The Women’s Super League crowd record was smashed for the second time this season but the 38,262 fans at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium saw Arsenal claim the north London bragging rights.
Scotland star Kim Little and Netherlands striker Vivianne Miedema’s second-half goals won the division’s first derby between the two sides to keep Arsenal a point behind leaders Chelsea.
Both teams had created good chances to take the lead amid a crackling atmosphere, in what was the marquee game of the Football Association’s inaugural Women’s Football Weekend.
The attendance far surpassed the 31,213 that watched the Manchester derby at Etihad Stadium in September – and was more than seven times higher than the record of 5,265 which stood prior to this term.
The home fans – whose side were meeting Arsenal in the top tier for the first time after Spurs’ promotion last season – were almost celebrating when striker Kit Graham twice went close before the break.
After a slow start, Spurs grew in confidence during the first half and should have led when ex-Charlton forward Graham was played through one-on-one, but she shot straight at Austria goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger.
Graham then almost scored again, hitting the post with a good effort from just outside the box, before Arsenal’s Republic of Ireland international Katie McCabe clipped the top of the crossbar at the other end.
But after the break the Gunners asserted their control, dominating possession and building up some pressure before Little broke the deadlock with a clinical finish into the bottom corner and then Miedema’s close-range finish wrapped it up.
That sent the away fans into raptures, with Arsenal having sold out their 3,000-strong allocation of tickets, generating a rare sight for the division – a packed, segregated section of celebrating away support.
Record crowd full of noise for north London derby
The Gunners’ travelling numbers were more than three times higher than last season’s average crowd for the entire division overall.
The home fans generated plenty of noise too, as Spurs’ women played for the first time at the club’s rebuilt Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The venue was the largest to ever host a fixture in the WSL – which began in 2011 – as it narrowly eclipsed the capacity of the Gunners’ Emirates Stadium, which hosted Arsenal and Chelsea in the division in 2012.
In particular, the flag-waving, party-like atmosphere at half-time felt akin to the entertainment on offer at the latter stages of the Women’s World Cup, as Sunday’s much-anticipated game gave off the feel of one of the most significant of the season.
The result also saw defending champions Arsenal keep pace with their title rivals, although they slipped to third on goal-difference after Man City’s 5-0 win over West Ham United, while Spurs – enjoying an otherwise impressive start to the campaign – stay sixth.
Tottenham co-head coach Karen Hills told BBC Sport:
“It’s very disappointing not to get the three points because that’s what it’s all about, but credit to Arsenal – they are champions for a reason.
“We were unfortunate not to come in at half-time 1-0 up but [we] didn’t put those chances away. I’m extremely proud and pleased with every single one of our players.
“We’ve had the opportunity to play at Stamford Bridge, we’ve had to opportunity to play at the London Stadium, where we’d been the underdogs, where we hadn’t had our big crowd behind us, but I thought we managed the occasion really well.
“I don’t think the players were fazed at all with 38,000 people behind them. I thought the girls were absolutely outstanding – it is just disappointing to concede those two goals.”
Arsenal manager Joe Montemurro told BBC Sport:
“A pleasing thing for me was that our usual fans who come to Borehamwood will have seen some new faces. I hope we’ve whet their appetite to come back.
“We were our own worst enemy today, especially in the first half, with some silly errors and taking a few risks. But I’m very proud of the way we came out in the second half.
“I’d be lying to you, being a Gooner, if I said it wasn’t a great occasion for us.”