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The north London derby is back

OPINION: Sunday's match at the Emirates Stadium was a heart-stopper and, even with a bit of scrapping, not only were Arsenal back, but so was this fixture

07 December, 2018 — By Richard Osley

SPURS fans won’t read this, they don’t want to hear a reality check.

The truth, however, is that the best Tottenham Hotspur team you have seen assembled for decades were only second best in the north London derby on Sunday against an Arsenal team which, in contrast, has been patched together as it goes through a rebuild.

Not for 10 minutes or 20 minutes, but for virtually the whole match, Arsenal were better than Spurs.

Let’s be clear, this was not the Invincibles, not Henry, Bergkamp, and Vieira; this is a line-up being weaned off its Wenger dependency.

And it wasn’t a win secured through a freak of nature, a crazy ricochet, or a fortunate penalty award.

No, aside from those chaotic moments when Bernd Leno made a goalkeeping error and Spurs earned a very soft penalty, it was a surprisingly one-sided encounter. It is a surprising because Tottenham should be, and maybe are, better than Arsenal at this present time, after all these years. The only two possible explanations for the 4-2 result, then, and it maybe a mixture of both, is that Spurs got stage fright, or bottled it if you will – and/or Arsenal went up a level. The latter is the more interesting factor to consider, as this space has devoted a couple of rainforests’ worth of paper explaining Tottenham’s big-match comedy over the years.

For the impression that Arsenal, against the predictions, were able to raise their game, suggests the Gunners may have made a very shrewd appointment in Unai Emery. He did not wait until the 75th minute like Arsene Wenger might have, to make incisive changes.

Alex Iwobi’s stepovers were ineffective, so off he came. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was running down blind alleys, so he too was withdrawn. Emery’s men, meanwhile, seem to be enthused by the task in hand, again a contrast from the lethargy which infected the latter-day Wenger years.

Matteo Guendouzi has only been at the club for a matter of months but was seen honking a horn and waving to fans from a car window down the Holloway Road as if suddenly the squad realised what the derby matches means to the supporters.

One of the comebacks from Tottenham fans in recent days was the accusation that the Arsenal players’ festival of celebrations were similar to those of a cup final victory.

It’s a cruel argument in our endless rivalry because for so many years the match was not competitive.

Sunday was a heart-stopper and, even with a bit of scrapping, not only were Arsenal back, but so was the north London derby. The Carabao Cup tie coming up is a pointless encounter given the low esteem which most hold for that trophy, but expect Spurs to be raging for revenge in their home league match.

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