Whenever local rivals meet, such as with the North London derby this weekend, there is the accompanying sense of anticipation.
Nervous excitement building during the week leading up to the game, players stating that fans have told them in the streets that these are the games of the season that they mustn’t lose and commentators referring to the bragging rights that fans will have at work the following week and until the next derby.
Questions about the game will accumulate – will this game join the pantheon of classic encounters, such as this farcical affair? Will the big match players turn up? Will there be that pivotal moment that will shock and/or thrill us all? Will the players have a punch up? Will the managers have a punch up?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it will probably be worth it.
I’m certainly not advocating violence in the modern game, but where there is verbal sparring, at least, particularly between the managers, then it adds that extra spice – Arsene Wenger does have previous form for this after famously and somewhat foolhardily having words with hard nut Martin Jol. This unlikely confrontation aside, the chances of the generally well balanced managers squaring up was always limited. As always with local derbies though, there was plenty at stake and with the corresponding fixture earlier in the season finishing as a 1-1 draw, victory here would also lead to the aforementioned bragging rights.
Arsenal and Tottenham went into the North London derby in fine form and on the back of resounding results last time out, putting Midlanders Aston Villa and West Brom to the sword respectively, with fine displays of attacking football, so confidence and expectations were high all round and this match didn’t fail to deliver.
This fixture was played out at a raucous White Hart Lane, and the pattern was set with Tottenham dominating possession and Arsenal intent on playing on the counter attack, which had served them so well during the recent victory at Manchester City. Indeed, this approach yielded early success for the Gunners, with the opening goal provided by current goal machine, Mesut Ozil. Danny Welbeck was the creator, with a lighting quick burst of speed down the right flank, as if he had selected lasagne as a pre-match meal, and past soon to be nemesis, Danny Rose. Welbeck’s cross was met by Olivier Giroud, with the chiseled Frenchman’s sliced shot becoming an unorthodox assist to Ozil, who cushioned a superb volley past Hugo Lloris.
The first-half continued with Arsenal keeping Tottenham at bay, their only real cause for concern was Welbeck’s clash with Rose at the half-time whistle, perhaps discussing, with industrial strength language, the best TV programs of the last 20 years (a similar debate between Jordan Henderson and Steven Naismith would later on heat up a tepid Merseyside derby, the antithesis of this thrilling affair) – having just been booked, this could have proved folly for the England striker, but he made it to the half-time oranges without further rebuke.
Arsenal’s luck soon ran out though, as an early goal greeted the second-half, swinging the game in Tottenham’s favour, thanks to the en vogue Harry Kane. The England hopeful was playing in his first London derby and has enjoyed a fantastic season so far, having already scored 22 goals. This goal came from a corner headed goalwards by Mousa Dembele, which was palmed away by David Ospina, only to be finished clinically by Kane, lurking with menace at the far post.
The clamour for Kane to be selected for England, already gaining momentum with each passing week, has moved up a notch, with suggestions for him to be made the focal point for which the national team be built around. While this may be a bit much for someone who has yet to make his debut for England, his performance here, in front of the watching England Manager Roy Hodgson, would have enhanced his credentials no end.
With the wind clearly now in their sails, Tottenham continued to press for the remainder of the half, with a strike from distance from the tenacious Nabil Bentaleb, impressive throughout in the midfield battleground, highlighting their superiority and forcing Ospina into action.
Just as it seemed Arsenal may hold out for the draw that man Kane completed the turnaround, rising to head a cross back past the stranded Ospina, to give Spurs the victory they richly deserved, as well as claim supremacy of the Seven Sisters Road and allow their fans to crow about this – for now. This result also lifted Spurs above the Gunners into fifth place in the league.
Could this finally be the year where Tottenham usurp their not so friendly neighbours, by finishing above them and qualifying for the Champions League to boot? To do so they will continue to need their big game players, which the likes of Kane is rapidly becoming, to continue to perform as they did in this game.