Arsenal rediscovered its attacking flair with a 5-2 victory over 10-man Tottenham in a captivating north London derby that hinged on a first-half red card shown to Emmanuel Adebayor.
Adebayor put Tottenham in front in the 10th minute but the former Arsenal turned from hero to zero eight minutes later as he was sent-off for a dangerous challenge on Santi Cazorla.
From that point on, Arsenal took complete control and was 3-1 up by half-time thanks to goals from Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.
Santi Cazorla, the Gunners’ Spanish magician, scored the fourth on the hour mark and Theo Walcott added the fifth in the closing stages either side of a Gareth Bale strike that will offer little consolation to Tottenham supporters.
The final score mirrors the same fixture last season, the turning point in Arsenal’s campaign, and takes the Gunners up to sixth in the Premier League, two points ahead of Spurs.
The boos that have greeted recent Arsenal performances here were replaced by a sound of ‘Ole’ as Arsene Wenger’s side toyed with its great rival, a renewed optimism sweeping around the red half of north London.
It all started so well for Tottenham as it controlled the early exchanges and took the lead in the 10th minute. Jermain Defoe raced on to a long ball as the Arsenal defence stood statuesque and after his shot was saved by Wojciech Szczesny, Adebayor scrambled in the rebound.
But Spurs’ afternoon fell apart eight minutes later. Adebayor, clearly pumped up for the occasion as he was taunted by the home fans, could have no complaints after being sent-off by referee Howard Webb for a dangerous studs-up challenge on Cazorla.
From then on, Arsenal was dominant, teasing its neighbors and creating chances at will with their use of the ball in midfield.
In the 24th minute, Mertesacker leveled with a towering free header from 12 yards that nestled in the top corner after good work down the right from Walcott.
Hugo Lloris, making just his second league start in the Tottenham goal, had to be alert to make two excellent saves to deny Giroud but the Gunners eventually took the lead they deserved in the 42nd minute. Podolski tricked his way into the the penalty area and his shot flicked off the foot of William Gallas and spun fortuitously into the far corner. It was one of the more ugly goals seen in this stadium but few have been greeted with such a guttural roar.
On the stroke of halftime, Giroud made sure there was no way back for Spurs. The French striker, a constant menace throughout the game, was simply too sharp for the visitors’ center backs as he fired home Cazorla’s cross at the near post.
Villas-Boas responded by switching to three at the back during the break but his players were simply unable to stem the tide as Arsenal exploited the space created by their man advantage.
On the hour mark, Arsenal worked the ball to Podolski on the left and the German produced a perfect low cross from the left for Cazorla to score from eight yards. 4-1.
Bale fired in Spurs’ second of the game after a fine run but by that point Arsenal was going through the motions, conserving its energy ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Montpellier.
There was still time for Walcott to add a fifth with his right foot following a scorching run by substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. A potentially season-changing result for both sides of north London.