By Richard Clarke
Time is sometimes used to define football matches.
Arsenal's history includes the "Five-minute Cup Final" and a victory at Anfield famously secured in the 89th minute.
At Emirates Stadium this afternoon, there was a new entry for the annuls - the "11-second derby".
A relatively even first half exploded just before the break. In the 43rd minute, Robin van Persie touched home a low cross from Bacary Sagna at the near post while the Tottenham defence slept.
The strike clearly raised no alarm bells for the visitors as, straight from the kick-off, the Dutchman won the ball and Cesc Fabregas danced through a couple of slumbering tackles to fire home his sixth goal of the campaign.
There had been precisely 11 seconds of playing time between the goals.
It was an ironic way for Arsenal to take grip of the game, given their own ability to ship needless goals in recent weeks.
The third strike on the hour made sure there would be no more profligacy this time. Arsenal were the first to realise that referee Mark Clattenburg had played an advantage after Benoit Assou-Ekotto had hacked down Eduardo and Van Persie converted Sagna's low cross.
With 20 minutes left the home fans felt comfortable enough to greet every Arsenal touch with an olé . Sterling performances from the likes of Alex Song, Thomas Vermaelen, William Gallas, Fabregas and Sagna had simply broken Tottenham's heart.
This had been billed as the tightest North London derby for some time. In the end that could not have been further from the truth.
The headline change in Wenger's line-up was the return of Manuel Almunia. The keeper had been kept out by a combination of illness and Vito Mannone since the defeat at Manchester City on September 12.
The only other change was Nicklas Bendtner for Emmanuel Eboue on the right of the front three. Perhaps Wenger was looking at attack being the best form of defence today. Given recent results it seemed a reason tack to take.
Spurs were without three of their key offensive threats - Aaron Lennon, Jermain Defoe and Luka Modric - but they arrived at Emirates level on points with Arsenal after a highly-promising start to the season. Optimism was high.
In the opening stages, the gap between the football and the Premier League quality was filled with pure tension.
Arsenal had the better of the few opportunities that came - Bendtner's drive over and Andrey Arshavin's blocked shot - but Spurs had a snapping-at-the-heels attribute they had not possessed in recent years.
However Bentley took that facet too far and was very fortunate not to be booked for a foul on Thomas Vermaelen.
In the 13th minute Clichy robbed the ball in midfield and raced forward in to space. However he was struggling for support once he had reached the area and, from his cross, Arshavin could only scuff a shot into the arms of Heurelho Gomes.
Gallas then glanced a header wide from Van Persie's free-kick. Arsenal were now had a measure of territorial control but they were yet to do anything meaningful with it.
Meanwhile Tottenham were trying to maximise their assets. In the 18th minute, a long ball forward was nodded down by Crouch for Robbie Keane to race onto. The Irishman clipped it past Vermaelen but Song thundered in a tackle to clear the danger. It was Tottenham's best chance of the game.
Arsenal countered by creating their clearest opportunity. In the 20th minute, Clichy sent Arshavin clear in the left-hand channel. He teased Bassong but the defender did manage to block the Russian's shot. It fell to Fabregas, who swept a first-time shot towards goal. Only an elastic save from Gomes stopped Arsenal going ahead.
Tottenham were starting to play with more confidence but, if anything, their adventure only helped Arsenal. On the half-hour, Fabregas intercepted a clearance from Assou-Ekotto and cleverly fed Van Persie. The Dutchman slid a shot into the sidenetting when he should have tested the keeper.
Nine minutes from the break, Arshavin cut inside beat Bassong and only a timely challenge from Vedran Corluka diverted his shot over the bar. The corner allowed Wenger to swap Eduardo for Bendtner, the Dane had been a passenger since picking up an injury sometime earlier.
It has been nip and tuck all the way so what happened next was highly unexpected.
Defensive sleeping sickness had struck Arsenal in recent weeks and it is clearly a contagious disease.
In the 43th minute, Sagna and Eduardo worked a throw in on the right. The Frenchman crossed low to the near post when Van Persie beat Ledley King to slid in a shot at the near post.
Straight from the kick-off, Arsenal got the second. Van Persie flicked the ball away from Palacios and Fabregas picked it up. He escaped the Honduran's attempt to recover and glided round King before firing home past Gomes.
The keeper had been semi-culpable for the first goal. But he was cruelly exposed for the second. Incredibly there had been only 11 seconds of playing time between the goals.
The Tottenham still seemed to be recovering in the opening stages of the second half.
Arsenal had a couple of decent early chances. First Van Persie crossed and Diaby's shot was blocked by King. Then Gomes made a fine save from Eduardo after the Croatian had escaped down the right-hand channel.
Tottenham roused themselves briefly when Almunia palmed a Bentley free-kick over the bar.
However the third goal on the hour stymied their revival. Assou-Ekotto clattered into Eduardo on the left-hand side and everyone, including the collector Sagna, stopped playing.
However they were wrong to. Referee Clattenburg had not whistled and was playing the advantage. The Frenchman realised first and crossed low into the area. King and Gomes should have cleared the danger between them but the ball deflected off the defender, hit Van Persie and bounced into the unguarded net.
In the wake of the goal, Tottenham rapidly fell apart. Crouch was booked for dissent borne out of frustration and Eduardo somehow contrived to miss the very definition of a one-on-one just past the hour.
The Arsenal fans joyously ran through their repertoire of songs as their team played keep-ball.
Fabregas should have headed home a fourth from a corner with six minutes left. Ramsey might have scored in the dying seconds after Bassong pulled up with an injury.
Still it did not matter. This was a season-affirming victory for Arsenal.
It proves they are still top dogs in North London and did them no harm in the Premier League title race either.
- Vermaelen Yellow Card
- Fabregas (C) Goal!
- Arshavin 78
- Persie 86 Goal! Goal!
- Bendtner 36
- Eboue 78
- Ramsey 86
- Eduardo 36
- Corluka 86
- Assou-Ekotto Yellow Card
- Huddlestone 55
- Crouch Yellow Card
- Keane (C) 65
- Bale 55
- Hutton 86
- Pavlyuchenko 65