Szczesny revels in derby success
Somersaulting Wojciech Szczesny declared winning a north London derby felt as good as beating Barcelona after the Arsenal goalkeeper finally tasted victory over Tottenham Hotspur. And the super-confident Pole also warned Spurs that the Gunners would hunt them down and once again finish top dogs in the capital.
Szczesny looked set to go down in history as part of the first Arsenal side for 86 years to lose at home to Tottenham in back-to-back seasons after conceding twice inside 34 minutes at the Emirates Stadium yesterday. But the Gunners fought back with arguably their best performance of the entire campaign, scoring five times in 28 breathtaking minutes to register their biggest north London derby win since 1978.
It was also Szczesny's first taste of victory in the famous fixture after two defeats and a draw in his previous three appearances. And the 21-year-old simply could not contain his glee, celebrating Arsenal's fourth goal with a somersault and fifth by bear-hugging a ball boy.
Asked if it was the best feeling of his career, he said: "It is comparable to that of beating Barcelona. It is a great feeling, probably one of the best I have ever had. Every single goal felt better than the previous one and I was celebrating quite energetically. But I loved it. It is the first time I have beaten Spurs and it is just great."
Szczesny was part of the Arsenal side who famously beat Barça at the Emirates just over a year ago, although they went on to lose the UEFA Champions League last-16 tie. They look certain to crash out of the competition at the same stage this year after being crushed 4-0 at AC Milan almost two weeks ago.
Yet, the Gunners have now scored 12 goals in their last two home matches and Szczesny said: "It just shows you what we can do when we are on the front foot and we can really go for it. Hopefully, we can learn from that and repeat it all over again."
While becoming the first side ever to overturn a four-goal first-leg deficit in the Champions League may be a pipe dream, qualifying automatically for next season's competition by beating Tottenham to third place in the Premier League remains achievable. Yesterday's win not only cut the gap between the arch-rivals to seven points but may have sowed a real seed of doubt in Spurs' minds.
Szczesny said: "I hope so as an Arsenal fan. I said ages ago we can't realistically win the Premier League but now my main ambition is to finish above Spurs. You can see we are no worse than them and, when we have the momentum and are on the front foot, we are dangerous."
Talismanic captain Robin van Persie will be crucial in that chase, the striker scoring his 29th goal of the season yesterday in another heroic performance. That came after he revealed he would not begin talks over extending his contract - which expires at the end of next term - until this summer.
Szczesny said: "We are trying to make the most of it while he is here, he is a great captain and leader of the team and we are very pleased to have him. I'm personally confident that he will stay at Arsenal. That is where he belongs and that is where he is at his very best. Robin does his talking on the pitch by scoring all the goals for this club and I think that shows you his commitment."
He added jokingly of yesterday's display: "He's not bad, is he? He only scored one goal, though, which is really disappointing for him. We are used to him scoring a hat-trick. He is the best player in the Premier League and we are very pleased to have him."
Another player at his very best yesterday was the much-maligned Tomas Rosicky, who scored his first league goal for more than two years. However, he also picked up a back injury that has ruled him out of the Czech Republic's friendly in Ireland on Wednesday and leaves him doubtful for Arsenal's trip to Liverpool on Saturday.