Rabonas, red cards and reckless defending — the North London derby at the Emirates on Sunday evening was electric and full of surprises as new Arsenal signings shone bright, and we couldn’t be more thankful for the much-needed dose of drama.
It all kicked off even before the starting whistle, as Gunners boss Mikel Arteta benched captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang due to an unspecified disciplinary breach (allegedly showing up late, though this hasn’t been confirmed).
To the press, Arteta said: “[Aubameyang] was going to start the game. We had a disciplinary issue, we have drawn the line and we move on, he’s on the bench… It’s a decision made after evaluating everything about what Auba has done and that’s it.” Later, after Arsenal’s win, Aubameyang took to Instagram and borrowed a couple words from the manager, posting: “North London is red and that’s it!” (Buddy and teammate Alexandre Lacazette responded: "My captain!!!" with a heart emoji.)
Back on the pitch, Spurs midfielder Son Heung-min had to come off at the 19th minute with a hamstring injury, so both teams were missing crucial players.
Jose Mourinho, who looked stone-faced and made nary a peep during the majority of the tense fixture, brought on Erik Lamela as Son’s replacement. Within 15 minutes, Lamela upped the ante by scoring a stunningly precise nutmeg rabona — a miraculous goal that you and I will be watching on repeat for a while. But that was it for Spurs’ accomplishments — one moment of brilliance overshadowed by a hodgepodge of wasted chances and defeated sighs from Harry Kane that might have rung out in the crowd-free stadium.
Arsenal came back with a vengeance from a goal behind, as new guy on the block Martin Odegaard equalised just before half-time. On loan from Real Madrid, the sprightly Norwegian looks at home at the Emirates already, arguing with refs and celebrating the team’s wins. The 22-year-old could be an indication of what Arsenal’s younger starting players, including Emile Smith Rowe, 20, and Bukayo Saka, 19, could mean for the future of this team.
A particular moment that stood out for Saka, who ended the match with a limp and a smile, was when he was being hounded by defenders from every angle and got back up two or three times before finally going down. A fighting spirit if we’ve ever seen one.
From rabona to red, Lamela picked up two yellows and was sent off at the 76th minute, but Arsenal had already secured their win against an 11-man team by then, thanks to a controversial 64th minute winning pen from an impassioned Alexandre Lacazette.
Reckless yet determined defending on Arsenal’s behalf led to several free kicks given to the Spurs, but Kane struggled to make lemonade out of lemon each time. (Cedric Soares, who confirmed a move to Arsenal last year, showed his own dedicated to team, lying behind the defensive wall to prevent any low kicks from sneaking through.)
The most exciting 30 seconds of the match came when one of Kane’s free-kicks hit the post and Davinson Sanchez redirected the rebound powerfully towards the net, only for 23-year-old Gabriel (the Brazilian debuted for Arsenal this season) to heroically block it with his head, receiving a fierce celebratory hug from Granit Xhaka afterwards. When the defending is so sublime it gives you the same rush as your team scoring, that’s a good sign. After Arsenal’s (admittedly ongoing) struggles with building a solid defensive line, it’s promising to see players like Gabriel face the challenge head-on — quite literally.
Ultimately, Spurs’ dreams of a top-four finish took a massive blow and Mourinho wasn’t afraid to put his team on blast, though he didn’t single out any one performance gone wrong.
“People hiding, not showing themselves, no intensity, no passing and moving,” said the stern boss, before turning his attention to Laca’s penalty.
Lacazette had collected a pass from Nicolas Pepe and sliced the ball when Sanchez flew into the striker recklessly, missing the ball. The moment went to VAR, where referee Michael Oliver’s initial decision to award a penalty was confirmed. The moment divided commentators and clearly didn’t sit well with Mourinho.
“I don’t want to call it a penalty because it’s an offence to penalties,” he said. “If somebody has a different opinion it has to be one of the big Arsenal fans with a season ticket; it is the only one I accept as it is the passion speaking. Other than that I don’t accept a different view as it is obvious.”
Now Spurs sit seventh in the table, a notch above Liverpool, after winning three and losing two of their last five games. Meanwhile Arsenal, who won three of their last five fixtures, losing one and drawing the other, are 10th.
But after a wonderful showing from the new guys on Saturday night, during one of the English Premier League’s most dearly anticipated derbies, North London is indeed red. Now it's up to Arteta and his old and new playmakers to make sure it stays that way.