We don’t need to talk about the importance of the North London Derby. We all know the historical reasons why Spurs our our rivals. We all love to have bragging rights for a few months. And we all know the importance of this particular match as both a response to Arsenal’s defeat in Munich and in terms of Arsenal’s title challenge. In short, this match is bigger than global warming.
We could talk about the injuries which have taken a toll on Arsenal. Given the fact that Arsenal beat Man U and Bayern with a full squad and then followed that up with two tough losses to Sheffield Wednesday and Bayern Munich, it’s pretty clear that the Gunners are firing with half a keg of powder at the moment. But there’s not much that can be done about injuries except hand-wringing and fan-guessing who will play and what kind of performances they will put in.
And we could talk about what tactics we would like to see Arsenal deploy. Given the fact that Pochettino is a former Bielsa player, like Pep Guardiola in midweek, and given the fact that Tottenham are mostly healthy, I’m expecting them to try to control spaces both in and out of possession. Arsenal have to counter that with a more energetic version of the match in midweek. The Gunners simply cannot sit back and let Spurs dictate play. Arsenal have to control space in defense and hit Tottenham quickly on the counter. It’s going to be a tough match and Arsenal are going to have to put in a full performance to get all three points.
We can talk about those things but what I love about this match is how form, tactics, and our injury record seems to go out the window. The North London Derby, more than any other match of the season, is the ground on which heroes are born.
These matches create iconic moments, both good and bad. There’s the famous Lansbury leap when Arsenal won 4-1 in the League Cup and it’s opposite, the infamous Bendtner-Adebayor row in the same fixture two seasons prior. Of course, even in the midst of our shame, Spurs one-upped us in the shame department by releasing a DVD of the match!
But I don’t want to dwell on the negative moments: I tend to forget those pretty quickly. The ones where Arsenal doing something spectacular are my favorite football memories.
For example, remember’s Sagna’s header? Arsenal were down 2-0 at home. Louis Saha had scored a deflected shot to make it 0-1. Then Gareth Bale was played clean through on almost the exact same pass that had set Saha though and won a penalty. That’s when Arteta just stood a ball up from the left to the right. It wasn’t to any particular player and it wasn’t even a very good ball but Sagna just ran up and attacked the ball, sending a bullet header past the hapless keeper. Arsenal went on to win that match 5-2.
Arsenal were below Spurs in the table before that match. In fact, Arsenal were below Chelsea in 5th place at kickoff. That win, that comeback, spurred on Arsenal’s season and the Gunners finished 3rd. Which they needed to do to secure Champions League football because Chelsea finished 6th that season but took the 4th Champions League place away from Tottenham because they won the Champions League. In my mind, that header saved our season.
Of course there’s the legendary goal that Thierry Henry scored against Spurs in 2002. Easily the best solo goal in Arsenal’s Premier League history. It’s such an iconic moment that Arsenal enshrined it in Bronze outside the stadium. It’s a moment of such majestic beauty that Arsenal had to make it as permanent as possible, like Michelangelo’s David or Nelson’s Column.
But for me Vieira’s goal in 2004 is more memorable. I’m not suggesting that I’ll forget Henry’s goal, but Arsenal should have won the League that season and they finished 2nd instead. So, while Henry’s goal was a great individual moment, I agree with Arsene Wenger that those individual moments are as meaningless as drops of rain when compared to a storm.
Tottenham won an early corner but Gilberto headed away easily to Thierry Henry. Henry carried neatly up the pitch a bit to create a passing lane and slotted the ball to Bergkamp. Bergkamp had one look up and saw Vieira bombing through the midfield and slotted a caviar pass to him. Vieira reached out with his telescopic right leg and poked the goal home. Vieira had sprinted nearly the entire length of the pitch to get that goal. It was a goal which perfectly embodied that Arsenal team who could rapaciously turn defense into attack.
Arsenal won the League that day, at White Hart Lane. They won the League at White Hart Lane. They won the League in the cesspool. They won the League at White Hart Lane.
They won the League and went undefeated that season. It was the best team that Wenger ever produced and that goal is my favorite from that season. That goal was the filet of a season that was all Wagyu beef.
Impossible to bronze that moment but my friend @11cannons made a great drawing of it, and that drawing hangs on my living room wall.You should go buy a print if you still can.
There have been other moments that stand out in my mind, Rosicky’s hair catching the sun just before he bangs in the only goal of an Arsenal defensive masterclass or Flamini’s volley in the League Cup just a few weeks ago, but those three above are my favorites.
What I want more than anything else tomorrow is another moment like that Vieira goal. A moment which defines our season, which crystallizes this Arsenal side as title challengers.