by DAN CARRIER
WAS it an attempt at a cheap poke-in-the-eye to his Arsenal counterpart by Harry Redknapp to hand the captaincy to former Gooner William Gallas on this, his first return to the Emirates?
If that was the psychology of it, it sure paid off. What a return it was. This Spurs side seemed dead and buried on 45, trailing by two goals and looking disjointed, but the half time switch of replacing an ineffective Aaron Lennon with the returning Jermain Defoe saw a typically barnstorming Tottenham come back, and Spurs seal a Derby victory that will be long talked about - creating a 90 minutes that must rank as one of William Gallas' proudest moments in a long and illustrious career.
I am still shaking from the experience: the words of 1930s New York boxing reporter Bob Considine spring to mind to describe just how this victory, the first at Arsenal for 17 years, feels. Writing immediately after watching heavyweight Joe Louis knock out German Max Schmeling to regain the world title, he said of the bout: 'Listen to this buddy, for it comes from a guy whose palms are still wet, whose throat is still dry, and whose jaw is still agape from the utter shock of watching Joe Louis knock out Max Schemling.' For Louis, read Spurs, and for fall guy Schmeling, read Arsenal. It was that good - and while Spurs have flair players who regularly grab headlines, today the plaudits have to go to the rock on which this famous victory was built: William Gallas.
The armband has been passed about a bit this term, and before 12.45pm, Luka Modric had seemingly settled into the role. Surely Gallas did not need to be made captain to gee him up for this one - so maybe it was Harry being a little cheeky, although after the match the boss said Luka was often a little quiet and he wanted someone more snaggle-toothed in this bubbly cauldron of footballing rivalry.
It seemed that way - Gallas' every touch was met with jeers and boos, and it was not a happy return at first for the one time Chelsea and Arsenal centre back as while he fought for everything, he was left exposed by those he was meant to be commanding. But after a terrible opening period where he alone seemed to keep his side going, this was a trip back down the Seven Sisters Road he'll long cherish.
He was never a favourite at Arsenal, as far as I can tell - his strange behaviour at Birmingham, when he did a one-man goalmouth protest, perhaps could have been foretold by the odd rumours that circulated over the way he walked out on the then Champions Chelsea. There were training ground sulks and rumours of threats to score own goals. In the summer, there was some doubters at the Lane about the wisdom of taking him on in his advancing years. It had nothing to do with the fact he had been at Arsenal - that would be a ridiculous way to form a squad. No, there was the sense that his arrival may shuffle the likes of Sebastien Bassong and Younes Kaboul down the pecking order, young players who will be there in the future at the back.
But Harry saw on a free he was a serious bargain, and with injuries to Dawson, King and Woodgate this autumn, it been worth it. His role as the senior man has been vital to give the defence some stability.
Gallas of all people knew what Arsenal could cook up, with tendon-tying short and precise attacks on the deck - and it came at him from the off.
He had his work cut out on four to deny Sami Nasri the chance to twist away, and looked susceptible to every thing over the top: in fact it was perhaps his slackness over five yards that led to the opener on nine, when a hoisted ball over the top left Gomes in the should-I-stay-or-should-I-go zone: Nasri was alive to the dropping ball, nicked it round the keeper and then slid home from a tight angle.
But despite having to absorb a fair amount of pressure, Gallas began to settle. On 20, he did a nice little upfield trot, shuffling like a heavyweight Southpaw through the midfield, and nearly played van der Vaart in. Never one to care what others are thinking of him, he was clearly enjoying himself.
The second came on 27: a wonderful counter from Arsenal started when Nasri peeled away from Modric, saw Arsenal pour forward. Gallas failed to watch Chamakh and he and Kaboul conspired to tip it past Gomes. But Gallas if anything doesn't let what's gone before faze him. Moments after Arsenal increased their lead, he pulled off a super block tackle and then intelligently found a team mate, and then did the same again when Arshavin lurked dangerously. He was also ready to offer advice to those alongside him, vocal in leading the line.
The second period started in much the same way as the first ended: Gallas needed to use his nous to provide a dam against which the Arsenal front line could break. All too often he seemed to be the last man. However, things got lively as Spurs weathered the storm: a lofted ball forward was well controlled by van der Vaart as the half got into it's stride. He watched Bale move ahead and tee'd up the Welshman. The man of the moment opened up his body, drew Fabianski and tucked away a crucial early goal to create a contest that had, in the first half, been sorely lacking.
The appearance of Defoe gee'd things up. His first telling touch was to set up Modric for a long ranger that went narrowly over, and it was his header that put van der Vaart in a dangerous position to play Bale in for the first. But it was mainly the fact his pace gave the Arsenal back four the heebie-jeebies, meaning they had to sit a little deeper and that gave the Spurs midfield more space in the crucial, creative zone in the approach to the penalty box.
But it was close: Gallas continued to find himself required to make scuffling interceptions, sweep up behind his partner Kaboul, and occasionally dump Red's on their backsides when he'd been caught for pace. A diving header on 57 at the near post and then a recovering chase and challenge on Chamakh moments later was an indication of the type of all-action game he was having to have to keep Spurs in touch.
Then came the equaliser: Modric stormed forward, was made into a sandwich between two Gooners and when Fabregas blocked van der Vaart's free kick with his arms, the ref had no hesitation on pointing to the spot.
It set things up for a edgy final 20 as both sides traded punches without making either keeper really stretch - until Gomes was tested on 76 by a Fabregas curler that the Brazilian did brilliantly to tip away.
And then came the winner - and it was Gallas' centre back partner Younes Kaboul who suddenly emerged as the hero. Bale was cynically fouled as he swept forward, van der Vaart hoiked a ball into the box and Kaboul's glancing header sent the visiting fans into delirium.
Spurs held on. It has been some season so far, and whatever happens between now and next May, this must rank as a moment that will be recalled long in to the future. Gallas knew as much - when the referee finally blew up after five minutes added time he sunk to his knees, over come with emotion, with exhaustion, and with ecstacy.
The old warhorse, who had a nasty attack of cramp with 10 to go after an action packed return to the Emirates, must have seriously relished this afternoon - it was a complete vindication of Redknapp's decision in the summer to offer a two year deal when Arsenal only put up one.
Gomes 7 At fault for the opener. Nasri should never have got to the through ball. Made up for it in the second half as he grew in confidence and stature, and his save from Fabregas was brilliant.
Hutton 7 Had a real battle on his hands but still managed to apply pressure on the Arsenal full backs when not defending himself.
Bale 8 He just can't stop making headlines. Though quiet in the first half, made things interesting with his super, calm strike on 47 - and then went on to be a key player in the victory with his mazy runs.
Kaboul 8 Had little protection in front of him and so often found himself having to win tackles higher up the pitch than is comfortable for a centre back. Became the hero with his winner.
Lennon 5 Showed flickers of pace, but his final ball was never, ever dangerous.
Jenas 8 Went toe to toe with Fabregas that curtailed his own attacking instincts but was vital in keeping the Arsenal dynamo quiet.
Pavlyuchenko 7 Fought and fought again. Had little opportunities but kept the Arsenal back four busy.
van der Vaart 8 Kept things alive with his probings, and was calmness personified for the penalty.
Gallas 9 What a return to his old ground. Lead by example.
Modric 8 Always available and always working for others. Unlucky not to score a glorious game changer when his shot fizzed over when the scores were at 2-1.
Assou-Ekotto 7 Neat, calm, and ready to confront dangers head on.
Sub: Defoe, half time. Pushed Arsenal on to the back foot with the simple fact his pace meant they had to keep a watching brief at all times.