I will admit there’s a level of *boilk* this morning, but when you wake up to write about a thoroughly enjoyable, and very convincing North London derby win, it doesn’t matter that you have slight regrets about the unnecessary nightcap.
What a fun day that was. Mikel Arteta brought Granit Xhaka back into the side at the expense of Nicolas Pepe, the only change from the side which beat Burnley. If there was some nervousness about that, it was quickly dispelled as Arsenal began the game in exactly the manner you’d want for an occasion like this. We got on top quickly, you could see the seriousness with which we were going about our business, and there was no doubt about who was in charge.
An early goal always helps, we don’t tend to get too many of them at the moment, but it was well deserved. Martin Odegaard worked it to Bukayo Saka on the right, he crossed with his right foot, and there was Emile Smith Rowe, on his toes anticipating the ball before any of their defenders, to tuck it home from close range. His movement was superb, and his delight at scoring was obvious. He called it ‘the best day of my life’ on TV afterwards, and when you’ve grown up at Arsenal, scoring against that lot in the derby has to be a wonderful feeling.
Sp*rs were sort of feeling their way into the game a little bit – if you can count Harry Kane thwacking a shot 90 feet over the bar as being in the game – when we got our second. I’ll admit my heart was in my mouth a bit when Aaron Ramsdale played a pass to Xhaka that might have put us in trouble, but the Swiss international used his body to win the ball and spark a counter-attack. From there it went from Tierney, to Aubameyang, to Smith Rowe (whose first touch was sumptuous), and then back to the captain who swept the ball into the net with his left foot. The knee slide celebration was reminiscent of a former captain, watching from the stands, but it really was no less than we deserved based on how we played.
Then, the pièce de résistance – for me at least. The ball was up our end, Harry Kane literally just fell over, like some kind of John Terry, and again Arsenal pounced to counter at pace. Odegaard’s lovely pass into Smith Rowe allowed him the space to play it out wide to Saka who again drove at their box. He tried to play a pass with his left foot, but Kane, desperate to make up for his earlier error, merely compounded it by sliding in and setting up Saka to drill the ball home with his right foot. I celebrated. I laughed. I LOLebrated.
So, 3-0 up in the derby at half-time. Both of our Hale End graduates with a goal and an assist to their name, delivering the kind of end-product required in big games, but also that we need to see from them as they blossom into the kind of players we hope they can become.
There was another goal for the experienced captain about whom there had been worries before the season began. He now has five goals to his name so far, and this idea that he can’t contribute to the build-up was put to bed by his role in counter-attack for the second goal. No wonder Tony Adams was smiling in the Sky studio at half-time:
— arseblog (@arseblog) September 26, 2021
With a 3-0 lead, the second half was always going to be a bit less eventful as we sat back and invited them to try and break us down. They really couldn’t do that, in part because they weren’t very good, but also because to a man there was huge defensive commitment. When there was some danger, there was always someone on their toes ready to do their part. When Kane did get a shot on target, Ramsdale made the save but Tomiyasu was on hand to get the ball further away.
I suppose I should mention the bit where Ben White appeared to foul Kane in the box, but it doesn’t matter now. Neither the referee or VAR were having any of his nonsense yesterday, which was a bit of a surprise, but a welcome one. If there’s a slight criticism it’s that perhaps we didn’t add some fresh legs a bit sooner, but I can understand why Arteta was happy for the lads out there to keep going. This season is a bit different because the players aren’t fatigued from midweek European action, nor do we have to have that consideration when thinking about sparing them in the final stages of games. Still, they grabbed a scabby goal when Xhaka lay injured, but it really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It was even funny, Son running off celebrating trying to gee up the three Sp*rs fans that were left inside the ground. You have to laugh really.
Kane was so frustrated by his no goal and precision assist that he knocked Gabriel over off the ball, but that was also quite amusing. The Brazilian invited it, in fairness, but I like that Kane fell for it. That was all he had left. A big, lumpy, unhappy man with the demeanour of a grounded child, miserable because he wasn’t allowed to leave this summer and now he knows he’s stuck there forever because nobody’s going to pay what they want for him. Enjoy purgatory (once someone explains to you what that word means).
Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:
It is one of the nicest things I have experienced in this stadium. To win it, to win it in the way that we did, and to feel that connection with the team and the supporters made it really special.
This is an Arsenal team that have won a game today and the manager so a lot of things that it’s very related to and I am proud of the way we played and I’m even more proud of the way we were able to give something back to the fans because they really stuck behind the team.
He was keen to ensure this win was dedicated to the fans, perhaps a bit of ‘management’ after all the criticism this season, but you don’t need to think too hard to understand why. He is trying to mend things after the opening three games, and the way he’s stressed the connection between the team and the supporters has been consistent over the last few weeks.
However, it resonates positively after a game like this, not just because we won – although that’s a significant part obviously – but because we also produced an excellent performance. The team played well to a man, we scored some lovely goals, and played some cracking football at times. It makes it even more special when it comes at the expense of your local rivals, but this is much more the kind of Arsenal we want to see in terms of how we play. That it was a team packed full of new players provides hope that we can continue on this trajectory.
On the sidelines yesterday, you could see how much it meant to the manager:
Fair to say Mikel Arteta enjoyed it pic.twitter.com/X7RgC1bE0Z
— arseblog (@arseblog) September 26, 2021
He’s always been an animated presence in his technical area, but there was something a bit different about yesterday. I still think it’s a bit early to say something has clicked, but the last three victories have been built on the kind of hard work that can only come when there is a togetherness and belief behind the scenes. That has been apparent in the performances, and yesterday was another little step forward, something we can hopefully continue to build on.
Three games ago, they were top of the table, and we had yet to score a goal, let alone win. We’re now above them, so it illustrates that things can change very quickly in football. It means we have to keep this level going, to start winning with more consistency and frequency, but the team has done everything that was asked … demanded of it, after that start to the season, and this morning that feels really good.
It’d be remiss of me not to mention how good a day this was for Arsenal Football Club as a whole, not simply because we won the derby, but also because Arsenal Women absolutely demolished WSL title rivals Man City 5-0 at Borehamwood. New manager Jonas Eidevall has had a hugely positive start to his time at the club, and you can read what he had to say about the win here.
Good vibes all round, let’s keep it going.
Also, many thanks for the birthday wishes yesterday, I’m so glad Arsenal provided the perfect present, and one that we could all share in.
Right, I’ll leave it there for now. James is back from his holidays, and we’ll be recording the Arsecast Extra for you later this morning. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.
Podcast should be out at lunchtime or thereabouts, so until then, take it easy .