Ian Wright understood. The former Arsenal striker likes to tell a story about a time he spent with the incomparable Rocky Rocastle shortly after signing for the club. That night, Wright has explained, he and Rocastle spoke a lot about what it means to play for Arsenal Football Club, but there was one refrain the late midfielder kept coming back to: “you do not lose to Tottenham”. Judging by Wright’s excellent record in the fixture, these were words he took to heart.
Following the Gunners’ electrifying 4-2 victory at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, Wright’s jubilance was hard to contain on BBC Match of the Day. After watching Unai Emery’s men take the fight to their North London rivals, it wasn’t hard to see why; the Gunners were simply different class to the exhausted and disorganised visitors. Even a questionable penalty decision that saw Harry Kane temporarily put Spurs in the lead couldn’t dampen the Gunners’ energy or the spirit in the stands, and a stellar second-half performance ensured the visiting Tottenham supporters would exit to a jeering serenade from the home fans.
Emery Bests Pochettino In First North London Derby
The build-up to the North London Derby, Unai Emery’s first at Arsenal, might have revealed the friendly nature of his relationship with Spurs’ manager Mauricio Pochettino, but that did not stop him from ruthlessly getting the better of his counterpart during the match. Sharing a similar philosophy of dominating the ball when in possession, and the space when defending, the clash was something of a tactical chess match between two like minds. A chess match which saw Emery emerge the clear victor.
The match opened with Arsenal aligned in the same 3-4-2-1 they had found some success with last weekend at Bournemouth, while Tottenham responded in a 4-3-1-2. The Gunners started fast, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang opening the scoring from the spot in the 10th minute, but Spurs battled back to knot the score from an Eric Dier header in the 30th minute, followed up just four minutes later by a Harry Kane goal from the spot.
With momentum swinging heavily in Spurs’ favour heading into the half, Unai Emery took drastic action, withdrawing both Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and replacing them with Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey. With two strikers now on the pitch and a motivated Ramsey in the hole just behind, the Gunners once again took charge of the match. Pochettino dropped Dier into defence to try and counter Emery’s change, but the energy of the Arsenal front three was too much for Tottenham to handle. With Aubameyang and Lacazette dragging the centre-backs wide and out of shape, Ramsey was afforded acres of space to run straight through the heart of Spurs defence. The goals soon followed as Aubameyang and Lacazette each scored from Aaron Ramsey assists and Lucas Torreira capped the day with his 77th-minute strike.
The second half was the perfect encapsulation of Unai Emery’s tactical wherewithal and fearless decision making. His boundless energy on the touchline hides a brain furiously working to find solutions just beneath the surface, and not for the first time this season was his boldness rewarded with a response from his players. A manager who is able to adapt to match situations and find solutions on the fly always gives his players a chance to perform, and there can be little doubt his meticulous preparation inspires confidence in this Arsenal team.
Aubameyang’s Big Day
Since arriving at Arsenal in January, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been a regular on the scoresheet for the Gunners, but up until Sunday, he had yet to find the goal against any of the top six Premier League teams. He put an emphatic end to that talk with a scintillating two-goal performance, adding a brilliant assist to set up Lucas Torreira’s first goal in an Arsenal shirt. Aubameyang now sits alone atop the scoring charts in the Premier League with 10 goals in just 1037 minutes of action, two ahead of the next player on the list. He has slotted seamlessly into the centre-forward position since Lacazette was hobbled with a groin injury before the last international break, and his work rate has noticeably improved since he started back to back matches leading the line to open the season.
Aubameyang has returned to the centre-forward role he vacated after two poor performances to open the season against Manchester City and Chelsea, filling in for Lacazette as he fought back from a minor groin issue suffered before the last international break. His work rate has been steadily improving, but Sunday was perhaps his best all-around performance in an Arsenal shirt. He was challenging for headers, chasing down loose balls and wreaking havoc on the Tottenham defence all afternoon, and was only further buoyed by the introduction of his strike partner, Lacazette, in the second half. Their ability to each play as a lone striker or in tandem has given Emery a variety of attacking combinations to choose from this season, and their unselfish partnership has been one of the keys to the Gunners’ incredible run of form since dropping the opening two matches of the season.
