There are few days in life that feel like “Derby Day”. You wake up, your first thought is of the impending match. Your mind races to think of Arsenal’s starting lineup, who will play in the left back role or any other role depending on the matchup — Tierney or Zinchenko. You have a moment of fear about being opened up on the counter attack It won’t happen, lessons learned after United. United… A great performance swept away by naiveté. A team suckered into going for it and caught out through the gaps.
You can’t think about that. It’s all positive today. It’s at home, it’s the day to shut up all the people that have said Arsenal aren’t good, simply fortunate to have such easy beginnings. A day to shut the traps of the lot down the road. To expose their short sighted, desperate grasp at claiming some form of silverware from their best generation. Harry Kane… fuck Harry Kane. That bastard is going to get some flimsy penalty call… Gotta block that out. Today is our day to make a statement, win a derby, and continue our ride at the top of the table.
There is no morning quite like Derby Day morning.
Yesterday, Arsenal welcomed Spurs to the carpet in a match that would be two polarizing views on football going head to head. It would pit “good football” vs. a team that’s “good at the football they play” regardless of opinions on right and wrong. And, as I wrote two days ago, it would shed some light on the concept of ‘sustainability’ that surrounds these two sides.
For Arsenal fans — and football purists alike — it was a smashing result. Across the 90 minutes, Arsenal controlled and even dominated play. From the whistle, the Gunners were on the front foot and dictated play. If there was any worry early it was that Arsenal controlled the first 15 minutes, but it was Tottenham that created the best chance from a set piece, and Tottenham that looked ready to take up their usual compact defense to sucker Arsenal into marauding a few too many forward.
On days where the defense is as rigid and willing to cede space, yet as talent are Spurs are — an unusual combo considering most teams in low blocks suffer from reduced talent — you have to be able to offer a danger from range that forces the defense to respect the threat. That came when Thomas Partey unleashed a one-time rocket of a shot that curled into the top-bin spectacularly. One-nil to the Arsenal and Spurs forced to respond and adjust.
Unfortunately, Spurs did respond and seized a chance in Arsenal’s most disorganized moment. Son running through the midfield creates a bit of havoc, Arsenal are at panic stations, a poor clearance from Xhaka puts a loose ball in the box and Gabriel lunges to make a play, catching Richarlison. It was a moment that felt like inevitable frustrating dread coming to fruition. Of course Harry Kane was back on the spot. Of fucking course.
Thirty one minutes in, Spurs are level, and Arsenal struggled to get their foot back on the ball and compose themselves. If there was one tipping point moment in this match, one period that could have seen this game fall in a different direction, it was the 15 minutes between minute 25 to 40. It was the one stretch of the game in which the attacking numbers favored Tottenham, slightly, and Arsenal were forced to weather a small storm. Although, Gabriel Jesus still managed a slaloming run that could have been up for goal of the season if he finished it off.
Storm was weathered, Arsenal reclaimed some presence to end the half, and just four minutes into the second half, Arenal go ahead when a heads up, switched on, Jesus pokes home a loose ball spilled by Lloris after a Saka shot. The crowd was electric, the Jesus celebration was… familiar… and it gave Arsenal the early bump to spoil any thoughts Spurs had of claiming the second half for themselves.
To really seal it, Emerson Royal received a straight red card from a pretty cynical, snide rake down Martinelli’s leg. My take on the card is this: it reminded me a little of Auba’s red card versus Palace in that he comes from the side, isn’t close to the ball, and has studs come down on/into the ankle.
To make matters more damning, Royal absolutely knows what he’s doing. Martinelli is dribbling back toward his own goal, it’s in the defensive third which is considered a ‘good’ place to concede a safe foul, and Royal clearly thought he could get away with leaving one on him. Sure, most other refs may not escalate that to a red card, and it probably settles in the grey area between a yellow and red card, depending on how you feel about the force of it, but it certainly feels like a call that leaves itself open to interpretation, and I can appreciate why VAR didn’t believe it to be a “clear and obvious error”.
From there Arsenal were a man up, a goal up, and would end the day with a wonderful goal from none other than Granit Xhaka, the man who has begun put together a campaign that has the potential to be the best of his career.
Bitter Spurs fans will feel like the red card was unwarranted and ruined the game. They will feel like they had another few transition opportunities to level the game, but the stats tell enough of a story to suggest Arsenal more than deserved the game: 65% possession, 22 shots, ~2.38 xG for Arsenal, ~0.75 npxG for Tottenham, triple the shots on goal for Arsenal, and roughly 80% field tilt in Arsenal’s favor (meaning 8/10 touches in a final third were done in Spurs’ defensive third by an Arsenal attacker).
It’s another comprehensive display from the Gunners and one that felt like it matched the heightened expectations that come with an electric, home field Derby atmosphere. The stadium was bouncing and Arsenal showed up in a major way. In fact, it’s hard to say Arsenal haven’t shown up or played closer to their ceiling of potential since their season opener against Crystal Palace. Even their loss against United came with a performance worthy of a top, top team.
And as Arsenal sit at the top of the table for another week, they embark upon on onslaught of an October. But they do it with three major points and hopefully a whole lot of confidence and swagger that they, in fact, do deserve to be where they are. Just eight matches into the season, Arsenal already have almost 1/3 the total number of wins they had the previous season. It took Arsenal 13 matches to eclipse 21 points, which shows the type of improvement this side is showing at the moment.
Their next Premier League game comes at the Emirates against a susceptible looking Liverpool side. It won’t be a question of IF Arsenal will be in first place when that week stars, it will be a matter of BY HOW MUCH. What it would mean to this team to get something from that game, much less everything. For now, eyes turn toward Bodø/Glimt midweek.
Revel in the success, feel the clout of beating our rivals, and laugh in the face of anyone that ever tried to claim Arsenal would stumble at this “first” hurdle against a “real team”. The Arsenal are good and people better get used to it!
Check out my usual Standouts and Worries articles for players I though were standouts in Arsenal’s controlling win over Tottenham.