Times have changed in North London. The pecking order used to be Arsenal over Tottenham, no ifs, ands or buts about it. Arsenal beat Tottenham more often than not, always competed in the UEFA Champions League and always finished above Spurs in the English Premier League table.
That hasn't been the case for the past few years. Before Saturday, Arsenal hadn't claimed a win over Tottenham since March of 2014. Spurs are flying high in the Champions League at the moment, with a win over Real Madrid to their name, while Arsenal missed Europe's grandest tournament for the first time since 1999. Last season, for the first time in 22 years, Tottenham finished above Arsenal in the the Premier League.
But the recent script flipped on Saturday: The Gunners beat Tottenham 2-0 at the Emirates by being assertive and active while Tottenham was hesitant and reactive.
Spurs are used to being the hunter in the North London Derby, attacking Arsenal sides afraid to lose their footing in the North London hierarchy. Saturday, Spurs who looked afraid to lose their spot, allowing Arsenal to bring the game to them instead of vice versa. For the first time since Tottenham began its ascent to the elite of the Premier League a few years ago, Arsenal played the hunter, not the hunted, in the NLD, and it paid off with a much-needed, confidence-boosting victory.
Arsenal's victory wasn't one of pure attacking attitude, though. It was a complete performance from the Gunners. In defense, they remained organized, not showing any cracks and not breaking down. In midfield, they were calm and assured and didn't create careless turnovers that lead to easy chances, one of their major flaws this season. In attack, they were committed to going forward and got into the box more frequently than we've seen an Arsenal side do in ages.
The first half-hour of the match was fairly even. But everything changed with a goal from Shkodran Mustafi in the 36th minute off a free kick. The delivery from Alexis Sanchez was brilliant, but the header from Mustafi was perfect, looping past Hugo Lloris and clinking off the post for the first NLD goal by a Gunner since March of 2016.
Spurs fans will have grievances about the opener, though. Davinson Sanchez was whistled for a foul on Alexis Sanchez to set up the free kick, but replay showed he didn't grab his shirt, as referee Mike Dean asserted. Mustafi was also a hair offside.
But the goal stood. Five minutes later, Arsenal doubled its advantage. This time Alexis Sanchez was on the scoring end of the goal. A cross from Alexandre Lacazette played Sanchez in at the near post and caught Lloris flat-footed. Sanchez took a small touch, then blasted a goal past the off-balance Lloris for the 2-0 lead.
That goal showed something we haven't seen nearly enough of from Arsenal over the past few seasons: Arsenal players willing to get into the box. Last season, Sanchez was pretty much the only players willing to do so on a consistent basis. The addition of Lacazette added a player for Sanchez to play off of and connect with in range of goal. If Arsenal is to continue climbing the table, it'll need those two to continue linking up in this fashion.
The loss is blow for Spurs, which is finally being considered among the Premier League's elite. The best clubs in the Premier League have the ability to beat the other best clubs in the Premier League on a consistent basis. This season, Spurs have three losses to Chelsea, at Manchester United and at Arsenal.
The biggest takeaway for Arsenal is confidence-boosting performances by a number of individuals. Mesut Ozil was brilliant, playing a perfect link between midfield and attack. Arsene Wenger shouldn't change from the front three of Sanchez-Lacazette-Ozil unless he absolutely has to. Aside from his goal, Mustafi was solid in defense and wasn't broken down as easily as he's been in the past. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey made a fine pair in the midfield that kept possession and disrupted Tottenham attacks before they could really start.
There was a time this season when Arsenal appeared incapable of competing for anything of note. But times have changed. The Gunners are on 22 points, one off Spurs, and back in the hunt for the top four. And if they keep this hunter's mindset, they'll keep climbing the table and winning big matches.
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Cy Brown writes about football, golf, soccer and other stuff for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @CEPBrown.