As much as I hate the build up to any North London Derby, you gotta love basking in the aftermath of a victory in one. There can be no sweeter feeling other than winning a trophy.
And so it is that today we are happy as Arsenal fans, because not only did we get the victory in the North London Derby against Jose Mourinho and his team, but we got a victory which was thoroughly deserved and earned from good football and a control of a game in which many has The Scum down as favourites for beforehand.
The starting line up offered a couple of surprises, with Aubameyang dropped because of ‘disciplinary reasons’, as well as no sign of Pepe and Bellerin dropping to the bench. Was Arteta rotating because of injury? Was he rotating because he’s going to do the same on Thursday in the second leg against Olympiakos? Was this going to come back to haunt us with Tottenham fielding a vast array of attacking options? So many questions asked before we’d even touched the ball!
But as soon as it kicked off we knew that he’d made a number of correct decisions. We bossed the entirety of the game and looked in control throughout that first half. Tierney and ESR were getting in behind Doherty time and time again and with Bale proving to be largely ineffective going forward, he offered little in the way of tracking his man and defensive cover, so it allowed our excellent Scotsman multiple opportunities to either feed Smith-Rowe in space, or go beyond his man himself. He was imperious in the whole game and it was his cross that found Odegaard for the equalizer.
It was a thoroughly deserved equaliser too and quite how we had fallen behind was a mystery. Lamela – who isn’t really a player that usually worries me if I’m honest – opened up the scoring with what I have to begrudgingly admit was a superb bit of skill to put them one up, but it was their only attack in to our half in that first 45 and whilst the rabona finish will get the plaudits, I was sat their thinking that of course that was bound to happen with us being so dominant. All season we have seen Arsenal control games and not take advantage of their superiority and when that Lamela goal went in we had already hit the bar through a fine Smith-Rowe shot, then we also had a Cedric shot off the post, leading me to wonder whether this was going to be our day at all.
But the justice would be served to us and it came through that left hand side and Tierney’s cut back to our on loan Norwegian. I thought Odegaard had an excellent game and he was a key player in that victory yesterday. He is so assured on the ball and when he picks it up in any position on the pitch, you just know he isn’t likely to lose it. He has great peripheral vision and awareness and after bagging his first goal for the club against Olympiakos on Thursday evening, he followed it up with another big goal in the derby. That’s how you announce yourself to the Premier League Martin. Good work!
When the second half started I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think we’d have as good a first half as we would in the second, because Tottenham would not be that bad. But you can still control the game and I thought we did that for large chunks of the second half. Saka came off with hamstring troubles – let’s hope that it’s nothing too serious – and Pepe replaced him and it was a swap that did in fact improve us. Pepe looked lively all game and it was his excellent pass to Lacazette which had a big hand in us being awarded a penalty.
So, to the penalty, in which I later watched Jermaine Jenas and Martin Keown both say it was ‘lucky’.
Really? I’d love somebody to give me a decent explanation as to how that was fortunate to be given, because Sanchez is nowhere near Lacazette, doesn’t win the ball, makes connection with the player, for which on any other part of the pitch we’d be seeing a foul being given. It is a foul and therefore it is a penalty. End of discussion. We dispatched it and then needed to see out the game.
Of course that should have been made easier with the Lamela sending off and I’m not sure anybody can have any complaints about that either. Well, Jermaine Jenas will, but he already proved what a fool he was with the argument over the penalty. You cannot push your hand into another opponents face like that and not get booked in today’s game. It was a second yellow which is a red card. End of story.
And that should have been the end of the story for the game too. Except Arsenal always try to find new and terrifying ways in which to scare us to death. With a man advantage we gave away corners, free kicks – one of which Kane hit the post – as well as conceded an offside goal that should have been our warning. Arteta admitted afterwards that we managed the game poorly for ten minutes but that is just our Arsenal these days; we look good for large parts of matches and then have periods in which we look terrified of our own shadows.
But we saw out the victory and it keeps us in positive spirits ahead of Olympiakos on Thursday and then West Ham next weekend.
A quick final shout out to our midfield, who I thought were very good too. Xhaka and Partey give us a technical security in the middle of the park that just isn’t matched by any other midfield pairing we have and it is testimony to their success that I haven’t mentioned them yet, because they were just quietly efficient and protected our back line well.
So it’s onwards and upwards. Enjoy the basking folks. I know I will.