They often say that one game can define a season. An interesting concept when you consider the highs and lows of any 90-minute period on the pitch. Shifts in momentum can occur without warning, pulling us all along on an emotional rollercoaster married to our swiftly changing hopes and expectations. The North London derby is a game like no other in the Premier League. It is not a rivalry predicated on sustained success on both sides (think Pool vs United), it is steeped in historic enmity that boils throughout the season, not just on game day. It is the one fixture that is circled as soon as the fixture list is published, new players are expected to navigate media questions with the appropriate vigour and supporters engage in season-long verbal wars.
Just under a month ago, the two sides collided again. The game was set against a backdrop of unpredictable form for both clubs, success in the second tier of European competition and second year managers both looking to stamp their authority on an unpredictable season. As the week unfolded, with both clubs coming through the first leg of their Europa fixtures unscathed, the swords were drawn on social media as we awaited the Sunday 4:30pm kickoff. As soon as the lineups were announced, both sets of fans set up camp online. Arsenal were young and unpredictable, Spurs were confusing and suspiciously conservative – appropriate if you consider the managers in charge and the way the season had unfolded thus far. The lineup summed up our position at the start of the season – we all thought we might have squad depth at first but it has quickly proven to be a squad out of depth. Our right back position is a classic example of this – the less said about that, the better!
Though the game ended in a loss for my beloved Spurs, it was the performance of Erik Lamela that really summed up our season thus far. He entered the game as a substitute for the injured Heung- Min Son, in a similar fashion to Spurs early season form which got going a game or two behind everyone else. He then scored a sublime rabona goal, creating something out of nothing and sending fans who had been disappointed by the performance thus far into wild excitement.
One sentence doesn’t do it justice, the goal was simply incredible in its ingenuity and flash in the pan speed of execution. But it proved to be just that – a flash in the pan in a drab first half performance that ended with Spurs conceding a late equaliser. Remember United 1- Spurs 6? Flash in the pan performance against a top six side which has since been replaced by increasing conservatism and pragmatic play. It is fine if you win (City and Arsenal) but incredibly frustrating when you don’t (Liverpool and Chelsea). What happened next for the enigmatic Erik? Increasingly marginalised by negative tactics from the manager, the Argentinian forward began to drift deeper and deeper to get on the ball.
We all know what he is about when the game is getting away from us – high risk tackles, niggling comments to the opposition – and this game was no different. The second goal was conceded via silly penalty given away by the once-record signing Davinson Sanchez. It was clumsy to put it best! It seems as if Lamela took inspiration from this and needlessly got himself sent off for a second yellow, flailing his elbow at an opposition player while on the ball retreating into our half.
Even Jose, the king of winding up opponents and playing on the edge of the rules, was suitably unimpressed. His stony stare as Erik walked past him was a clear sign that we were seeing it all again. Our season was unfolding before our eyes – late to the party, capable of the sublime, undone by the ridiculous. Maybe they should enter that as the definition for Spursy in the colloquial dictionary. Our only hope as Spurs fans is that somehow we can weigh the ratio in favour of the sublime while holding off our propensity to implode without notice.