I was worried when I saw the line-up last night. I didn't like pairing Chambers and Mertesacker at centre-back, while Gibbs and Debuchy had been awful in Zagreb last week. Arteta in midfield worried me again, but the presence of Flamini alongside him meant there was at least somebody who was capable of doing the running. Having been spooked by our own XI it was obvious to anyone that their back-four was there to be destroyed and it is a clue as to how badly Olivier Giroud is playing that we hardly saw him during the game.
Neither team looked like they were capable in the early going. I was impressed by Joel Campbell though and he looked committed and strong - a couple of times Spurs players just bounced off him when he had the ball, and he made his share of tackles too. Maybe he could have given Debuchy a bit more support at times in the first-half, but overall he shouldn't be disappointed with his work last night. Debuchy, meanwhile, put in one of the worst full-back displays I've ever seen from an Arsenal player. Regardless of the protection he may have expected from his winger he was totally out of position for almost the entirety of the game. He looked slow, nervous, and totally out of place. Time and again Spurs came down our right side and Debuchy was in the centre of the pitch leaving acres of space to be attacked. It looks like Bellerin will keep his place for some time still to come.
The rest of the defence I thought played really well. Mertesacker was calm and won the ball in the air whenever it came near him while Kieran Gibbs (my man of the match in terms of an overall performance) was back to his best. Gibbo was everywhere when it mattered, not least on the goal line when Kane hit a volley past Ospina. Following last week in Zagreb he needed to produce a performance and he was Ashley Cole-esque (never forget how good a player he was for Arsenal) on the night. The other defender, Calum Chambers, had his best game in an Arsenal shirt as far as I'm concerned. I know their goal went in off him, but it certainly wasn't that he was at fault for it. He had Kane pretty much in his pocket all night and was dominant in the air and on the ground. Well played indeed.
Further forward we saw Flamini tearing round the pitch, seemingly everywhere. He made his tackles, linked the play effectively and, as ever with Flamini, was never found wanting for effort. If every Arsenal player had the commitment that he does on the pitch (this is a player who has been almost totally frozen out, remember) we would have a much better team. Flamini isn't the finest player in the World but he knows how effort can make up for that. For a player whose transfer history shows a certain mercenary trend he also "gets it" in the same way that a fan does. He knows what it means to beat Tottenham and some of his very best performances have come against them. There was a certain football intelligence to his two goals last night too. He saw the situation that might develop as Oxlade-Chamberlain lined up a shot and followed it in to the box in a way that our centre-forwards rarely do. For the second goal he saw the space that was opening up and, when the ball spiralled in to the air, he was charging forward to fill it. I doubt anyone, even Mathieu himself, genuinely believed he was going to hit a volley like that as it dropped. We can only imagine how good it must have felt to him, especially given that he hasn't had a kick yet this season, when the ball hit the net. It was one of the great North London Derby goals and sealed Flamini's position in eternal folklore as a cult Arsenal hero.
We should have won by more goals in the end but Alexis, Giroud and Walcott (no surprises here) all missed great chances. It is a recurring and worrying theme (the passes from an otherwise fairly anonymous Ramsey for the Alexis and Giroud chances were beautiful) and it has to change quickly if we are to have any genuine success this season. At the end of the day the two Flamini goals were enough and the Totts were sent home (or just out to the High Road) licking their wounds and their windows as they contemplated another defeat to Arsenal.
This morning everything seems that little bit better, despite the fact that it's chucking it down on my day off yet again. We can smile until at least Saturday, safe in the knowledge that the Spuds aren't. I look forward to simply smiling at any Tottenham fan I see in the next few days - words are not necessary, just a smile winds them up something chronic. It's well worth enjoying it when we beat them, regardless of the competition.
A lot is being made of the Arsenal fans that ripped down the signs around the upper tier after the game last night. Of course they shouldn't have done it, and the bans that will surely follow as Arsenal identify them (the idiots that were filming it on their mobiles and then posting the videos to social media have effectively grassed up those involved) will see them regret their actions. However, let's not be too quick to condemn. Firstly, let us point out the damage that the Tottenham supporters have done to the away ends at Highbury and Emirates over the past fifteen to twenty years. Arsenal have had to spend a ton of money in repairs after every visit. It doesn't excuse what happened last night, but it provides some context. And then there is the whole experience that Arsenal fans are subjected to when they visit White Hart Lane. For some inexplicable reason they were locked in by the Met last night for around an hour after the game. Having already run the gauntlet of hate on arrival at Tottenham, the Gooners were then kettled all the way down Tottenham High Road (regardless of where they wanted or needed to go) and, according to some of those who were present, in to a mob of waiting Spurs fans. Again, it doesn't excuse the ripping down of the hoardings, but unless you've experienced the Tottenham supporters you're not qualified to judge. And you know what else? F*** Spurs anyway.