Mathieu Flamini was Arsenal’s unlikely hero as the French midfielder’s double strike sealed a 2-1 win over bitter rivals Tottenham in the League Cup third round on Wednesday.
Flamini was making his first appearance of the season after coming close to leaving the club in the last transfer window and he seized a rare opportunity to remind Gunners boss Arsene Wenger of his quality with a brilliant second half winner at White Hart Lane.
The 31-year-old, so often the butt of Arsenal fans’ criticism in the past, had already celebrated his return by putting Wenger’s side ahead in the first half before a Calum Chambers own goal after the break drew Tottenham level.
But it was Flamini’s second goal that stole the show as he lashed a sumptuous volley into the bottom corner from 20 yards to settle the first north London derby of the season.
Flamini’s heroics provided a much-needed morale boost for Arsenal, ensuring they avoided losing three consecutive matches in all competitions for the first time since April 2010.
After arriving at White Hart Lane later than expected due to the gridlocked London traffic, Wenger made 10 changes to the team beaten at Chelsea over the weekend.
Costa Rica forward Joel Campbell was given only his fourth start for Arsenal in four years and he fluffed an early chance with a header wide from Kieran Gibbs’ deflected cross.
But Arsenal gradually seized the initiative with some incisive breaks, culminating in the opening goal in the 26th minute.
With Tottenham’s defenders backing off as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took possession, the Arsenal midfielder was able to unleash a powerful low strike that Michel Vorm could only parry weakly out to Flamini, who gratefully accepted the gift as he lashed into the roof of the net.
Not content with inflicting that wound on his club’s arch rivals, Flamini rubbed it in by standing in front of the Tottenham fans and thumping the Arsenal badge on his shirt to a predictably furious chorus of disapproval.
Danny Rose led Tottenham’s attempt to wipe the smile off Flamini’s face and the left-back appealed in vain for a penalty after Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina sent him flying when he raced off his line.
Yet Mauricio Pochettino’s side lacked a cutting edge as Harry Kane, who hasn’t scored in eight club appearances this term, laboured to recapture last season’s form.
Kane’s lack of confidence was clear to see when he dragged a shot well wide at the end of a rapid Tottenham counter just before half-time.
Even when Kane did get the ball in the net early in the second half, converting from close-range after Christen Eriksen’s shot hit a post, the England striker was standing in an offside position and saw his effort ruled out.
Calum Chambers scored an own goal
Despite Kane’s struggles, Spurs were the dominant force after the interval and their incessant pressure was rewarded with a 56th minute equaliser that contained a dose of good fortune and a slice of typically careless Arsenal defending.
Nacer Chadli was left in yards of space by Mathieu Debuchy in the penalty area and the winger whipped over a low cross that Chambers diverted into his own net as he attempted to block inside the six-yard box.
Kane almost ended his goal drought with a spectacular scissor kick that Gibbs headed off the line.
Son Heung-Min came on for the final 24 minutes as Spurs chased a winner, while Wenger responded by introducing Alexis Sanchez.
It was Wenger’s switch that had the crucial impact as Sanchez helped Arsenal snatch the win in the 78th minute.
The Chilean got on the ball on the edge of the Tottenham penalty area and his attempted pass was deflected high into the air towards Flamini, who arrived unchecked to lash a sublime volley past Vorm.