Now you see why I hate the North London Derby. It’s because there is no other game, cup finals aside, which can give you a buzz like this. Which means that in the build-up, and usually during the game, you’re terrified of having that elation stolen away. Proper derby days are football fed through an amplifier. They are like ‘Nam, in that it they only truly be experienced in the flesh.
There are horror stories, of course. The 3-2 reversal at the Emirates two seasons ago remains my lowest ebb at the Emirates – “You weren’t there maaaaaaan” – but there’s also nothing like the unbridled happiness that comes with a win. Like last year’s, like this year’s. We’re joy junkies, high on hammering Spurs season after season, but terrified of the low that a draw or loss might bring.
Going into the game, it was abundantly clear that the fallout from any sort of negative result wasn’t going to be pretty at all. Yet I was oddly calm. Zen even, as I listened to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Gathering Storm while striding down the Holloway Road, followed by a little Public Enemy as I entered the Emirates, just to get the heart really jackhammering.
I even tweeted this, which regular readers will know is about as confident it gets from the house of Mouse. Inside, the stadium felt totally wired. The collective expectation, the desire to see *them* beaten, makes every song come out not just louder, but also about 20% faster. Like a manic DJ throwing on record after record at the wrong speed. It’s nerve-wracking and brilliant and by half-time I was feeling the kind of hot flush that only Judy Madeley can truly understand. So I’m very grateful to the guy two seats along who lent me an extra quid for a half-time cooling cider.
But before the apples came four goals, starting with as daft a mess as we’ve made this season, which I don’t say lightly, followed by Ade’s chance to remind us that he very much is that sort of player. There have been times since his departure when I’ve openly considered that we’d be a stronger squad with him back in it. No longer. Whatever he offers in terms of goals and assists is far outweighed by his intergalactic level of twattishness. There can honestly be few thicker or more cowardly players plying their trade in world football, and he can have no complaints if his wild hack at Cazorla expedites the end of his career at the shithole.
In the build up to the game he’d had plenty to say. Stirring stuff about what it requires to win trophies:
“You also need people who say OK, I will give my life on the pitch. That is rare in football.”
I’d suggest, Ade, that yours is a particular kind of rarity most clubs can do without. Still, until his dismissal we’d laboured. It wasn’t exactly that we were on the rack – although Lennon could have made the comeback harder, instead fizzing his shot just wide – but we hadn’t created much. And by much I mean anything. It looked to my eyes like we were giving their midfield duo of Huddlestone and Sandro too much time to pick passes. But after the sending off I always fancied us.
Comparisons with the game in February are inevitable. Then it took a pile-driving header from Sagna to get belief coursing back through the team. Yesterday, the first goal came from another header and an equally unlikely source. Mertesacker opening his account by arcing the ball gloriously away from Lloris, like a meteor with topspin on. We were on terms and the place was going potty with the BFG song.
The second goal was marginally less pretty – Poldi scuffing in a daisy cutter via a deflection from Gallas. Truly this was turning into a red letter day for unloved Arsenal alumni. The crowd duly amended the song: “Two fucking Germans, we’ve got two fucking Germans.”
Next came Giroud, never likely to be left off the score sheet in his current form, who squeezed in a tricky finish on the stoke of half time, despite the attentions of two markers. Huge credit also to Santi, who got up from being tripped without a whisper of complaint, beat another man, and cut the ball back perfectly for OG to sweep home.
The na na nas were deafening as headed into the break and a much-needed drink. I kept saying: “All we need to do is keep playing the same way. Don’t drop off, don’t just try to pop it about – keep pinning them back.” But after the restart, and a formation switch to three at the back from Villas-Boas, we seemed to lose the momentum that had turned the end of the first half into an Alamo reenactment society. So I actually felt some relief when Santi got a goal to go with his assist – prodding home an inch-perfect cross from Poldi.
This was already the best display so far from the three new boys, with a goal each plus a pair of assists. Of them, Santi was the standout. Back to his imperious best, plucking the ball out of the air with his magnetised boots, spraying around passes no one else would even try all, and having the courage to take people on even in confined spaces. Just an absolute pleasure to watch. No doubt the sending off also helped free up some room for him, but I prefer to think he just got his mojo back.
The fact remains from last week’s guest post, that had those three signings been additions rather than replacements, then we might – *might* – be talking about a team of title contenders, rather than one that just dragged itself back into the dogfight for fourth. And if we’re being brutally honest, our defence still gave up several hugely presentable chances in the second half. Defoe might have tapped in had Bale, who had already netted a good second, been less greedy. Luckily the Welshman had his snout right in the trough and shot wide. Still, though clearly a contemptible diver, there’s no doubting he’s also some player – twice running through half of our team. The good news is those clowns have precisely no chance of keeping him.
At that point, with *only* a two-goal cushion, the tension really set in. Which would sound utterly absurd about any other side, but this is Arsenal (some sort of anti-Sparta?) and we’d already seen a two-goal lead pissed up the wall in our last two games. So it was that Theo’s late fifth, after some brilliant approach play from The Ox, gave the scoreline a lovely symmetrical gloss and removed any leftover worries from the 4-4 derby debacle of a few years back.
Walcott had largely played brilliantly. Most of the threat in the first came from crosses down his flank. Towards the end I felt like he was looking to get a goal for himself rather than thinking about keeping the ball for the team, but with his numbers this season that’s probably a churlish complaint. After the game he came over to us and revelled in his name being chanted. Perhaps there’s still hope.
By the time that last goal rattled in, the Spurs end had long since cleared out. A guy in front of me actually started what has to be the chant of the day, to the same tune as he scores when he wants: ”Just like last year, just like last year, still fucking useless, just like last year.” (Video here. Only caught the end of it, as it’s hard to concentrate on filming when you’re also concentrating on beating Spurs.) This was followed up with “you’ve got your Tottenham back, you’ve got your Tottenham back.” And sure enough they have.
Last year, when the gap stood at ten points, I didn’t see us reeling it in. But wiser heads than mine would routinely point out: they’re Spurs. They will Spurs it up somehow. And sure enough they did. Perhaps that’s why I was confident going into the game. Because as daft as this Arsenal side has contrived to be at times, that lot down the road will always find a way to go much dafter.
Quick word on the keeper. Though I doubt he’ll be entirely happy with either goal, it was certainly good to have him back on set pieces. He also spends a lot more time talking to the defence, and getting them organised than our current skipper does. In fact I’m not sure I’ve seen a less demonstrative skipper than Vermaelen, which is a worry. But all that can wait.
We can savour this result for the rest of the season. I said on this week’s Arsecast that the fact the NLD matters more than ever is perhaps an indication that our expectations have slipped from silverware. But that’s wrong. Beating Spurs is and always will be reward enough. Enjoy it.
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