By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Brilliant. Superb. Wonderful. Jubilant. Joyful.
Think of the best word you know and add it to this list.
Because that is what it feels like to be an Arsenal fan right now.
The red-and-white hearts of North London have been tested this season. Their side’s at times indifferent form has been exacerbated by a fine campaign from their near neighbours in blue-and-white.
That is why 99 per cent of the Arsenal fans inside Emirates Stadium on Sunday would have taken a 1-0 win of any kind over their near-neighbours and old rivals. In fact, their side served up a five-goal comeback that will surely enter the annuls of North London history.
Five minutes before half-time they were trailing 2-0 in the most unfortunate circumstances – Louis Saha’s horribly-deflected opener and a hotly-disputed penalty dispatched by Emmanuel Adebayor.
However Arsenal were level by the whistle thanks to Bacary Sagna’s powerful header and Robin van Persie’s superb curler.
Parity was the least the hosts deserved, they had been the better side throughout but had been 'picked off' twice on the counter.
They would kick on after the break. The tireless Tomas Rosicky, superb on the day, poked home a third six minutes after the restart then Theo Walcott sent Emirates doolally with a brace inside three minutes.
Scott Parker’s late dismissal completed a dismal day for Tottenham. And, having matched Chelsea’s three-goal win over Bolton on Saturday, Arsenal returned to fourth place.
Few inside Emirates Stadium will have cared too much about that during this stunning, sensational 90 minutes.
However they might have been aware that the gap to third-placed Tottenham is down to a more manageable seven points.
Last season, Arsenal had led 2-0 and lost 3-2 in this fixture. A result that saw some suggest the powerbase in the north of the capital was changing.
This afternoon, Wenger’s men reversed that feat and went two goals better to prove they are still very much a force.
It was a reminder to always keep faith in your team.
The build-up to this derby had been unusual. Tottenham came into it as genuine title contenders and highly hopeful of finishing above their North London neighbours for the first time in 17 years.
For Arsenal, Kieran Gibbs and Laurent Koscielny passed fitness tests to replace Johan Djourou and the injured Francis Coquelin. However Rosicky and Yossi Benayoun for Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho were tactical changes.
It was a little more artisan than artiste and suggested that Arsenal were preparing to roll up their sleeves.
After the most unfortunate of starts, that is exactly what they would do.
The game had barely settled before Tottenham went ahead after four minutes.
As they did so often in the first half, Tottenham spread the ball wide to Adebayor on the left. His presence drew the Arsenal defence and he sent Saha running free down the middle.
Vermaelen came back to cover but the Frenchman let fly from the edge of the area. The effort hit the Belgian’s legs and looped high over the wrong-footed, sprawling Wojciech Szczesny.
When your luck is out, your luck is out.
Arsenal sought a leveller immediately. They had two half-shouts for a penalty when Gibbs went down and Parker appeared to handle. In this case, the two halves did not make a whole.
Then Sagna raced down the right and his cross eventually found Van Persie. The Dutchman’s first shot was blocked but the return fell to him and he fired just beyond the far post.
By the midway point, Arsenal had wrestled control of the game and were pressing forwards.
Van Persie’s low, long-range shot whistled just wide. From the corner, Rosicky nudged a near-post header towards the far corner only for Brad Freidel to produce a wonderful tip over.
However Arsenal’s ambition always meant they might be picked off. In the 24th minute they were nearly counter-punched to the canvas.
Adebayor chased down Gibbs, who tried to shepherd the ball back to Szczesny. The keeper’s clearance fell to Kyle Walker who rifled his effort just over the bar.
It did not stop Arsenal attacking.
Parker clipped Van Persie just outside the area but Arteta drove his free-kick straight into the wall.
However, Tottenham still seemed to have space when they did go forward. In the 34th minute, Luka Modric sent Gareth Bale through the middle. He managed to hold off Gibbs and knocked the ball past Szczesny before going over in the box.
Referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot and, though the keeper went the right way, Adebayor squeezed his penalty into the corner.
The scoreline betrayed the game. Arsenal had been asking most of the questions but that had allowed the visitors too much space through the middle.
Tottenham were too good to refuse it.
Wenger’s men desperately needed something before the interval. In fact they would get more than they asked for.
In the 40th minute, Van Persie swivelled a low cross-shot against the far post. The ball went out to the left and was eventually returned by Arteta. Sagna attacked the cross like a centre forward to power a header past Freidel.
Suddenly there was doubt in the Tottenham defence. Three minutes later they allowed Van Persie to get the ball on his left foot just outside the area.
It was a fatal mistake.
The Dutchman curled home his 29th goal of the season into the top corner and it was surely one of his best.
It was all Arsenal going into the break. The flow of this passionate end-to-end game has been that way anyway – even if the score had fluctuated wildly.
Two changes at the break suggested Redknapp was more concerned by the first 45 minutes than Wenger.
Sandro replaced Nico Kranjcar and Rafael Van der Vaart replaced Saha.
The changes made no immediate difference. Arsenal had finished the first half in rampant mood and it was the same straight after the restart.
Arteta found the excellent Benayoun in the area and the Israeli tried to slide a shot towards the corner. The stretching Friedel fingertipped the ball past the upright.
Then, in the 51st minute, Arsenal grabbed the lead for the first time. Sagna went overlapping down the right and sent in a low cross towards the near post. Rosicky had shown wonderful desire to reach the ball and deserved to touch home his first league goal of the campaign.
Throughout the game, the decibel level at Emirates had touched the top of the scale. As the Czech international wheeled away, the noise was phenomenal.
This was no ordinary derby.
Having taken the lead, Arsenal lost a little urgency. However they were still in control and, just before the hour, the tireless Rosicky slid a ball into the path of Walcott on the right.
With the angle narrowing, he fired a low cross-shot inches beyond the far post.
The Englishman had been quiet thus far but, just past the hour, his game would catch fire.
In the 65th minute Van Persie pulled the Tottenham defence to the left in a similar manner to Adebayor way back when in the first half.
It left Walcott in space on the right and, when the captain found him, his chipped finish was immaculate.
Three minutes later, Song sent a lofted ball down the right-hand channel to release the winger once more. This time he steadied himself and cracked home a fifth.
The Emirates was in ecstacy.
With the game won, Arsenal eased off and Tottenham fought for pride. Bale’s cross-shot was the closest they came and Parker’s second yellow was inevitable after his went through on Thomas Vermaelen.
Wenger even brought on Carl Jenkinson at the end. It was the full back’s first appearance in more than three months due to a back injury.
But, more importantly, as a life-long Arsenal fan, the young full back knew exactly what this victory meant.
A great day to be a Gunner.
- Koscielny Yellow Card
- Sagna Goal!
- Gibbs 75
- Rosicky Goal!
- Walcott 81 Goal! Goal!
- Arteta Yellow Card
- Benayoun 88
- van Persie (C) Goal! Yellow Card
- Jenkinson 75
- Gervinho 88
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 81
- King (C) 82
- Kranjcar 46
- Parker Yellow Card Red Card
- Modric Yellow Card
- Saha 46 Goal!
- Adebayor Goal!
- Dawson 82
- Van der Vaart 46
- Sandro 46 Yellow Card