Crystal Palace had the upper hand on and off the pitch in their last London derby as they humiliated Tottenham with three unanswered goals and their fans celebrated the first major victory for their new manager, long and heartily. “He’s won more than you, he’s won more than you, Patrick Vieira, he’s won more than you.”
Accurate and pretty catchy, but the always excellently vocal south London supporters had some opposition at Arsenal on Monday night — if only for a while.
This time it was the Arsenal supporters who sang loudest and proudest in honour of their former midfielder. “Vieira whoa, Vieira whoa, He comes from Senegal, He played for Arsenal!”
The chant rang loud and proud around the stadium before kick-off and occasionally during the match.
For it was in his nine years here the French World Cup winner won more than most. Two doubles, three Premier League titles — including captaining the 2004 Invincibles — and striking his last ball for the club to win a penalty shoot-out in the 2005 FA Cup defeat of Manchester United.
That is some legacy and is why some would have him back as a manager, even more so after this match, and even though it would risk ruining the memories.
Vieira acknowledged his welcome with a brief raise of a hand and controlled his emotions by sitting motionless in his dugout for the first couple of minutes. Then he strode to the end of his technical area, as close to the pitch as he dared, arms folded, seemingly calm personified.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta, subconsciously or otherwise, took an identical pose before his instinctive need to get involved took over. He started waving his arms around in a bid to somehow conduct his players into playing like a well-rehearsed orchestra.
But this was Monday night at the Arsenal, not Monday night at the opera — and a wet one at that. It needed more than sweet music.
Palace, for a while, were reeling, drowning in wave after wave of early Arsenal attacks as Arteta’s men took a deserved lead through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s eighth minute goal.
It was only after Palace’s midfield generals James McArthur and Luka Milivojevic used an injury break to run in turn to the side of the pitch and seek advice from Vieira that the game turned.
At first it seemed they might have been better off asking him to go and dig out a pair of his old boots and get in the trenches alongside them.
That would have been the stuff of fantasy, of course, but whatever he said seemed to have a positive impact as Palace finally began to string a few passes together.
Vieira had worked out how to nullify Arsenal’s attacking threat and his calming words seemed to spread through his side, covering them in a cloak of confidence.
He probably would not have told McArthur to kick Bukayo Saka out of the game, but that is what the Palace man did (somehow avoiding a red card in the process) and it also had a huge impact on the flow of the game in the second half.
Now Palace — even their oft-criticised striker Christian Benteke — believed; they were all walking tall. Arteta sat down and Vieira continued to prowl, dictating play from the side of pitch.
Towards the end, of course, it was only the jubilant south London corner of this soulless north London stadium that was making any sound of celebration and adoration.
“Vieira’s red and blue army” was followed by the brutal “Vieira was right, Arsenal are shite”.
But Arteta and his face-saving, point-saving, last-kick-of the-match, goalscoring substitute Alex Lacazette ultimately had the whole stadium applauding both sets of players off the pitch — with only referee Mike Dean getting any stick.
A match and a homecoming fit for a king and something for everyone to joy.
Not fantasy, maybe, but a fairytale of sorts.