It was Derby day at London, and sitting in front on my TV with trepidation, thousands of miles away, I could sense the excitement that must have been passing through millions of supporters of both clubs.
Tottenham Hotspur, the visitors, were on a high, as genuine title contenders, playing a brand of football that Arsenal had played some years back. Their manager Harry Redknapp is being widely tipped to be appointed as the manager of the English team. While Arsenal was staring down the barrel, a 4-0 thrashing at San Paulo to AC Milan, followed by a defeat at the Stadium of Lights to Sunderland meant that they were destined to be trophy-less for the seventh successive season. Perhaps no other premiership manager would have had his job intact, but then this was Arsene Wenger, the maestro, battling it out. Supporters’ patience was being tested; a clamour was already on for his head.
The pre-match talk on ESPN did not add to boost my morale as I had a nervous feeling that we were in for a whipping. My daughter Ginny was sulking by my side as Star Sports had blacked out the Man Utd vs Norwich match.
The match was hardly four minutes old when a horrible deflection of a Louis Saha shot off deflected off Vermaelen into the net.
Ginny smiled: “Dad, brace yourself for a drubbing. You would have been spared the ordeal had Star Sports telecast the other match as the TV then would have been mine.”
A hotly disputed penalty on the 35th minute was awarded against Arsenal. As Adebayor stepped up to take the shot, Gunners were screaming abuses. However, he calmly slotted home and much to the relief of everybody did not gesticulate at the home supporters like what he had done during his City days. Ginny flashed me a sympathetic smile. All I could do was to nod. My face must have resembled Wenger’s, who looked thoroughly beaten.
Like all Gunners inside the stadium who were lambasting every mistake the team made, I was also abusing silently, cursing inside my breath. The humiliation of the 8-2 drubbing to United loomed large.
What then followed was pure phantasmagoria, surreal, the stuff that dreams are supposedly made of.
No one perhaps inside the stadium could believe that Arsenal could come back from this two goal deficit. But they did, that too in style. A vintage Arsenal emerged with a display that stumped their rivals, shattered the aspirations of a team that was supposedly challenging City for the title race. A pulsating seven-goal thriller was the end result. The result was the resurrection of a team most have given up as a lost cause.
Five minutes before the break, Arsenal was trailing by two goals when Bacary Sagna’s, powerful header found the net. As I leapt out of the bed screaming, my fists clenched, Ginny, who had gone out of the room moments before, collided with me trying to find out what had happened.
Hardly had the excitement died down, when there was a peach of a goal by the indomitable RVP, whose curler found the net. This time there was no stopping me as I embraced Ginny and forced her to enact a Kolaveri-di jig with me.
2-2. Match on.
Last year, the Gunners had squandered a 2 goal advantage to go down 2-3 to Spurs. Such thoughts were drifting in and out of my head as I sipped tea during the break waiting for the match to resume.
Out came a resurgent bunch of men in red and white. The transformation was palpable. Walcott, who had a forgettable first half appeared, rejuvenated. The team stepped up the tempo as waves of attack seemed to cower down the visitors clad in blue and white. Rosicky fired home six minutes into the second half to put Arsenal in front first time in the match, his first league goal in almost two years.
There was no stopping of the Gunners who were clearly on a rampage as they tore into Spurs with a killer’s instinct; the passes appeared incisive and there was a clear urgency to go for the jugular.
There after it was the turn of Walcott to steal the show. His brace made the scoreline 5-3.
It was pure ecstasy for the Gunners as their team displayed a brand of football they had appeared to have forgotten. They played like men possessed. In the high-voltage derby, tempers frayed. Scott Parker got sent off for a ludicrous lunge of Vermaelen, his second booking. Redknapp too, lost his cool. All was happening inside the Emirates.
It was the second time this season that Arsenal had conjured the impossible. They proved that their 5-3 victory against Chelsea was not a flash in the pan. This was a display by a champion team. True, Arsenal had not been at their best for the past few years. Wenger’s stubbornness to buy quality players and lack of support from the board had dented their aspiration causing angst, frustration amongst their loyal supporters.
Arguably one of the best of the season so far, the result of this match would be a shot in the arm for Wenger, who furrowed brows reflected his sagging spirits of late. His contented smile at the end of the match was indeed a photographer’s delight.
The ovation the players got from the crowd was simply awesome, as my palms too were red and raw after continuously clapping on throughout the match. The cups of tea that my wife had to make throughout the match added to my spirits that was lifted like any other dedicated Gunner.
It was indeed a day when I could say “Proud to be a Gunner”.