as on a “different level” to the rest of his players and said his new captains are also filling the leadership void left by Kane.

“A lot of the team environment I talk about is driven by Sonny and Madders and [Cristian] Romero,” Postecoglou said.

Asked about their link-up, he added: “If you’ve got good players out there, they will find an understanding for sure, and Sonny and Madders are on the same wavelength at times in terms of the way they see the game, which helps.

“Sonny’s first thought is what is best for the team, and when he puts himself in those positions he then has the quality to finish. Madders was outstanding with both assists and Sonny was there to finish them off.”

This partnership could be every bit as effective as Son’s with Harry Kane - the deadliest pairing in Premier League history

Son’s smart finishing was in stark contrast to Arsenal’s profligacy, leaving Mikel Arteta ruing their wastefulness just days after praising their ruthlessness in the 4-0 rout of PSV Eindhoven.

“We lacked that composure to be much more dangerous” said the ­manager. “It became a more transitional game that is a risky one to play against them. We pushed in the last 15 to 20 minutes but we lacked the quality in the final pass to win the game.”

The difference to Wednesday night was arguably Leandro Trossard, who joined Gabriel Martinelli on the sidelines, forcing Arteta to move Gabriel Jesus out wide and play Eddie Nketiah through the middle.

Nketiah wasted his only sight of goal, firing straight at Guglielmo Vicario from Destiny Udogie’s loose back pass, while Jesus was also guilty of two costly misses in the first half.

At 1-0, with Arsenal leading through Romero’s own goal, the Brazilian dispossessed Maddison on the edge of the box but rashly blazed over. It felt like a significant juncture in the match.

Even after selling Kane, Spurs still have more depth at central striker than Arsenal, with Richarlison as Son’s understudy; elite competition for Jesus remains a pressing priority for Arteta in January or beyond, as Arsenal’s squad is stretched by injuries and their return to the Champions League.

Saka, though, can always be counted on to deliver and forced Romero’s own goal before restoring the lead with a cool penalty after the Argentine was penalised for handball. His battle with Udogie was one of many engaging elements to a pulsating contest.

For all their magnificent strides forward under Postecoglou, Spurs’s ability to produce this kind of performance feels similarly contingent on the fitness of a handful of players, none more than their new deadly duo, Maddison and Son.