Arsenal delivered a counter-attacking masterclass to claim a comfortable win over Spurs in the north London derby on Sunday.
I confess, I really didn’t know what to expect from Mikel Arteta’s men heading into the match but they were sublime in the opening 45 minutes to a man and scarcely allowed the visitors a sniff in a dominant display.
Game-state dictated that the Gunners cede possession and space in the second half and the result was, frankly, uncomfortable viewing but, in the end, the Gunners held firm at the back to claim a morale-boasting, momentum-building victory.
After an abject opening three matches of the season, this clash was looked at as the one which might well decide the manager’s fate but, as is so often the case in football, things change fast.
Instead of facing the chop, the manager has bought himself breathing space and time for this project to develop and what a way to do it.
Nuno Espirito Santo has a pretty good record against Arsenal playing intelligent counter-attacking football so it came as a big surprise that he seemed to eschew that formula for a more front-foot approach at the outset.
If nothing else, it was ballsy and a real gauntlet thrown down to this young Arsenal side. I can see why he did it, but boy was he burned. Instead of buckling under the pressure, the Gunners turned defence into attack at devastating speed and were, frankly, inch-perfect in front of goal.
The visitors were all at sea defensively and never really recovered from going behind. Goals two and three quickly followed – the result of more turnovers and rapid breaks – and the match was done by the break.
Of course, when you get so far ahead so early in a game, it makes sense to alter the approach but the second half wasn’t particularly good. I understand those who would ask why we felt we needed to change tact at all.
But for some wasteful finishing and some good saves, matters have been a little more uncomfortable for the Gunners – who rarely ventured forward with the same gusto in the second period as they did in the first.
That said, they really didn’t need to. The hard work, sharp passing, and deadly finishing on show in the opening 45 minutes was enough to put the match far beyond a ragged and dispirited Spurs side.
It’s always tough to pick out a star man when so many players were at the top of their game but Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe were outstanding midfield floaters while Aaron Ramsdale was sensational between the sticks.
The former Sheffield United man was the subject of much hand-wringing among fans when news of our interest first break but he is showing week-in, week-out why that was utter social media nonsense. He looks as if he lives for the challenge and plays so much of the time like a boy living his dream. Good for him and good for our defence which looks more a cohesive unit now than it has more an age.
Credit also to Arteta who is starting to get some change out of this young team. I don’t doubt for a moment that there will be tougher times to come and more questions will be asked but, in these last few weeks, this side has started to come together. Sprinkled with a few older, wiser heads, it is growing up fast and, best of all, it still has plenty more room to go.
The only real downside of the afternoon was the surrender of our clean sheet. It’s difficult to defend against any side for 45 minutes and not concede a chance or two but a clean sheet would have been the icing on a delicious derby cake.
Alas, it wasn’t to be this time but let’s not be churlish. I went into the afternoon unsure of what we might see and ended it with three points and three sensational goals. You can’t argue with that.