A Mike Dean Kind Of Day
Oh, Mike Dean. Few referees have achieved the notoriety of the Wirral born man, and at the Emirates Stadium, he is a particularly reviled figure. This made it all the more surprising when Dean, after confronted with a blatant handball in the Spurs’ penalty area, relented in pointing to the spot to give Arsenal a chance to take the lead. Perhaps he believed that was enough for one day, or perhaps he let his allegiance (as many Arsenal supporters like to claim) to Tottenham creep back into his decision making, but he went on to allow two Tottenham goals that former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg claimed should not have counted in the papers the next day. The first Tottenham goal saw Eric Dier play the ball from a slightly offside position, and it was plain to see that Heung-Min Son took a dive (one of several on the day) in the box to win a penalty decision against Rob Holding.
All in all, however, it was far from Mike Dean’s worst job in a North London Derby, as his frequent bookings did do a decent job of preventing the match from spiralling out of control. Tottenham do not make it easy on referees with their near constant embellishment and simulation in big matches, but Dean managed to avoid being taken in too much by their antics. He even gave Jan Vertonghen his marching orders in the second half after he left a foot in on Alexandre Lacazette, sending the Frenchman crashing to the floor. In a fixture that seldom needs any more drama than what happens on the pitch, Dean’s appointment to the match added just a bit more. However, in spite of what many thought prior to the match, he did not make himself the story.
Ramsey Fights On
Given the uncertainty surrounding his Arsenal future and the embarrassing way in which the club revoked their offer of a contract extension this season, Aaron Ramsey could have easily packed it in and not been bothered to perform in his reduced role for the team. However, despite starting on the bench and not coming on until after halftime, Ramsey did not wait that long to make his presence felt. He was part of a group of Arsenal players, who were warming up when Eric Dier scored Tottenham’s first goal, and he was one of the first players into the melee when the Tottenham man goaded the home fans into a rage by the corner flag. The scuffle quickly escalated to involve players and coaches from both teams, as well as a few projectiles from the stands. Dier at one point told Ramsey to “sit down”, only further enraging the Welshman, who also tangled with Dele Alli in the aftermath of the skirmish.
Ramsey would ultimately have the last laugh, however, as his halftime introduction coincided with the Gunners’ stealing back momentum from Spurs in an empathic way. The Welshman was there to set up Aubameyang’s second of the match, a superb curling effort from outside the area, and again just minutes later when Lacazette fired Arsenal into the lead.
Unsurprisingly, following a gutsy and dynamic performance in the biggest match of the season, there have been renewed calls for the club to give Ramsey a new contract. While ostensibly no longer in Unai Emery’s future plans at the club, Ramsey has refused to stop working for the club and the fans. His passion and his deep love of Arsenal were obvious for all to see on Sunday, and it appears that he has every intention of making the decision to let him leave as difficult as possible. Certainly, with performances like his on Sunday, the club could decide to revisit their decision, particularly as the fans stay firmly behind a player they’ve watched grow from a talented boy into an impactful player at the club.
A Disgusting Act
Whenever Arsenal and Tottenham meet, it is fair to expect an electric atmosphere in the crowd and on this pitch as fans and players alike feel the intensity of the Derby on a visceral level. The passion for fixtures like the North London Derby is part of what makes football such a great sport, but sadly, it can also lead to some vile behaviour from the stands.
That was unfortunately just what happened when, following Aubameyang’s opening goal of the match, a banana skin was thrown down onto the pitch by a Tottenham supporter. After an icy glare into the stands, Aubameyang scarcely reacted to the wretched display, and after the match, it was announced that the fan who threw it had been arrested and banned from the grounds of both clubs. Coming on a day in which the captains wore rainbow armbands to support the LGBT community and inclusion in sport, the act serves as a reminder that there is a long way to go in achieving total acceptance by some fans of all races, religions, genders and sexual orientations. This sort of behaviour has no place in football, let alone the modern world we live in, and the fan was rightly disciplined. Sadly, these sorts of things are still too common, but the response from both clubs was swift and encouraging.
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