Arsenal take down Tottenham to continue revenge tour and encourage genuine title talk
"Every defeat has a scar," said Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta ahead of the north London derby against Tottenham. Some of those scars, one would imagine, are bigger than others.
Saturday's reunion with Spurs would have evoked particularly painful memories for Arsenal players and fans.
The last time the sides had met, in May, Arsenal missed the chance to secure Champions League qualification as they lost 3-0 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. When the Gunners then lost again in their next match at Newcastle United, Tottenham stole in to finish fourth.
Of course, the entire collapse played out before the Amazon cameras for Arsenal's All or Nothing documentary series.
Antonio Conte, the Tottenham coach, is yet to finish the series – although he plans to – but did confirm this week he had watched "that episode".
However, Arteta's team, Conte added, are "better" than in 2021-22 – "not only the quality but also the mentality of Arsenal".
Indeed, Arsenal suffered another damaging 3-0 defeat late last season at Crystal Palace but won 2-0 on their return to Selhurst Park on the opening day of this season. Before the international break, there was a 3-0 win at Brentford that Arsenal players were not quiet in celebrating, having also been humiliated there on their previous visit.
So, the revenge tour rolled on to Tottenham, with Arteta determined to use that May reverse "in the right way", suggesting Arsenal were not just better but better specifically because of that setback.
And for almost 30 minutes at Emirates Stadium, just about everything went to plan.
Arsenal – top of the Premier League table heading into a game against Spurs for the first time since 2007 – played as they had done all season.
The Gunners dominated possession and penned Tottenham in. When Thomas Partey curled in a brilliant opener from 25 yards after 20 minutes, Kane was the only Spurs player ahead of the ball.
It was the fourth time Arsenal had scored this season following a sequence of 10 or more passes – matching Manchester City's league high – and the third in their past two fixtures alone.
An eighth Arsenal goal in the opening half an hour of matches this season represented another Premier League benchmark, but their familiar frailties were also on show before that period was out.
While forcing Spurs back suited Arteta's game plan, it also played into the visitors' hands.
Tottenham lead the league in direct attacks in 2022-23, and the first in a series of rapid counters ended with a rash challenge from Gabriel on Richarlison and a Spurs penalty.
No fixture in Premier League history has seen more spot-kicks, and when Harry Kane coolly converted, it marked his fourth consecutive goal from the spot at Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal were suddenly struggling, with only the imperious William Saliba stemming the tide, and in need of the mentality Conte had lauded.
Yet the Spurs coach had also identified the cause of this shift, citing the importance of Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus – "two players who are used to winning" – arriving from City.
Zinchenko was fit to start, while Jesus was refreshed after missing out on the Brazil squad and vowing to "improve" in a bid to earn a World Cup recall.
Arsenal's number nine attempted a game-high four shots – all of them after Spurs had equalised – and there was no surprise when he was the man on hand to prod in a vital second after Hugo Lloris twice failed to gather in front of his goal line.
With Arsenal this time determined not to shoot themselves in the foot, it was Tottenham's turn to lose their composure, seeing Emerson Royal sent off for a poor challenge on Gabriel Martinelli and failing to track the rejuvenated Granit Xhaka as he ran through to add the clinching third.
Coasting thereafter, a partying Emirates crowd welcomed Arsenal's first win against 'big six' opposition this season – key, surely, to hopes to turn a strong start into a genuine title challenge.
Maybe success against City or next opponents Liverpool – teams Arteta has beaten only once in 10 combined attempts – will be required to turn the doubters into believers, for the Arsenal manager has now won each of his first three league matches at home to Spurs and had not until now looked like leading a team into contention.
But given the manner in which last season ended, given the self-inflicted adversity before half-time, this 3-1 Arsenal victory could not be seen as anything other than a significant step forward.
"It's the nicest game of the season by a mile," Arteta said on Friday. Little over 24 hours later, unlike in May, it felt like it.