A blustery winter’s night failed to deter fans from flocking to Wembley for Tottenham’s crucial clash with Manchester United.
A new record Premier League attendance of 81,978 was drawn to the national stadium, but anyone taking their seats late because of the crowds missed a flying start by Spurs.
The build-up to the game had been dominated by the buzz surrounding the visitors’ latest recruit, Alexis Sanchez, with their fans confident the former Arsenal star’s goals and assists would justify his £500,00-a-week wages (plus Henrik Mkhitaryan heading to the Gunners in a swap deal).
But that pre-match optimism was extremely short-lived as Spurs scored straight from the kick-off, stunning United’s sizeable away following into silence.
It took just 11 seconds for Christian Eriksen to get on the end of flicks from Harry Kane and Dele Alli and side-foot home the joint-third fastest goal ever scored in the Premier League.
Spurs seemed to sense that that Jose Mourinho’s men were not at the races after returning to top-flight action following their routine win five days earlier at Yeovil in the FA Cup third round.
United had chances to equalise with Jesse Lingard coming close, however Mauricio Pochettino’s men were attacking at such a pace that it came as no surprise when Phil Jones turned Kieran Trippier’s cross into his own net to double their lead and effectively end the contest with barely 30 minutes on the clock.
Sanchez fails to shine
The United faithful didn’t even have the consolation of seeing Sanchez shine on his Premier League debut for their team.
The Chilean international delivered an anonymous performance, much to the delight of Tottenham’s fans, who gave him the kind of hostile reception they reserve for former Arsenal players.
Of course, Sanchez has yet to gel with his new team-mates, most of whom were similarly below par at Wembley, and the pressure on him to make an immediate impact was unfair.
The former Barcelona star was barely visible as he was continually harried by white shirts.
After a poor opening 45 minutes on the left-hand side, Mourinho sought to change the momentum as he moved the 29-year-old into the number 10 role.
However, the switch came to nothing, as Tottenham’s sturdy defence kept the United’s new acquisition quiet throughout.
So it was a night to forget for United fans, with many leaving well before the final whistle, having seen their team out-played, out-thought and out-fought all over the pitch.
At least they had the consolation of only paying £30 to witness one of the Red Devils’ poorest performances of the season.
In previous campaigns, the cost of watching football – particularly for away fans – has been a hot topic of debate.
However, the Premier League made a breakthrough in 2016 when all 20 clubs agreed to cap away tickets at £30.
To watch Spurs dismantle United, with so many fine players on display on both sides, for that price was a bargain.
Whether the massive outlay invested in bringing Sanchez to Old Trafford ultimately comes to be viewed as value for money is another matter.
United’s defeat leaves them 15 points adrift of rivals Manchester City, with Mourinho admitting the title is now out of reach. Spurs moved to within two points of the top four.
Ranked amongst the top 10 stand-ups in Britain by The Independent, comedian Ian Stone has flourished to become one of the most talented topical acts in the country.
Currently presenting ‘The Football’s On’ for BT Sport, the north Londoner is a regular on shows like Mock the Week but his lifelong passion is Arsenal. Elephant Sport spoke to him about the highs and lows of being a Gooner, Arsene Wenger and much more.
How did you feel about the last weekend’s north London derby?
It was a fair result. They have some decent attacking players, they hit the post and I thought they played alright particularly in the first half an hour so 1-1 is probably fair.
We were kind of flat but we haven’t been brilliant in most games this season to be honest. We are muddling through.
It’s not the best but we are in it so I’ll take that.
Where do you think Arsenal will finish come the end of the season?
Genuinely – I’ve no idea. We could win it or we could finish third. The race will be between Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and us.
It will be tight. I would like us to be running away with the league but that’s not going to happen so I enjoy the big games.
Anyone can win it, even Spurs – I hate them but they’re a decent team. They have a good squad but ours is better.
Not having European football will benefit Liverpool and Chelsea but none of the teams are defensively good, apart from Spurs, so that’s why I think they are a threat.
Growing up what was the best thing you witnessed as an Arsenal fan?
That’s not an easy question. But if you’re talking about the school years, then seeing Liam Brady for the first time and going ‘wow the way he plays is just beautiful’. I loved him and I still do.
How did you first become interested in Arsenal?
My dad. He just took me to Highbury and I thought ‘yeah this is it, I love this place’. That’s what happens to most of us, isn’t it?
Favourite all-time Arsenal player and why?
Hard to pick one. Brady first, I loved him, and Pat Jennings too. When it was a one on one with the keeper and Jennings was in goal, you thought they were never going to beat him. Tony Adams, because he loved the club as much as I do and Ian Wright for the same reason.
Dennis Bergkamp because he’s probably the best footballer I have ever seen, Thierry Henry because he’s a close second. There’s many, but those players are great players and they loved the club, and as a fan that’s what you want really.
Dennis Bergkamp was a great but comparisons have been made between Mesut Ozil and him – what is your opinion of the German?
Ozil. That goal against Ludogorets. I could watch that goal a million times and I wouldn’t get bored. That second dummy… the bloke is a genius and unlike any footballer I have ever seen. He has a lovely style about him.
