18 games unbeaten. No defeat since August. But there was a bit of scepticism towards Arsenal. The defence was branded, not without reason, as shaky; the Gunners were guilty of underwhelming first halves, if not in performance, definitely in results. So, those 18 games unbeaten had elements of ‘although’ in them, and as Unai Emery’s side prepared to host Tottenham in the first post-Wenger derby, many saw this as the game where their progress could truly be measured, irrespective of the Gunners having played Liverpool earlier in November, a game against opponents who spent the week beating Inter Milan and Chelsea.

In that case, the Gunners gave the most resounding statement with a 4-2 win in a brilliant derby at the Emirates. It was a game that showcased qualities Arsenal used to be known for; resilience, doggedness, spirit and a sheer sense of superiority. ‘…we had the fans behind us and we had power, we felt strong’, said forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang afterwards, while his teammate Lucas Torreira pointed out Arsenal showing their ‘spirit and our soul during the game’. ‘We won against a good team and showed a very good performance’, was goalkeeper Bernd Leno’s assessment after the final whistle.

If you were a progress examiner sent by the Premier League or football itself to evaluate Arsenal on their improvements, it would have been hard to resist the temptation not to mark them as ‘ready and primed’ after just ten minutes. The Gunners were well and truly on the front foot from the off, pushing Spurs back, harrying their visitors, and celebrating a deserved lead after Jan Vertonghen’s ill-advised handball meant Aubameyang would score from 12 yards.

Arsenal had been accused as slow starters so far this season, again a valid point – they hadn’t led a single league game at halftime in the league – but here they paid very little interest in playing in accordance to the ‘getting-to-you-know’ phase of the game, quickly out of the blocks, and only a sharp save from Hugo Lloris denied Alex Iwobi putting the hosts two up. It was the kind of display Spurs have been synonymous with putting, particularly against this same club during the old and sometimes lacklustre regime, but here it was Spurs who looked like they hadn’t left the bus, passes astray, panicky in midfield, and offering next-to-nothing in attack.

But they would get their break just past the half hour mark, after Sokratis’ foul on Son Heung-Min outside the box, with Eric Dier heading Christian Eriksen’s free-kick into Leno’s near post for the equaliser. Dier’s ‘shush’ celebration sparked a few handbags on the touchline between opposing players, but it was followed afterwards on the pitch that had the semblance of chaos, particularly for the hosts. Both teams had barely gotten to grips with the game being 1-1 when Spurs broke forward again, and Son was deemed to be have been fouled again, this time by Rob Holding, and, more crucially, in the box. Harry Kane stepped and made no mistake from 12 yards, equalling Emmanuel Adebayor’s record of eight goals in this derby.

Arsenal fans were stunned, and the feel at the Emirates was one akin to catastrophic disbelief, this was what many deemed as their first real test, they were failing, and once again they’d go into halftime without a lead. This was the time to test Arsenal’s mettle; and they lived up to that challenge after the break, the sense of deflation and shock didn’t pervade the Emirates for long. ‘We don’t give up and that’s the mentality’ said Aubameyang on whether the Gunners are becoming more resilient, and it was the Gabonese forward who grabbed his side’s equaliser, a finish of deluxe class for his 10th league goal of the season.

From then on, it was practically all Arsenal, the Gunners had shown resilience once again, just as they’d done in some games prior to this, particularly at home to Liverpool. But this was the first game against any top-six side in a while where they was a palpable sense of superiority, and huge credit falls to Emery for restoring that in this game, not least with those halftime substitutions. ‘Before I started this match I prepared in my mind different situations in the match. One was this’, said the Gunners manager. ‘Why? Because Lacazette has very big efficiency in scoring against every team and because Aaron has experience against Tottenham and in derby matches.’

And did those work a treat; Ramsey supplied Aubameyang for the equaliser, and Lacazette, with the aid of a deflection, put the Gunners in front. Spurs never looked like replying and when Torreira added a fourth with his first goal for the club, and followed it up with a typical derby celebration (shirt off, knee-slide and bellowing at the sky), the Gunners had the derby very much in their palms. It was a nigh-on complete performance, the ‘yeah buts’ that followed previous games was non-existent, no ‘what ifs’ over this win, it was unquestionable and unadulterated.

The Gunners face another tough test right after this, with a trip to Old Trafford coming in midweek, but are far from fazed, and not without reason. Emery signed up for big tests, and was hired to provide a sense of belief going into those said tests, and isn’t failing so far. ‘We know it will be difficult (against Manchester United), it’s a big challenge for us and we want to have a lot of challenges like that.’

**quotes from arsenal.com

Sense of what might have been lingers in South Coast stalemate

Two points dropped, or one point gained? For Southampton it would look like a good point against Manchester United had they not thrown away a two-goal lead, no side has dropped points from winning positions this season than Mark Hughes’ side. For United, it was a commendable fight-back at the South Coast, at least it would be if they weren’t so awful before going two behind, and so listless after going level. The Saints are still in the drop-zone, with just one win all season, while the Red Devils are in seventh, eight points off the top four, and 16 from the top, with a run of three league wins in nine.

Bedlam in Merseyside derby

It was done and dusted. Four minutes of added time were given in the Merseyside derby. Six had been played, and we were heading for a fair draw when Liverpool launched one last attack. As the ball came the way of Virgil van Dijk who set himself for the volley, images of Germany-Holland in the Nations League formed, except this time the volley was awful. Yet as the ball spun and moved, Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford made a clanger of anticipation, resulting in the ball falling to Divock Origi, who couldn’t miss from a yard out. Jurgen Klopp sprinted onto the pitch in bedlam, Origi grabbed the ball in a fit of confusion, and the Everton players raised their hands to the officials, almost like they needed a message that there was no way a point just got taken from them. Liverpool were anything but convincing, superior, or fluid, but they’ve won again. No matter how they do it, they just won’t lose sight of leaders Manchester City.

Liverpool and the most berserk of derby wins

Elsewhere:

  • It was back to winning ways in the league for Chelsea, who saw off Fulham in the West London derby (that many don’t really fancy) to go third. Fulham boss and former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri saw the positives in his side’s loss, claiming this performance was even better than the win over Southampton, and while that may seem patronising, it wasn’t without reason. Fulham didn’t let their heads drop after conceding early, no sense of defeatism, and when Chelsea’s second goal came, it was a game still very much in the balance. The Cottagers, though, still remain at the foot of the table.
  • Another defeat for Wolves, whose bubble has very much burst. Five losses in six, Nuno Esprito Santo’s side host Chelsea next.
  • Newcastle fans were just finishing their 11th-minute protests when they were put in bother, Javier Hernandez putting West Ham in front early on at St. James Park. A resounding win for the Hammers, who climb above their hosts, while Rafa Benitez’s Magpies’ winning run comes to a giant halt.

Results

Leicester 2-0 Watford

Liverpool 1-0 Everton

Southampton 2-2 Manchester United

Newcastle 0-3 West Ham

Cardiff 2-1 Wolves

Huddersfield 1-2 Brighton

Chelsea 2-0 Fulham

Manchester City 3-1 Bournemouth

Crystal Palace 2-0 Burnley

Arsenal 4-2 Tottenham

Published in International Watch