Derby days are the two most unenjoyable days of the sporting calendar for me and probably for many others. The feeling starts to build midweek until an almost unbearable crescendo of nausea hits me as I awake Sunday morning. This feeling will hang around until kick-off and will only be fully alleviated by the final whistle. Win, lose or draw – it’s over. The consequences will be faced the next day at work. But for now, relief.
As an Arsenal fan originating from North London myself, the majority of my friends are Spurs fans. You could tell that there was a particular nervousness ahead of this game – a sense of uncertainty around both sides’ current predicaments – when the fixture was barely mentioned all week in my mates’ WhatsApp group. When the time finally came, there was an unspoken, unagreed amnesty for the full ninety minutes. No one wanted to go early.
You have to give it to Lamela, as much as I dislike him, there is a certain admiration I have for a football player who turns up just to do Rabonas and start fights.
But upon the final whistle, ecstasy. For all the nerves, the feeling like shit for most of the week, this time, it was time for a celebration. Arsenal played well in this game, although that doesn’t always lead to victory for us at the moment. This reinvention under Arteta is taking time to have an impact, yet, slowly but surely, we are looking like we could be a good footballing side again. That being said, we had most of the ball and chances in the reverse fixture too, but that didn’t end too well. Against this team, dominating doesn’t always mean triumph. As for Spurs, coming into this game on five victories, their approach was somewhat bewildering…
Like many things in life and the world more generally at the moment, the Spurs fanbase seems to be divided. Is it over Team Meghan or Team Piers? Leave or Remain? To Vax or not to Vax? Nope, it is that ever divisive figure: José Mourinho. Some enjoy his bullishness, his tactical Dark Arts and shithousery. Others are uncertain around his methods, his low block against Crystal Palace and his brand of supposedly “negative” football. But deciding to surrender his team’s momentum upon the kick-off for this game did seem a rather odd approach. Spurs noticeably decided to sit off Arsenal, allowing them to play their football and invited pressure upon themselves.
The real key moment of this game – what set up the rest of its narrative – came in the nineteenth minute when Son limped off (a consequence of just too much football in this unforgiving schedule) to be replaced by Érik Lamela. What followed was a perfect microcosm of Lamela’s time at Tottenham these past eight years. Signs of promise: the driving energy, the relentless running, the skill of a Rabona finish (and not his first). But also, the sneering mischievousness that has him resembling a villain that has just turned up behind Punch and Judy to start battering the fuck out of a crocodile whilst the ref isn’t looking. The red card seemed inevitable since his arrival on the pitch and there was very little surprise when it finally came. You have to give it to Lamela, as much as I dislike him, there is a certain admiration I have for a football player who turns up just to do Rabonas and start fights – it sounds like my Sunday league days (except that the Rabona would often leave me face down in the mud with Edmonton Sunday League’s limited fanbase screeching with laughter from the side-lines).
Despite a beauty of a finish, Arsenal found themselves back in front due to some fine work down the left-hand side (a key part of the pitch all game) and a rather clumsy penalty. Both Lacazette and Sanchez both showed us how mistimed they both could be in what can only be described as an attempt at some kind of alternative dance. It ended with the ball in the back of the net and Arsenal with a deserved lead. After Lamela’s red card, this game was ready to be put to bed – played out in a rather sensible and measured fashion until the result was confirmed.
You didn’t really think it would be that easy, did you? This is Arsenal we are talking about after all!
Without offering much for most of the game, Spurs decided that with ten minutes left and ten men left on the field, that now was the point to try and get something from the game. It has become clear recently (since about 2005 more like) that we should never underestimate Arsenal’s ability for self-destruction. Kane had the ball in the net (disallowed for offside) and hit the post in a final period of the game that had me watching through my fingers. A goal-line clearance from Gabriel had Leno relieved as he seemed to want to make this ending as uncomfortable for us Arsenal fans as humanely possible – it wouldn’t be right otherwise!
And so, that was that. Until next time. With Tottenham’s Europa League implosion, it looks like that’s it for the North London Derby this season. For a neutral, these games must be thrilling to watch (there have been some historic ones in the past), but for me, they are just really tiring. Although, one thing is for sure: it’s always easier to get up for work the morning after a derby day victory.