By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal came from behind to record another storming, rejuvenating 5-2 win over 10-man Tottenham at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
The north London derby just does not do mundane these days and we were treated to 90 minutes of unrelenting drama.
Emmanuel Adebayor swept Tottenham in front in the early stages but his 17th-minute dismissal was pivotal.
A goal from the scintillating Santi Cazorla seemed to have secured the points on the hour. Gareth Bale’s strike restored Tottenham’s toe-hold shortly afterwards, but the home side tightened their grip on the midfield and saw out the game. Theo Walcott even added a fifth at the end.
It was a repeat of the result back in February; a comeback that proved vital to both sides.
The current situation is not the same, however this result was still everything Arsenal needed. It served their confidence, the Premier League table, local rivalry and the passion of the support.
On paper, Wednesday’s game against Montpellier is of a similar magnitude given that Champions League progress could be secured.
However the north London derby is different. It has special significance all of its own.
And on Saturday afternoon, Arsenal were worthy winners.
Wenger’s side showed two changes from the one held by Fulham last weekend. Wojciech Szczesny returned in goal for the first time in two months. Jack Wilshere was back from suspension. Vito Mannone and Francis Coquelin dropped to the bench.
Elsewhere Mikel Arteta, Bacary Sagna and Giroud all shook off niggles to start.
Andre Villas-Boas sprang something of a surprise by playing both Adebayor and Jermain Defoe up front.
It was a cold grey afternoon in north London, so grey in fact that the floodlights were on from the start of this lunchtime kick-off.
In recent years, this derby had been full of goals - early ones at that.
Today the first 10 minutes were cagey and chanceless.
But then the Arsenal defence was breached twice in quick succession. First William Gallas was flagged offside before curling home a close-range effort.
The second, however, would count. Defoe escaped down the left and, although his shot was parried by Szczesny, Adebayor swept home the loose ball from three yards out.
Thee minutes later it might have been 2-0 when Aaron Lennon’s cross-shot fizzed past the far post.
Tottenham’s offensive approach had paid off. They had the early goal as well as the initiative. Arsenal had not settled.
Adebayor had been behind much of their early success and dismissal in the 17th minute would prove to be the game-changer.
The Togolese striker took out Cazorla in mid-air with his studs showing. Referee Howard Webb was well within his rights to brandish the red card.
The sending off stopped Tottenham pressing Arsenal back and, as a consequence, they immediately got into the game.
Walcott was at the hub of their best attacks. And, after Thomas Vermaelen’s effort had been blocked, it was his deep, accurate cross that was headed home by Mertesacker in the 24th minute.
It was the big German’s first strike in English football.
The goal had now swung the game Arsenal’s way. Hugo Lloris made a flying save from Giroud’s header then the keeper was left stranded as Cazorla’s long-range effort fizzed inches over the bar.
Six minutes half the break, Sagna’s cross from the right was met by Giroud at the near post just six yards out but Lloris held the ball on the line.
By now Tottenham were looking for the sanctity of the dressing room at half-time. However the goal that Arsenal had threatened would arrive three minutes from the whistle.
Jack Wilshere’s ball was nudged on by Tom Huddlestone for Podolski to chase into the area. His shot hit the heel of the backtracking William Gallas and bobbled into the far corner.
It seemed enough for the home fans and was certainly a fair reflection of the game.
However, Arsenal would grab another in injury-time. Walcott’s free-kick was charged down and Cazorla collected, rode a challenge, darted to the left-hand byline and slid the ball to the near post. Giroud slipped home a shy shot under the right hand of Lloris.
At the break, Arsenal had their tails up.
Villas-Boas introduced Clint Dempsey and Michael Dawson at the restart. Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker came off.
It made a difference. The 10 men had the better of the opening stages territorially.
However, at the same time, Arsenal were happy to soak up the pressure knowing that Tottenham had been overcompensating for the loss of Adebayor for some time. Eventually it would tell.
And it did.
On the hour, Giroud controlled the ball in the air and fed the overlapping Podolski on the left. The German fired low and hard across goal where the waiting Cazorla fired home his fourth goal of the season.
For the first time, those of us who had been holding our breath could begin to exhale.
We should have known better.
Bale fired home expertly from outside the area 19 minutes from time and, seconds later, whistled a low cross-shot just beyond Szczesny’s far post.
Tottenham were not done yet.
Arsenal’s response was to get hold of the ball and pass it. They killed the clock with technique. Tottenham simply could not win back possession.
There was even time for a fifth in injury time when Walcott’s finished off a swift breakaway by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
At the end the Arsenal side saluted their supporters who responded in kind.
The loudest shout was for Cazorla. This little Spanish magician had done more than anyone in red and white to conjure up another derby-day comeback.
- Mertesacker Goal!
- Vermaelen (C)
- Walcott Goal!
- Wilshere 72
- Cazorla Goal!
- Podolski 80 Goal! Yellow Card
- Giroud 86 Goal!
- Andre Santos 80
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 86
- Ramsey 72
- Walker 46
- Naughton 46
- Gallas (C)
- Sandro Yellow Card
- Lennon Yellow Card
- Huddlestone 72
- Bale Goal!
- Adebayor Goal! Red Card
- Dawson 46
- Dempsey 46
- Carroll 72