The old saying rings true. All form goes out the window in a derby match.
Despite being five points clear at the top of the Premier League table and in scintillating form, Arsenal still headed to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with an air of apprehension.
Despite Tottenham being in exceptionally poor form, there was still a worry that their neighbours could be out to cause an upset. And what an upset it would be.
Given Manchester United’s controversial win over Manchester City on Saturday lunchtime, Arsenal were handed the unique proposition of finding themselves eight points clear at the summit of the Premier League table, and their neighbours would love nothing better than to spoil the party.
Playing away from home is never easy. In the initial stages, as was predicted, Tottenham began to dictate the passage of play. For the first five minutes, Arsenal needed to remain focused and keep the home side out of their box.
However, after that initial five-minute phase, it was nothing but pure one-way traffic.
Arsenal utterly dominated Tottenham from the very start. Tottenham simply couldn’t get near Arsenal and their porous midfield was no match for the speed and agility of Arsenal’s.
Antonio Conte had sprung something of a surprise with his initial team selection, opting for Pape Matar Sarr over the more experienced Oliver Skipp, and his team paid dearly for it.
Thomas Partey was everywhere for Arsenal and Tottenham simply couldn’t stop the Ghanian from running the show in the first half.
However, for all their dominance, Arsenal tookt he lead in the most unexpected of ways.
A superb ball into the channel from Partey for Bukayo Saka to run onto exposed wing-back Ryan Sessegnon and Saka hit an early cross, which deflected off a Tottenham player and caused goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to fumble the ball into his own net for arguably the strangest north London derby goal ever scored.
Tottenham looked very rattled by their arch-rivals taking such an early lead and tried valiantly to turn the tide.
An excellent shot from Heung-min Son was well-saved by Aaron Ramsdale, but Tottenham still couldn’t find a way through.
Arsenal almost had a second when the ball fell directly to Thomas Partey, who’s first-time volley cannoned off the upright.
The wind was really knocked out of Tottenham’s sails when Partey again won the ball in midfield and started another counter-attack.
Martin Ødegaard drove forward with the ball and lashed a low-driven but powerful effort from distance into the bottom corner to double Arsenal’s lead.
Harry Kane had an effort of his own kept out by Ramsdale, but the second-half ended with Tottenham looking distinctly woe-begone.
The second-half was far better viewing for Tottenham fans. This was a half of football in which they began to pepper Arsenal’s goals with chances, but Arsenal stood their ground and managed to keep their hosts at bay.
Tottenham went close on several occasions, mainly through winger Dejan Kulusevski, who was a constant thorn in the side of Oleksandr ZInchenko.
That’s not to say that Arsenal didn’t have their fair share of chances.
Eddie Nketiah was gloriously put through by midfielder Granit Xhaka, but Hugo Lloris was equal to it.
Tottenham carried on valiantly, but there was a distinct lack of quality about their finishing.
In the end, the final whistle blew as Arsenal ran out deserved winners, but the controversy didn’t end there.
After a fair amount of back-and-forth between Aaron Ramsdale and the Tottenham fans, one fan decided to sprint the length of the stands, jump past security and aim a kick at Ramsdale’s back as the goalkeeper collected his belongings. No doubt the matter will be dealt with by Tottenham, the FA and, more likely, the Metropolitan Police.
If Arsenal’s previous wins have been less than vintage, Sunday’s performance was anything but.
Arsenal were superb from minute one and completely and utterly smothered Tottenham as soon as they tried to leave their own half.
However, there were two main stand-outs in the Arsenal side: Aaron Ramsdale and Thomas Partey.
For Ramsdale, the man of the match, it was a performance that typified how important he is to the Arsenal team. The former-Sheffield United goalkeeper was called upon rarely in the first-half, barring a couple of speculative Harry Kane efforts, but was essential in the second.
Tottenham almost had one back through Ryan Sessegnon, before Ramsdale produced an outstanding save with his foot to keep the Tottenham wing-back out.
While Ramsdale was a worthy recipient of the man of the match award, Thomas Partey was a very close second.
The former-Atlético Madrid midfielder was unstoppable in the middle of the park and Tottenham simply couldn’t touch him.
His role in both Arsenal goals will gain the most headlines, but his constant interceptions, tackles and subsequent re-cycling of the ball was second-to-none and underlined just how important he is to this Arsenal team.
It was an excellent win. No more or less than Arsenal merited and, given the aforementioned controversy in the Manchester derby, Arsenal now find themselves a whopping 8 points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
The attention now turns to the visit of Manchester United next Sunday, another must-win game.
Tottenham Hotspur team:
1.) Hugo Lloris (c)
17.) Cristian Romero
15.) Eric Dier
34.) Clément Lenglet (Davies 88’)
2.) Matt Doherty (Richarlison 71’)
29.) Pape Matar Sarr (Bissouma 76’)
5.) Pierre-Emile Højberg
19.) Ryan Sessegnon (Perišić 76’)
21.) Dejan Kulusevski (Gil 88’)
7.) Heung-min Son
10.) Harry Kane
Tottenham Hotspur subs:
20.) Fraser Forster
6.) Davinson Sánchez
12.) Emerson Royal
33.) Ben Davies
4.) Oliver Skipp
38.) Yves Bissouma
14.) Ivan Perišić
11.) Bryan Gil
1.) Aaron Ramsdale
4.) Benjamin White
12.) William Saliba
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
35.) Oleksandr Zinchenko (Tomiyasu 86’)
5.) Thomas Partey
34.) Granit Xhaka
8.) Martin Ødegaard (c) (Fábio Vieira 93’)
7.) Bukayo Saka
11.) Gabriel Martinelli (Tierney 79’)
14.) Eddie Nketiah (Smith Rowe 93’)
30.) Matt Turner
16.) Rob Holding
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu
3.) Kieran Tierney
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
72.) Matthew Smith
21.) Fábio Vieira
10.) Emile Smith Rowe