EMIRATES STADIUM, LONDON—The story of this fixture is laced with enmity, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for a joke.
Arriving at Arsenal’s media lounge, I wandered over to take in the hot lunch options. Among the dishes on display, I spotted lasagna: a reference, intentionally or otherwise, to the food-poisoning controversy that cost Tottenham a Champions League place in 2006.
Clearly someone in the Arsenal kitchen has a sense of humour.
It’s Spurs who will have been left feeling sick to their stomachs once again after another North London Derby defeat.
Arsenal started brightly, with the mercurial Santi Cazorla plainly keen to make an impression. He went close with two brilliantly executed free-kicks. The first was palmed away by Hugo Lloris, while the second crept cleverly under the wall but agonisingly past the post.
However, after Arsenal’s fast start, Tottenham began to seize control. The sheer size and power of their midfield trio allowed them to assert a degree of dominance, and left-winger Nacer Chadli appeared to have the beating of Carl Jenkinson, who was filling in for the ill Bacary Sagna.
However, just as Spurs felt they were getting a foothold, Arsenal destabilised them with a beautifully worked goal. Tomas Rosicky played in Theo Walcott, and the England winger’s cross was expertly steered home with the outside of Olivier Giroud’s boot.
It was Giroud’s fourth goal in five games this season. In the absence of a marquee signing, Giroud is emerging as a reliable centre-forward for Arsenal.
The goal completely changed the pattern of the game, as is so often the case. Tottenham might have felt aggrieved at going behind, but similarly Arsenal will feel they should have ended the half two or three goals to the good. Aaron Ramsey fired over when well-placed inside the penalty area, and a darting Theo Walcott run was halted by the superb sweeping of Hugo Lloris.
Five minutes before the whistle, Arsenal lost midfield talisman Jack Wilshere to illness. He was replaced by Mathieu Flamini, making his second debut for the club just days after completing his free transfer. Flamini threw himself into the action as if he hadn’t been away, making up for a slight lack of fitness and finesse with lots of gutsy challenges and plenty of committed pointing. It took the former France international just 15 minutes to pick up the first booking of his second Arsenal spell.
The pattern of the second half was more consistent than the topsy-turvy first 45 minutes. As they did against Fulham, the majority of the Arsenal team sat back, stationed behind the ball. They then looked to launch rapier counter-attacks to find the crucial second goal.
Spurs cranked up the pressure, introducing the likes of Jermain Defoe and Erik Lamela as they sought a valuable equaliser.
It wasn’t to be. A spirited Arsenal rear-guard action helped keep Tottenham at bay.
Olivier Giroud’s heroic performance summed up Arsenal’s attitude and will to win. Aside from his winning goal, he threw himself into countless challenges to protect his own goal. He ended the match with his hands on his knees, exhausted. Unless Arsenal acquire a new striker to relieve the considerable burden on his shoulders, he should become accustomed to that feeling.
Everybody knows that it was a big game for us and the fans were really excited for this derby. We did well and we never gave up and we showed a real togetherness.
At the final whistle, the Arsenal fans turned to their Tottenham counterparts, taunting them by replicating Gareth Bale’s patented "heart" celebration gesture.
That’s the tremendous thing about this sport. Even in the heat of battle, there’s room for a bit of fun.
Turns out that cheeky lasagna was something of an omen.