The way that Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have forgotten how to play boring games against each other has meant that emotions for the fans can range wildly even in the 90 minutes of a North London derby. The mixture of feelings that should be confined to a month, or even a season, of football, gets crammed into one intense and high octane game that can lead to major disappointment for the losing team.
In a difficult season, Arsene Wenger had to make sure his team won the game on Saturday. He did it. Whereas the press headlines have been about Arsenal fans chanting ‘Where has our Arsenal gone?’ and ‘Spend some ******* money’, at 5-2 up on Saturday, the supporters were chanting Arsene Wenger’s name once again. The fact that Andre Villas-Boas became the eighth Tottenham manager to experience defeat to Arsene Wenger just shows why the manager still deserves to have his name sung by fans, whatever they might think of other things going on at boardroom level of the club.
However, derby day shouldn't be about boardroom politics. It’s about settling a substantial squabble through football. The first ten minutes of the match were surreal, as the atmosphere was loud and supportive of Arsenal, yet there was still a tinge of unease as Tottenham comfortably controlled the early exchanges. As with Robin van Persie a few weeks ago, there was a horrible inevitability about Emmanuel Adebayor scoring. That inevitability didn't stop the wave of dejection that swept around the ground.
Arsenal weren't in the game. Fans were beginning to get restless. One man behind me was attempting to start the ‘Where has our Arsenal gone?’ chant just as Per Mertesacker headed the ball down towards Santi Cazorla on the right hand side. Emmanuel Adebayor lunged at the Spaniard, and suddenly the mood swung. The deserved red card brought celebrations that are usually reserved for goals.
That one moment of madness from Adebayor didn't just give Arsenal the impetus as a team, but the crowd were suddenly right behind them again. After being slightly culpable for the opening goal, Per Mertesacker’s header was a thing of beauty. He’s a player that has risen dramatically in popularity this season, and people were chuffed to see him make score such a vital goal.
The rest of the first half had the fans riding the crest of the elation of Adebayor’s sending off along with the equaliser. The cauldron from the 5-2 in February had returned, and it bubbled up higher when Podolski somehow forced the ball in, and Olivier Giroud swept home a third. 15 minutes into the game, it looked as if the match could be painfully humiliating for Arsenal. At half time, that feeling had switched to pocket of fans in the away corner of the ground.
At 4-1, most in the stadium felt like a three-goal lead would be enough. After throwing away two goal leads in consecutive games, even though it was the derby, fans began to feel safe when three goals in front. The elation was turning into pure enjoyment.
However, when Gareth Bale netted, suddenly there was a ten-minute period where the Emirates almost fell silent. That perilous two goal lead had returned and few fans felt as if they could truly trust the team to see the game out. After affording the ten men of Spurs a few chances, Arsenal finally regained control of the ball and nerves slowly evaporated.
Theo Walcott finally killed the match off and the relief was massive. The win should be huge for the mentality of the team after not throwing away a lead. Had they blown it against ten men, I'm not sure if there would have been anyway back for the mental state of this Arsenal side.
Alongside the ranging emotions felt in the stands, it was brilliant to see how the players fed off those emotions and understood the importance of the North London derby. It took a few of them until Adebayor was sent off to fully grasp it, but once they did, they played the way fans expect on derby day.
One moment typified it for me. In the second half, Aaron Lennon was chasing a ball down the right with Laurent Koscielny. In an ordinary game, the Frenchman might have been able to control the ball just in front of the winger, turn, and pass it on. In the derby, he charged over there and launched into a massive sliding clearance as if to just warn Lennon that had the Spurs player got there first, he’d have ended up in the crowd with the ball.
Arsenal have to use the momentum of the derby to build a good run of results. All Arsenal fans should be fully behind them now, despite feeling emotionally drained from the derby.