His actions - and particularly celebrations - after scoring against the Gunners said it all.
The popular Dutch forward netted four times in his three derby matches and was never on the losing side and admits: "Yes, Arsenal definitely got the best out of me!"
Rafa scored the second from the spot as we came back from 2-0 down to memorably win 3-2 at the Emirates in November, 2010, followed up with two goals as we came from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 at the Lane in April, 2011 and then opened the scoring in a 2-1 win in October, 2011.
Now playing for FC Midtlylland in Denmark, there will be no more avid viewer than Rafa as the teams walk out for the last time at the Lane as we know it for the derby first played competitively against Woolwich Arsenal in the old First Division back in April, 1910.
What is it about derbies and especially our derby against Arsenal that brought the best out of you? You always seemed inspired when you played the Gunners!
Rafa: "I have always liked playing in derbies and in classico matches. Even as a young kid in the youth academy at Ajax, when we were playing Feyenoord from Rotterdam, I could hardly get any sleep the day before the match. It’s just excitement. You are defending your club in a sporting battle, it’s about honour first and the opportunity to make your supporters proud. At Ajax and Real Madrid, it was the classicos against Feyenoord and Barcelona, and the derbies against Atletico. At Hamburg SV I played the derby against Werder Bremen and at Spurs, there were the fantastic north London derbies against Arsenal. You don’t have to give me a lecture about the history of certain matches. As a player I just feel it, you walk on the pitch, you hear the cheering of the fans, it all has that different intensity and you know straight away - it’s game on. And on a matchday against Arsenal it is definitely game on!"
You also seemed to understand straight away what it meant to the fans - where does that come from, your own love of football?
Rafa: "You feel the extra excitement all week. Not only at the club but also in the city. People will come up to you at your kids’ school, the petrol station, in restaurants, at the store, everywhere and luckily, it’s almost always positive. That’s just how it should be, encouragement or funny jokes. How could you not like it? You feel those weeks even more, it’s what the game is all about. It is for the fans, for their history with the club, for their pride, for their future, you do it for them. They have to go to their office on the Monday and you just want them to rule the workplace for the coming months and give them the opportunity to prank their Arsenal fan colleagues, instead of the other way around!"
Below: From The Vault, Rafa scores as we come from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at the Emirates - November, 2010
What do you remember about your first north London derby? That was our first away win against Arsenal in 17 years and we won 3-2 having been 2-0 down!
Rafa: "You see, that’s what I mean. It was an intense match, with a late winner. I think I scored a penalty and made two assists. Other people remember these statistics way better than me, so I could be wrong, but people still remind me of that match, isn’t that crazy? It just shows how much they care about their club. How many matches have Spurs played since? People won’t forget historic games and that was one of them. We actually played quite a few historic games during my time at Spurs...don’t forget the Champions League matches. I’m still proud I could be a part of that team."
Below - Rafa strikes in the 3-3 draw at the Lane - April, 2011
And then your first derby at the Lane - the 3-3 draw in which you scored twice. We remember you going crazy after your goals and the fans loved it! How did it feel to score those goals?
Rafa: "Yes that was another amazing game. In these matches you have to show your heart for the club and for the fans even more! That’s what I did. The goals felt as a relief of all the tension you’ve built up during that week. It’s nothing you plan after you score, it just happens."
In your third and final derby, again at the Lane, you scored another goal in another win. That made it four goals in three derbies to leave you unbeaten in your games against Arsenal.
Rafa: "Yes, Arsenal definitely got the best out of me! But I’ve always had a focus on scoring goals. Although I play as a midfielder, I’m determined to help the team not only with creating but also scoring goals."
Below: Rafa opens the scoring in our 2-1 win at the Lane - October, 2011
Bringing it right up to date Rafa, what do you think of our current team?
Rafa: "It’s great to see so much talent together at Spurs and their performances are inspiring to watch. They are not just playing winning football, but also beautiful football. I am happy that I can follow their matches in Denmark. I still have my hopes on Spurs winning this season’s Premier League. And I would like to see them next year do as good in the Champions League as they do in the Premier League."
Spurs fans would love to know how you are getting on in Denmark? And are you going to watch today’s derby?
Rafa: "Things are going well in Denmark, both personally as well as professionally. We’re expecting a baby, for which I’m very thankful. From where we live in Denmark, I’m also close to my son who lives in Hamburg. I like it a lot at my club FC Midtlylland. I’m just getting back in the team after recovering from a small injury, that was a bit of setback. We’re in fifth place now, so I hope I can soon help the team again getting up that ladder. And should our playing schedule allow so, I will definitely watch the derby!"
DON’T MISS SUNDAY’S OFFICIAL MATCHDAY PROGRAMME!
As we mark the final north London derby at White Hart Lane, the front cover of Sunday's programme has been designed by one of our fans.
Pick up your copy at the game! It’s £3.50 for 100 pages, including...
- Main feature interview with Jan Vertonghen as he prepares for his 200th Spurs appearance
- Mauricio Pochettino's exclusive column
- Rafa van der Vaart on the North London derby
- Examining the link-ups between Harry Kane and Dele Alli in 'Centre of Attention'
- Another instalment of 'The White Hart Lane Years'
- Steve Perryman's memories of playing at the Lane
Buy yours from a number of points around the stadium or from the Spurs Megastore on Sunday.
Sample it now for free with our 12-page online preview edition
or buy the full 100-page digital issue via tottenhamhotspur.com/programme