The previous north London derby before Saturday’s, a 3-0 home victory for Tottenham Hotspur in May, was a damaging one for Arsenal when a win would have sealed Champions League qualification. Tottenham, of course, went on to edge the Gunners out of the top four.
Saturday lunchtime’s 3-1 home win for Arsenal may not prove as decisive – although it prevented Spurs leapfrogging them into first place in the Premier League – but it felt like payback to their fans. And beyond the boundaries of Goonerdom it may be read as a warning to their rivals both inside and outside London that Mikel Arteta’s team has got last season’s disappointments out of its collective system and has more than local supremacy in its sights.
Not that any manager would admit that at such an early stage of the season and Arteta was wary when asked if he felt that his vision for the team was coming together.
“I don’t have the crystal ball,” he said. “But if you ask me if I would like [it] to, it's yes, especially because how they are as human beings, and what they are trying to do, which is much deeper than just play the professional and play for the club. It’s great to be part of it, as a manager, as a player and as staff.”
There was plenty of evidence of a new collective will on Saturday, with the team ignoring the setback of Harry Kane converting a 31st-minute penalty – his 14th goal in 16 appearances in north London derbies – to cancel out Thomas Partey’s opener after 20 minutes. Arsenal simply resumed their dominance, adding further goals in the second half through Gabriel Jesus and the born-again Emirates idol Granit Xhaka, the de facto leader of this team even if Martin Odegaard is the man on coin-tossing duties.
The arrivals in summer of Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko and some of the Manchester City mentality that they brought with them have obviously helped Arsenal’s cause, as has the decision not to continue loaning out William Saliba. The 21-year-old France defender, signed from St Etienne in July 2019, was imperious at the back once more and has forced Ben White, summer 2021’s £55million centre back signing, into an unfamiliar yet promising role at right back.
But Aaron Ramsdale, the goalkeeper, believes that the failure to reach last season’s targets has also fuelled the single-mindedness on view on Saturday.
“We all have this fire burning inside us because of what happened at the end of last season,” he said. “That is everyone. The day I returned to pre-season, two weeks late through internationals, the standard of training had increased, people were demanding more of each other.
“There were always certain people who were upset when losing in training but now it is a collective. It is a never-say-die attitude. The way I would work it is an ‘F it’ mentality. Who cares if we have conceded? We have got ten minutes, 70 minutes, we will play our way.”
In last May’s game, Arsenal contributed to their own downfall when Rob Holding was sent off, and here it was Tottenham who pressed the self-destruct button. Hugo Lloris produced a double fumble of Bukayo Saka’s low shot to present Jesus with the goal that restored Arsenal’s lead and Emerson Royal saw red for an ill-judged lunge at his tormentor, Gabriel Martinelli.
Royal’s resulting suspension will at least provide Antonio Conte with what many Spurs supporters see as an overdue excuse for considering alternatives at right wing back. Matt Doherty replaced Royal after his dismissal but Djed Spence, signed for £12.5 from Middlesbrough, was also on the bench.
The coach may also wonder whether he should have stiffened an overrun midfield by starting Yves Bissouma rather than sending him on as part of a late quadruple substitution aimed at saving legs ahead of the midweek match away to Eintracht Frankfurt. The Mali enforcer was part of a three-man central midfield in Brighton’s win at the Emirates in April and Rodrigo Bentancur and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg often found themselves outnumbered on Saturday as Partey and Xhaka pressed forward to join Odegaard.
In truth, losing on Arsenal turf is par for the Tottenham course – five defeats in their past six league visits - and Lloris insisted that only a second reverse in 19 Premier League games could not be allowed to affect their confidence. “ I think if you look at the last few years, Arsenal manage well the derby at home, we manage the derbies at home and I believe this game, the details move the result and it was the case again,” the France goalkeeper said.
“We have to be focused to the next game which is huge to the Champions League qualification to the knock-out stage and then Brighton [away next Saturday]. But we have to respond in the best way because the best answer we can give is to win the next few games. Even when we were getting good results we were the first to say, as players and manager, that there was a gap to improve and we are still looking for improvements.
“Every defeat is painful and if we want to continue to grow as a team then we have to take this feeling and change it as soon as possible. As soon as you lose one game, you have to bounce back as a team and make a run of good results to change this feeling.”
: Ramsdale 6; White 7 (Tomiyasu 89), Saliba 7, Gabriel 6, Zinchenko 6 (Tierney 73); Partey 7 (Lokonga 73), Xhaka 8; Saka 7, Odegaard 7 (Vieira 80), Martinelli 8; Jesus 7 (Nketiah 80).
Not used: Turner, Holding, Tomiyasu, Nelson, Oliveira.
Booked: Saliba, Martinelli.
: Lloris 6; Romano 6, Dier 6, Lenglet 6 (Sanchez 72); Emerson Royal 3, Hojbjerg 7 (Skipp 75), Bentancur 6, Perisic 5 (Bissouma 72); Richarlison 7 (Sessegnon 72), Kane 6, Son 6 (Docherty 72).
Not used: Gil, Forster, Spence, Sarr.
Booked: Dier; sent off: Royal.
Referee: Anthony Taylor 7.