Derby win sparks Spurs title talk
Arsene Wenger's argument, like his team's defence, was all over the place - but the manner in which Tottenham Hotspur ended a 17-year wait for a win at Arsenal defied logic.
Wenger sought a refuge familiar with beaten managers when he said: "If you look at the statistics and numbers it is very difficult to understand how we lost this game."
Not that difficult actually. The most important statistic of all stated that Spurs won 3-2, but in Wenger's defence it was a day that scrambled even the most rational senses.
After 45 minutes, the notion of Harry Redknapp talking up a Spurs title challenge while Wenger groped for reasons behind a collapse that casts a shadow over Arsenal's aspirations would have been laughed out of the Emirates Stadium and all the way down Holloway Road.
As Cesc Fabregas pulled the strings and Arsenal slipped smoothly into a two-goal lead courtesy of Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh, Spurs were subjected to the taunts of The Emirates, including chants of "Are You Tottenham in disguise?"
It turned out that they were - because thanks to a tactical alteration made by Redknapp almost as a last resort and a return of the vulnerability Wenger finds almost impossible to cure, the real Spurs emerged from their shell to mount an astonishing recovery that altered those half-time perceptions so dramatically.
After 68 games without an away win against the so-called "Big Four" - taking the quartet as Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United - Spurs ended this sad sequence in spectacular style.
Whether it was Arsenal getting too smug in their superiority or Spurs responding to an angry half-time address by Redknapp, the transformation was remarkable as Gareth Bale's brilliantly-taken goal sparked anxiety at the Emirates.
When Fabregas went into some sort of meltdown and handled Rafael van der Vaart's free-kick, allowing the Netherlands star to complete the formalities from the spot, it was up for grabs. And it was Spurs who did the grabbing when Younes Kaboul headed a late winner.
The 17-year wait for victory on enemy territory was over, and judging by the unabashed ecstasy in a small corner of a rapidly-emptying stadium, the wait was worth every second.
So what does this game say about the two sides who fought it out? And what damage, both in a psychological and football sense, has the result inflicted on Arsenal?
After watching Arsenal win at Everton last week, there looked to be foundations behind Wenger's optimism, but the manner in which they cast aside their advantage suggests they are taking on the mantle of a team that simply cannot be trusted. If we were fooled by Arsenal's battling victory at Goodison Park then so, it appears, was Wenger.
Wenger, normally so vociferous an advocate for his team even in defeat, may have said he was rendered "speechless" by the result, but went on to say more than enough to suggest it had left him nursing real concerns about Arsenal.
After claiming tiredness following international duty may have played a part, he dug deeper and admitted: "What is worrying is that we had an opportunity to go top of the league, then when we had to deliver we can't. There are opportunities in a season you want to take. Today we put ourselves in the right position but we failed."
It was a failure that was even more startling given the dominance of the opening half, but Wenger should also have given credit to the way in which Spurs stirred themselves and preyed on the uncertainty that suddenly got underneath Arsenal's skin.
If you had offered Wenger a draw at the interval he would have been disgusted. To suggest Arsenal would lose would have stunned him, and yet that was the conclusion.
At the heart of Arsenal's failings and Spurs success was Laurent Koscielny, a thoroughly unconvincing figure at a princely £10m and certainly not an obvious upgrade on Johan Djourou, who played a key role in the resilience shown at Everton.
Once Redknapp introduced Jermain Defoe at half-time to give Spurs greater mobility up front, Koscielny was all at sea. He was manouevred out of position constantly by Defoe's movement and crudely crashed into Gareth Bale for the free-kick that led to Kaboul's winner.
Throw in his awful headed miss with the score at 2-2 and this was not a day Koscielny will remember with great fondness.
In this madcap season, Arsenal have time to recover from three home defeats against West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle and now (most painfully of all) Spurs, but the soft underbelly that has undermined them for so long remains an itch Wenger cannot scratch.
Wenger can thumb statistics all he likes and scour the numbers for injustice, but Arsenal did not kill Spurs off and found opponents who now have enough quality to make them pay for their generosity. It was a galling day for Wenger on many levels.
As for Spurs, Redknapp was emboldened enough by victory to insist Spurs can be serious players in the race to win their first title since 1961.
This was a message he delivered to his players in a meeting on Friday, but one they did not appear to take seriously until Redknapp had strong words with them at half-time at Arsenal.
Redknapp is well within his rights to suggest Spurs can be right in the mix. Real character was on show here and this was the sort of victory, one that gets a monkey off their back, that could be a defining moment when it comes to calculating confidence and self-belief.
Spurs have a range of attacking options and variety. They will concede goals, most appallingly when Nasri showed far greater bravery and commitment than keeper Heurelho Gomes to put Arsenal ahead, but they will feel they can score more.
Redknapp pointed out that the Premier League's superpowers have come back to the pack, and he has the strength of squad to take advantage of the new equality in the title race.
And he rubbed salt in Arsenal's wounds by heaping praise on William Gallas, Spurs' captain for the day and a player who will have taken special pleasure from victory.
Gallas looked more accomplished than his expensive replacement Koscielny, and while he was showered in affection by Redknapp he did not get much love from Arsenal - or to be more precise their supporters and Samir Nasri.
Nasri revisited a previous spat between the pair by refusing to shake Gallas's hand before kick-off, a small-minded gesture at odds with Wenger's plea for respect for the defender from Arsenal's fans - which was also studiously ignored.
In the background Spurs fans were making up for 17 years of misery, and Redknapp was turning his thoughts to the title after another remarkable day in this unpredictable season.