The first reaction was one of astonishment at how the man in Arsenal red had judged the drop of the high ball and timed a glorious right-footed volley into the bottom corner of the net to settle this frenetic north London derby. The feeling deepened when the identity of the scorer became clear.
Mathieu Flamini is not supposed to score any goals, let alone one as beautiful as this. And yet it was not even the defensive midfielder’s first of the evening; almost implausibly he had also put Arsenal in front with a close-range effort that was marked by his desire to reach a loose ball first.
As Tottenham Hotspur hearts sank Flamini beat his own with his fist and he revelled in the moment in front of the ecstatic travelling supporters. This was his first appearance of the season and there had certainly been times over the summer when his future at the club was in doubt.
Arsène Wenger had told him playing time would most likely be limited, with the inference that, if he wanted to play regularly, he might be better to look for another club. But, according to the Arsenal manager, Flamini wanted to stay and how glad everyone connected to the club was about that at White Hart Lane.
When Flamini spoke afterwards, his words were high on indignation and there was the sense of frustration released and points proved. His character, and that of a heavily rotated Arsenal team, shone through, particularly after they responded to the blow of Calum Chamber’s own-goal which levelled the scores early in the second half.
At 1-1 Tottenham looked the smarter bet to progress to the next round of theCapital One Cup and they were agonisingly close to going in front. Harry Kane, for whom the ball will not go in this season at club level, watched his athletic side-on volley from Andros Townsend’s corner beat David Ospina only for Kieran Gibbs to head off the line.
Tottenham gave everything and Wenger felt they ran out of steam in the final 20 minutes, which was when Arsenal reeled them in. The visitors had arrived on the back of the defeats by Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League and Chelsea in the Premier League and nobody wanted to contemplate a third straight reverse for the first time since 2010. Thanks to Flamini they did not have to.
At the end some of the travelling Arsenal support tore down advertising hoardings inside the stadium. It was one of those nights when the tribalism crackled and there was no let-up to the intensity.
It was fast and furious, packed with attitude and Flamini’s celebration after his first goal was entirely in keeping with the tone. Having moved on to Michel Vorm’s weak parry from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot to bang the ball into the roof of the net he fronted up to the Tottenham fans in the Paxton Road end.
Tottenham’s defence, particularly Kevin Wimmer, had failed to close down Oxlade-Chamberlain and also react to the goalkeeper’s parry.
The tackles flew in – Arsenal had three men booked inside seven minutes as the interval approached – and there was baying and howling for each one of the referee Andre Marriner’s decisions.
Arsenal shaded the first half and they created the first chance on 14 minutes when Aaron Ramsey released Gibbs and his cross was almost touched goalwards by Olivier Giroud. At the second bite Joel Campbell headed high at the far post.
Danny Rose marauded forward from left-back for Tottenham and twice in the first half he had the sniff of a chance – on the first occasion he dragged a shot wide of the near post – but there were also jitters in the home team’s backline.
Vorm punched weakly to loud exhalations while Federico Fazio was dispossessed by Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 38th minute. He was fortunate when Oxlade-Chamberlain ran through and curled wide of the far post.
Kane’s quest for his first Tottenham goal of the season formed one of the game’s sub-plots and the striker continued to give every last drop of effort. His all-round game was good but his luck was out.
He dragged wide from an angle on the left in first-half stoppage time after Christian Eriksen had led a quick break and early in the second half he had the ball in the net only to be pulled back for offside. In the first phase of the move Eriksen had hit a post from Nacer Chadli’s pull-back. David Ospina appeared to have got his finger-tips to the shot. Then there was the 66th-minute scissors kick that Gibbs repelled on the line.
Tottenham had the bit between their teeth when they emerged for the second half and, with Rose continuing to make inroads against Joel Campbell and Mathieu Debuchy on the Arsenal right, the equaliser had been advertised.
It came when Chadli crossed low and Chambers, who was close to Ospina and worried about what was behind him, felt he had to attempt to deal with the danger. Facing the wrong way there was a disastrous inevitability about what happened when he jutted out his leg.
Arsenal, though, came on strong towards the end. The substitute, Alexis Sánchez, who made a difference, and Giroud had gone close when Fazio hoofed the ball into the air and Flamini strode on to the volley. That finish will live long in the memory.