By Paul Williams
Ohhhhhhhh my days. How good did that feel?
Saturday lunchtime saw a genuine top of the table clash between a resurgent Arsenal team and a Tottenham side which, we have to acknowledge are pretty effective at that thing they do. Would Arsenal’s generally excellent home form, particularly in this fixture, hold firm? Or would April’s crushing, season defining, defeat at the Lane be the more accurate predictor?
On the line, leadership of the Premier League – something that seems incredible, even at this embryonic stage of proceedings, given the ridiculousness of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side.
I was actually fairly relaxed about the game, right up until Wednesday morning when my mate James announced that he had a spare ticket for the game, if I wanted it.
Well, what do you think?
And so it came to be that I was sat on a train from East Croydon, speeding towards London Bridge at about half ten Saturday morning, my heart hammering and feet drumming on the floor beneath me.
By the time I had negotiated the, rather crowded exit at Holloway Road, I only had time for one beer with James, his uncle Tony and family friend Fraser before we headed into the ground. Any worries about the early start dampening the vibes diminished by the time we had negotiated a humming concourse.
The game? I guess there’s no point in me talking you extensively through what you’ve already seen, and I probably couldn’t anyway. There was so much going on. A classic example of this coming late in the game when Emerson Royal hacked down Gabriel Martinelli diagonally opposite where we were perched in the east corner of the North Bank.
I’d actually turned around to say something to James, so missed the brandishing of the red card. Having seen it back, I’d say that it was the kind of tackle Spurs have been getting away with against us for about eight years, so I understand Antonio Conte being upset about the card being given. But that doesn’t make it any less of a red card, he shouldn’t complain so much.
What was truly impressive was the way that, aside from the 10 minutes following Harry “he spits when he talks” Kane’s equaliser where we seemed to lose our shape a little, we completely bossed this team. This Spurs team, we were told, were going to come to our home, sit deep, hit us on the break and prove to the football world that we were charlatans, beneficiaries of a very kind fixture list.
Yeah, but actually, no.
Buoyed by a home crowd so intensely into the game I had a headache ten minutes in, we passed and we probed and Gabriel Martinelli was unlucky not to score early on. Then a moment Martin Ødegaard later said we’d prepared for. Thomas Partey had actually been preparing for it ever since his arrival two years ago. With Spurs defending so deep and in such numbers, Ben White rolled the ball to Partey twenty five odd yards out. How many times have we watched the ball sail into upper tiers up and down the land in the last two seasons?
All completely worth it for this absolute ripper which arced and dipped beyond the reach of Hugo Lloris and into the corner of the goal. Bedlam. Limbs everywhere. I actually clocked poor Fraser on his chin (sorry mate) and James came very close to losing his glasses.
The concession of a stonewall penalty was annoying – even though there’s a large part of me who thinks you should be able to kick the p*ss out of Richarlison at all times in all circumstances, it was as stonewall as they come. But that didn’t stop the stream of positivity from the crowd and, despite the fact we were clearly rocked for a few minutes, a moment of magic from Gabriel Jesus – shades of Thierry v Liverpool in the way he cut in from the left – nearly restored our lead at half time.
As it would turn out, despite a half time mood which was less than sunny, we wouldn’t have to wait too much longer for the restoration of our lead. An overlap from Ben White gave Bukayo Saka the space to cut inside and shoot. Lloris spilled his shot, couldn’t gather the rebound from Romero and and it was that man, Jesus, showing tenacity, anticipation and movement I can only say was Wrightyesque to tap us back in front. Looking at the replay of the goal, he was on his bike as soon as Saka shot – and boy did he get his reward. I don’t want to go on about it, but there’s no way Lacazette scores that goal.
It might just be the sheer exhilaration of the day, but after that, I remember nothing from Spurs in an attacking sense. The red card with twenty minutes left felt like the end of the game as a contest, Granit Xhaka made sure it was after Partey carried the ball up the pitch before releasing Martinelli, the ball finding its way to Xhaka to take a touch and fire the ball into the bottom corner. Someone the row in front of us ended up five rows ahead, we’d all swapped seats by the time we finished celebrating.
The game was done, Antonio Conte signalled that he knew it too, making substitutions that reminded me of his countryman Fabio Capello on a similarly tempestuous night at Highbury in 2006. “Okay, we’re going to lose, but not by any more than this”, he seemed to be saying. Pragmatism is all well and good, but I’m not sure how well it will go down with a set of supporters amongst the most deluded in the country.
I suppose if anything he did them a favour, such was the emptying of the away end, soundtracked by an endless serenade from what felt like the entire stadium of “You’ll always be sh*t”, that, by the time Harry Kane and co had made it over to clap their support, they were greeted by an empty away end.
I guess you could say they were, as they had been all afternoon, chasing shadows. Just one sight, amongst many others of a glorious, glorious day. Kieran Tierney inches away from making it that little bit worse for the visitors with a fizzing drive wide.
A word too for the young Frenchman who is week after week becoming possibly the most important player, amongst a few, in our team. The composure with which William Saliba plays would be remarkable even if he wasn’t 21. But he is 21 and up against England’s centre forward, a despicable, snide man of a man, Saliba showed that he is a proper baller. I mean, would you look at this? In the heat of a North London derby, he does it
Stop that Saliba 😂😂😋 pic.twitter.com/WaTq5uqSan
— Bigsam (@BigSam90654061) October 1, 2022
We’ve got a live one here, people. His post game stats were incredible, more ball recoveries than anyone else, not dribbled past, most passes, I could go on.
Suffice to say that, apparently, if you look up the word “integral” in the OED, there’s just a picture of Saliba staring back at you.
And boy do we know it.
— Paul (@rockthecasbah77) October 1, 2022
Source: Daily Cannon.