When he first arrived, I was a bit disappointed. There were some moments but he didn’t really impose himself in games and you thought ‘you really could win this game on your own if you could be bothered’ but now he’s bulked up a bit and he’s scoring goals.
He’s an outstanding footballer and I’m glad we’ve got him. I love watching him.
Away at Villa last season, he brought the ball down right in front of me and you just thought ‘how did he even do that’? That’s what I love about Ozil. He makes the incredibly difficult look incredibly easy.
Favourite current Arsenal player and why?
Alexis Sanchez. He just loves the game and he loves to play. Alexis is a great footballer. I’m so glad we have got him as it’s a pleasure to watch players like that.
Arsene Wenger is into his 20th season at Arsenal but what is your take on the boss?
Last season I was fed up, we had a great opportunity to win the title, and for all the romance of Leicester winning, we blew it and I blamed Wenger.
Sometimes when he’s signed players like Igor Stepanovs and Marouane Chamakh, I’ve sat there thinking ‘what on earth are you doing?’, but what can you say about the boss?
He creates beautiful football teams and will be remembered long after we’ve all gone as someone who created a style of football. He’s made some mistakes but we all have. He’ll go when he wants to go. I’m certainly not going to call for him to go.
What I would love more than anything is for him to win the Champions League and sign off with that. He deserves it but you know his legacy.
We all sit in the most beautiful of stadiums and that’s all down to him so I have the most positive of feelings towards him.
I’ve not had a 20-year relationship with anyone who hasn’t pissed me off though!
Who would you get as his replacement when he decides to leave?
I wanted Jurgen Klopp but he’s at the right club at Liverpool, they suit him. Anytime we ever talk about a possible replacement, it all goes wrong for them.
Ronald Koeman is a very good manager and we will see what happens despite losing 5-0 to Chelsea on the weekend!
There’s been talk of Diego Simeone but I don’t think he’s right for Arsenal. He needs the fans onside and I think our fans are a little bit different.
We can be aroused but I don’t think we are right for Simeone. We’ll see what happens but I don’t think Arsene is going away for a while yet.
Best goal you have ever witnessed as an Arsenal fan?
Against Bayer Leverkusen in a Champions League game at Highbury. Robert Pires was penned in in the corner by three defenders but somehow managed to play a 40-yard pass to Dennis Bergkamp in the centre of the pitch.
He killed it, exchanged passes with Patrick Vieira and he’s away. Bergkamp plays the ball inside the full back to Sylvain Wiltord, who lays it across to Thierry Henry, who’s sprinted 80-yards to side-foot it in.
From one end of the pitch to the other in six seconds – it was the most exhilarating thing I’ve seen Arsenal ever do.
Worst moment as an Arsenal fan?
Losing the Champions League final to Barcelona was bad – I enjoyed the trip to Paris but not the game. Losing the 2000 UEFA Cup final to Galatasaray on penalties was awful.
In the 1980 season, I went to 60 games out of 68, and we lost to West Ham in the FA Cup final, then Valencia in the Cup Winners Cup final and somehow managed to get hammered by Middlesbrough 5-0. That was pretty grim.
Best moment as an Arsenal fan?
Beating Barcelona at the Emirates a few years ago was pretty awesome, and Thierry Henry scoring on his comeback against Leeds United in the FA Cup was special too. I interviewed him for a radio thing and he loved talking about that moment.
How impressed have you been with Alexis Sanchez up front this season?
It’s working. I like the fact that there’s movement when Sanchez is up front. Olivier Giroud is a great sub and you can bring him on and play him in a two but I like the mobility of the team when Sanchez plays.
What have you made of the summer signings of Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka?
Excellent. Two very good signings. We needed spine – we’ve got it now.
How do you feel about the progress that Laurent Koscielny has made over the years to become one of the world’s best defenders?
I think most people realise how good Koscielny is. He’s got better as quite often defenders do so I’m pleased for him and he enjoys being at the club so let him stay as long as he wants!
Which player that left the club hurt you the most?
It killed me losing Patrick Vieira but he wanted to go. I remember him coming on as an 18 year old against Sheffield Wednesday – we were losing and he turned the game. He was a stunning footballer and a fighter and I loved him and Emmanuel Petit together.
How do you see Arsenal fairing throughout the season and could this be Wenger’s final season?
I think if he wins the Premier League or Champions League, I think he will stay. We can win the league but will we? If we get lucky with injuries, we will be there come May, but it’s very tight. Our position in the league is good at the moment – let’s see.
Lastly, how do you feel Arsenal will fair against Manchester United after the international break?
I want to beat them so badly. I’ve not seen Arsenal win many games at Old Trafford but I went to the FA Cup game there when we won 2-1 with Danny Welbeck scoring, and it was absolutely wicked – 9,000 of us there on a Monday night.
What I loved was weeks later, reading that the players had been so happy with the support and the difference it had made. That means a lot to the fans. I love winning at Old Trafford, so hopefully we will.
I’d love us to have a run in the Champions League too. I want us to finish first in the group and give ourselves a chance because if we do that, the second leg of the next round will be at home and that’s huge.
It’s a long time since we went far in Europe and if we got to the semis and do well in the League, Ozil and Sanchez will stay and we can continue to improve. We’re doing all right at the moment, I’m enjoying it so let’s continue!