Gallas answers Arsenal's taunts to set Spurs talking of the title

Arsenal 2 Tottenham Hotspure 3
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All that was missing for William Gallas was to score the winning goal. That honour instead fell to his excellent partner in defence Younes Kaboul, whose deft header to meet Rafael van der Vaart's free-kick with five minutes to go provided the crowning glory to Tottenham's breathtaking comeback.

Other than that, however, the day in which Tottenham won at Arsenal for the first time in 17 years belonged to Gallas. All the Spurs combatants played their part in their historic victory, coming from two goals down to topple their unsuspecting neighbours, but it was Gallas, booed throughout on his return to the Emirates, whose personal story provided the most compelling narrative of the day.

He had left Arsenal last summer accused of being a malign influence in the dressing room, proof of which came when his former team-mate Samir Nasri refused to shake his hand during the preliminaries to Saturday's contest.

However, Gallas rose to the occasion with a wonderful performance that justified Harry Redknapp's decision to hand him the captain's armband, a brilliant piece of psychology by the Tottenham manager who signed him amid controversy in the summer.

Redknapp had to convince everyone else at the club last summer that Gallas was a good move, that the fuss would be worth it, that his influence on the young players would be beneficial.

Redknapp said: "I had to fight my corner to get him, I went out on a limb with everybody – the fans, chairman and everybody else. But I just thought it was a fantastic free transfer.

"No one wanted me to sign him – only me and William. He came on a free, on half his wages at Arsenal, and he's shown some character to do that. There was no way he was going to go 'I can't go to Tottenham, I've played for Arsenal'. He's a footballer."

Gallas comes with a reputation for speaking his mind a little too much, but that was one of the reasons Redknapp wanted him. "That's what top players do, it works for great teams, they sort their problems out in the dressing room," Redknapp said. "You need people like that who want to win."

Tottenham's victory was all the more remarkable given the way they played in the first 45 minutes, when Arsenal's neat football was justly rewarded with goals from Nasri and Marouane Chamakh. The introduction of Jermain Defoe at half-time proved decisive. Arsenal's soft centre was exposed when the 5ft 7in striker, making his return after two months out with an ankle injury, won a header, Van der Vaart flicked the ball on and Gareth Bale scored.

The home captain, Cesc Fabregas, then inexcusably raised his arm in a defensive wall to concede a penalty for handball, which Van der Vaart dispatched, setting the stage for Kaboul's late winner. Quite what Fabregas thought he was doing only he knows, but it was a catastrophic error that cost his team possibly three points, which would have put them top of the Premier League.

Tottenham's Jermaine Jenas said Arsenal had visibly slumped after Bale had made the score 2-1. "Once we scored our first goal we definitely felt like we could win. We sensed that within ourselves and within them. I felt like they dropped a little bit," he said.

Kaboul described it as a poignant day for Gallas, saying: "It is normal in football that the other fans will boo him, but going over that, those people are cheap. William won and that was the answer."

Arsène Wenger was nonplussed that his team had lost their third home game of the season. "We could have scored six or seven goals," the Arsenal manager said – although he admitted to French TV: "We lose 3-2 by making kids' mistakes and playing like youth team players."

Redknapp, on the other hand, predicted Tottenham could go on to claim the title, as long as they buy a couple more players in the January window. "I feel with the right ambition we can go on and win it. There's one or two other bits we could do without spending a fortune that could make a difference," Redknapp said. "The title is wide open. It's there for someone to pull off a surprise, maybe."

After that performance and result, Redknapp will surely be given what he wants. The last word goes to Gallas, who chose not to inflame the situation by celebrating the victory on the pitch with his team-mates but instead ducked down the tunnel to meet his family.

Gallas said: "I knew it would be like that but when you are a pro you have to expect that sort of welcome. I thought the crowd would be nice with me as I spent four years here. It wasn't easy but I wear the colours of Tottenham and I give everything for Tottenham."

Scorers: Arsenal Nasri 9, Chamakh 27; Tottenham Bale 50, Van der Vaart 67 (pen), Kaboul 85.

Substitutes: Arsenal Van Persie (Chamakh, 68), Walcott (Arshavin, 77), Rosicky (Nasri, 77).

Unused Szczesny (gk), Djourou, Eboué, Wilshere.

Tottenham Defoe (Lennon, 46), Pavlyuchenko (Crouch, 73), Palacios (Van der Vaart, 87).

Unused Cudicini (gk), Bassong, Corluka, Bentley. Booked: Arsenal Sagna, Koscielny, Denilson.

Tottenham Van der Vaart.

Man of the match Gallas. Match rating 9/10.

Possession Arsenal 51% Tottenham 49%.

Shots on target Arsenal 7 Tottenham 6.

Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire). Attendance 60,102.