The rivalry between Arsenal and Tottenham is one based on geographical proximity. Ever since Arsenal moved from Woolwich, the residents of North London have been divided into red and white. However, in this derby victory at White Hart Lane, Arsenal’s players showed that you don’t have to be born and bred in Islington to understand what the derby means.
When Liverpool dismantled their Northwest rivals Manchester United earlier in the day, they did so with a team including seven British players, six of whom were English. By contrast, Arsenal’s XI to face Spurs contained just two Englishmen: Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. There was also three Frenchman, two Germans, two Spaniards, a Pole and a Czech.
However, Arsenal’s commitment to the cause could not be questioned. From the very first minute, it was entirely evident what this game meant to the players. When Tomas Rosicky’s extraordinary shot hit the net, the celebrations rivalled anything Arsenal have produced this season. Olivier Giroud almost throttled the diminutive midfielder as his delight took hold.
Rosicky was a fitting scorer to settle the game. He has become something of a symbol of Arsenal’s renaissance. His combination of superb technique and restless tenacity has become synonymous with the Gunners' recent revival—he is almost the archetypal Arsene Wenger player. After the match, Wenger told Arsenal.com that the goal had special significance to him:
It will go in my collection of great goals. I told Tomas that because first of all he's not a typical goalscorer and he surprised everybody. He had not even time to realise what he was doing and it was in the back of the net. It was an unbelievable goal.
Arsenal fought like tigers to protect their lead. We’ve seen similar performances before this season—the 1-0 away win at Newcastle springs to mind—but from a defensive point of view, this might have been the Gunners' pièce de résistance.
At the heart of it all was Per Mertesacker. Mertesacker was simply imperious against Spurs, and he prevented Arsenal fans from having to endure the sight of Emmanuel Adebayor celebrating a goal against his former club.
Mertesacker knows what this game means more than most. As a young boy in Germany, he was given an Arsenal shirt by a family member. An antipathy to Spurs is engrained into him.
The same is not quite true of Lukas Podolski. However, at full-time the German forward climbed into the stands to celebrate with the Arsenal fans. If it wasn’t for the kit he was wearing, you would have sworn he was standing among the supporters at his beloved FC Koln. For those few moments, he was just another fan.
Overseeing it all was Arsene Wenger. This was his 999th match in charge of Arsenal, and his 43rd North London derby. Remarkably, he has lost just six times in those 43 matches.
Wins like this bring the team and the fans closer together. It doesn’t matter where you’re from: all Arsenal fans can savour a victory over Tottenham.