Flicking through the matchday programme, 1-2 down at half-time, it felt as if the editor had played a part in putting the kibosh on our derby day prospects, with a succession of references to Mesut Özil, his 10th appearance in a North London Derby and how “these are the games that you get really excited for”.
With Mesut conspicuous by his absence, the poor love supposedly suffering from another back spasm (doubtless from picking up his hefty wage packet!), Lacazette only on the bench, and the terrifying prospect of Son tearing Sead Kolosinac a new one on our left flank, there was plenty of trepidation in the air around the Emirates.
Yet, with the Gunners struggling all season to grind into gear during the first-half of most games, mercifully for once, Unai Emery managed to motivate his troops to hit a suitably intense note right from the opening whistle. In fact, during an utterly scintillating 20-minute spell at the start of yeserday’s encounter, we produced the sort of fervour which felt like a throwback to the blood and thunder derby days of yesteryear.
A page in the programme was dedicated to Lee Dixon’s quote about his first NLD: “Tony Adams literally had me up against the wall by the throat and said ‘you don’t understand. We can’t lose this game’.”
With us unsettling our guests, by pressing Spurs so high up the pitch, winning every 50/50 challenge and every second ball, Adams himself would’ve been proud of the hunger and desire evident in the 100% committed way Unai’s side went about their business.
It felt like Christmas had come early, when Vertonghen gifted us with the penalty, which resulted in Auba’s opening goal. Perhaps the handball was related to the fact that such a forceful start had created a sense of panic in Spurs’ customarily composed defence.
Nevertheless, in the knowledge that it wasn’t feasible to maintain this same level of intensity, I couldn’t help but feel that we needed to make more of our early dominance, if the Arsenal were to finally break our duck of not having achieved a first-half lead all season.
Despite Lucas Torreira’s impressive efforts, in preventing our porous back-line from being exposed quite so frequently, our defence remains a work in progress. Dean might’ve gifted Spurs a soft penalty, but our centre-backs have a bad habit of going to ground and Bernd Leno really should have prevented Dier from scoring the equaliser only moments prior.
Even if Spurs’ two goals in five minutes had the effect of bursting the balloon of Gooner euphoria, putting a serious dampener on the half-time break, it was brilliant to witness the sense of outrage from our bench, as Aaron Ramsey squared up to Dele Alli. All too often in the Arsenal’s recent past, I’ve come away from matches with the demoralising feeling that the result hasn’t mattered sufficiently to our players. Thankfully, the Arsenal’s second-half display yesterday demonstrated that there was only one side which point-blank refused to settle for anything less than all three points.
Both Iwobi and Mkhitaryan might’ve felt hard done by at being hooked at the break, as Unai made the sort of bold tactical half-time changes that were always a complete anathema to Arsène. With Ramsey seemingly with one foot already out the door, questions about his motivation are inevitable. But suitably fired up by his handbags with Alli, Aaron was bang at it, feeding a two-pronged attack of Auba and Laca. This was the formation most of us had been expecting from the start, but with Özil playing in the No 10 role.
Auba’s equaliser reignited the atmosphere and blew the roof off the Emirates, with the sort of eruption that hasn’t been seen at our place for many a moon. Then when Dier kindly diverted Laca’s shot in for our third, it was the sight of Bellerin kneeling down on the halfway line and kissing the turf, which summed up the strength of feeling that Emery has inspired within this squad.
It was fitting that Torreira capped his man-of-the-match performance with our fourth. A debut goal on derby day confirmed Lucas’ status as our firm terrace favourite. But no matter how splendiferous, a single swallow does not make a summer and the real test for Emery is whether he can manage to get the adrenaline pumping again, for us to consolidate Sunday’s triumph with an equally dominant display at Old Trafford
on Wednesday night.
In the meantime, I’ll savour the feeling of waking up this morning certain that North London is definitely red!