Even before going 2-0 down, we weren’t playing too badly, but being down and almost out made the team even more determined. There was an urgency and drive about the team that none of us had seen before. It was partially there in some of the big results we’ve had this season, such as winning 5-3 away at Chelsea, but what was running through the players on Sunday was something completely different. There seemed to be a ‘win at all costs’ mentality. Those with the cannon on their chest understood what the North London Derby meant to everyone. They fed off the noise of the crowd and hauled themselves back into the game.
This spirit was typified by Bacary Sagna. The team could have felt sorry for themselves at 2-0 down, but when Mikel Arteta’s cross came into the box, Sagna attacked the ball superbly. No-one was getting in his way and ball was going to end up in the net. I mentioned it when we came back against Aston Villa in the cup; it makes such a difference when players take responsibility and make things happen themselves. Every Arsenal player did that on Sunday. Sagna looked back to his best, and having two regular full backs in the team made such a difference.
We started off looking quite open, but after going 2-0 down, the defence tightened up and were fantastic. Thomas Vermaelen looked back to his best and was dominant in the air, Laurent Koscielny was excellent again and Kieran Gibbs put in a fantastic shift.
Initially, it seemed the Sagna header would just be something for us to build on in the second half, but to equalise before half time lifted the crowd and was the biggest momentum swinger in the match. The team performance was superb, but in big games, you often need some individual brilliance. Robin van Persie said before the game that contract discussions won’t happen until the summer, so there isn’t much point in debating if he will or won’t sign a new one. We just have to hope he does because he is the best striker in the Premier League, bar none. His equaliser was stunning and also showed how he took responsibility as the captain to get us back into the derby.
It would have been easy for the team to sit back at the start of the second half having levelled the match and just try and calm the game down. However the adrenalin was pumping, the crowd were buzzing, the stadium was alive and the team roared forward.
Tomas Rosicky, who along with Song and Arteta, bossed the midfield and scored a richly deserved goal. We know that Rosicky isn’t as good as Fabregas or Nasri in terms of technical ability, however what he lacks slightly in that aspect, he makes up for in direct running and commitment. His charge forward just after half time and run into the six yard box was brilliantly timed, and his finish was deft. We’ve missed goals from midfield this season, and if Rosicky can continue his form and contribute more goals for the rest of the season, we’ll have a great chance of staying in the top four.
Having taken the lead, I immediately thought we were going to throw the lead away somehow. My mind went back to the 4-4 against Spurs in 2008 and the 3-2 defeat at home last season. Mental strength is a phrase that is often overused by Arsene Wenger in his post-match interviews, but to not capitulate and go on to dominate the rest of the match as we did, really did show mental strength.
Theo Walcott was terrible in the first half. He looked so low on confidence. Had we not brought the game level, I think he’d have been substituted at half time. He stayed on, and his goals were extremely well taken. For the first goal, Walcott was on the edge of our penalty area when Rosicky played the ball over the top for van Persie to chase, yet Theo charged up in support and got on the end of the move. His control wasn’t great, but his finish was instinctive and superb.
As soon as he scored, he was like a different player. He was suddenly charging up and down the wing to win the ball and then his second goal was arguably better taken than his first one. The control was much better, and without thinking he dispatched the ball into the far corner. We have to keep Walcott’s confidence up, because whatever people think of him, he can be dangerous and can make a difference. The fans were understandably on his back in the first half, but his response was typical of the whole team on Sunday.
Arsene Wenger was a man under a significant amount of pressure at the weekend, but he got his team selection spot on. The midfield trio were fantastic, and outplayed Tottenham’s midfield two. The front three interlinked well with the midfield three, and were tearing holes in the Spurs defence, particularly in the second half. Considering this is meant to be the worst Arsenal team in years, and the best Tottenham team in years, just on the evidence of Sunday, North London is definitely still, and will continue to be, red.
The key selection choices for Wenger were on the wings. Most probably expected Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho to start, but Walcott and Benayoun both justified their selection. The manager clearly prepared the team well, and got them in the right mind set for the derby. When 2-0 up, Spurs fans were chanting ‘Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay’. If he’s going to get his team to play like that every week, we might actually agree with Spurs fans on something. It was so refreshing to hear ‘One Arsene Wenger’ ring round the Emirates near the end of the match.
That leads me on to the atmosphere at the ground. The stadium was absolutely buzzing. All the fans rallied round and the majority stayed positive even when 2-0 down. As soon as Bacary Sagna scored, the stadium exploded and the fans were going to do everything possible to help turn the match around. It was truly fantastic, and was proof of how fans can help the team in important games. When things are going badly, everyone at the club should deserve criticism. When we stuff five past Spurs, everyone deserves credit, and the fans are part of that. I think the atmosphere was even better than it was against Barcelona last season. It was epic. After Sunday, for one of the first times since leaving Highbury, the Emirates is beginning to really feel like home.
I can’t emphasise enough how well everyone played, and how much desire and character came pouring out of the team. It was a day that made everyone proud to be a Gooner. The players really understood what it meant to the fans, and everyone came together in a glorious goal scoring barmy Sunday afternoon. I was really pleased to see Carl Jenkinson come on. He’s a true Gooner who has made it into the first team, and he’ll have loved every minute of his substitute appearance.
Obviously we still face a massive challenge to stay in the top four, but if that win doesn’t give the team confidence, nothing will. Play like that every week, and we’ll have no problem in reaching the Champions League. Instead of worrying about the rest of the season, let’s spend this week with a massive smile and make sure that we ask Spurs fans for the time at five to every hour. North London is red.