The old cliché that form goes out of the window for the North London derby certainly held true. Arsenal, lacklustre so far, were lively and dominant; Spurs showed absolutely nothing of the form that has got everyone talking and referee Mike Dean firmly put to bed the view that he is biased towards Spurs.
Derby day started early with a breakfast meet-up with friends who would be going and others who would be watching in the pub. Most of us are tense, keyed up and unable to talk about or think of anything else but the game, so the answer is to make a day of it and stay well clear of anyone who hasn’t got the bug.
The stadium is packed and there is a crackle in the air at kick-off — atmosphere at the Emirates another example of form going out of the window. From the off, the home side snap and buzz and are pressing from the front, shutting in-form Eriksen out, cutting the supply lines to Kane, harassing the back three.
On 36 minutes, Davinson Sanchez draws fulsome applause from the away section as he puts in a superb tackle on Alexis Sanchez just in front of where we are. Mike Dean doesn’t see it that way and inexplicably awards a free kick. Pretty much everyone can see what happens next before it does. The free kick is floated in, Eric Dier doesn’t get far off the ground to head it away, and Shkodran Mustafi connects to send a header looping into the net. To add insult to injury, he’s offside.
Five minutes later, it’s 2-0 and another howler from Mike Dean and his officials. Nothing marginal about this offside. We’re left hoping Pochettino can inject some passion and drive at half-time, because his players haven’t turned up so far.
For the first time in many years, beer is on sale at half-time following pressure from supporters asking that paying customers be treated like adults. We certainly need a drink, although the mood is not lifted by the second goal being shown on a loop on the TV screens on the concourse. It doesn’t get any less offside, however many times you see it.
The second half does not bring the change needed. Spurs, despite enjoying plenty of possession, still don’t look like the team we know they are, a team that is perfectly capable of clawing back the Gunners’ two-goal lead. It’s now glance nervously at the clock time. The time seems wrong until I remember the irritating way the clock on the big screen here counts down from 45 rather than up to 45.
Kane and Dele don’t look fit. Both are substituted. Llorente and Son take their place but make little difference. Son bottles a challenge just in front of the away section, a moment that is emblematic of today’s performance and which starts a trickle of departures from the visiting support. Those of us of the ‘never leave before the final whistle’ tendency stick grimly to our guns as Lloris saves us twice from further embarrassment.
After the game, Pochettino gives a politician’s press conference, says what he has to say, but comes across about as convincingly as his team has on this grey afternoon. Losing the derby is never good, but losing because we didn’t put the effort in is worse. The fans and the manager will have to agree to differ because he says “the effort was massive from the team”. It’s good that he doesn’t criticise his players in public, but he must know the performance was just not good enough.
The rain seems wetter, the wind that little bit colder as we make our way back to the pubs to console ourselves with the company of other Spurs. We’re still getting it all out of our systems until late into the night. Mike Dean is not, it’s fair to say, the most popular man in town. But while we can blame him for the goals, we can’t blame him for the performance. Someone says these things even themselves out over the season. So we can look forward to a couple of contentious penalties going our way in the return, no doubt.
Meanwhile, there’s a Champions League tie to focus on.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved