Arsenal host local neighbours Tottenham in Saturday’s North London Derby. The Gunners are currently 1 point and 1 position behind Spurs, so any home win in the derby would send Arsenal above the visitors in the table.
Wojciech Szczesny is expected to be available for Arsenal having been out for two months with an ankle injury. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott should be available too following injuries but Bacary Sagna is suffering from fatigue having been out injured for a long time and playing three times in quick succession. He is having a test today.
Gervinho, Kieran Gibbs, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky remain sidelined with injuries.
Tottenham will be without Moussa Dembele who has a hip injury. Jermain Defoe, Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon will be assessed before any decisions are made on them.
Both sides haven’t started the season too well. This is Arsenal’s worst start to a season since 1982/83, which tells you something, considering how bad they started last season. Tottenham’s form hasn’t been much better, hence why the two clubs are right next to each other in the table.
Both sets of fans will argue that their side is superior. It doesn’t matter what year it is, how bad either side is doing, both sides just love to argue with each other.
The Rivalry – Are Spurs bridging the gap?
When Arsene Wenger took charge at Arsenal in 1996, he also took charge of North London for at least over a decade. Arsenal won The Double in his first full season in charge of the club and four years later he repeated it. FA Cup wins in 2003 and 2005 as well as an entire season unbeaten in 2003/04 followed, where Arsenal clinched the title at White Hart Lane for the second time in their history. The funny statistic is that Arsenal have won as many titles at White Hart Lane as Spurs have in their entire history. Arsenal are way in front with 13 titles to Tottenham’s 2. It is fair to say that Arsenal during the first 10 years of Wenger’s reign were far superior to Spurs in every way. They didn’t admit it at the time, but on reflection, even Spurs fans admit that now.
The rivalry began to get closer really in 2005/06. Arsenal just about stole 4th place from Tottenham in 2006. Tottenham’s dodgy lasagne at the hotel sent a sickness bug throughout their team, meaning they would have to field a makeshift line-up away to West Ham on the final day. Tottenham lost 2-1, allowing Arsenal to leapfrog them into 4th spot in the league, the final Champions League qualifying position after beating Wigan 4-2 in the final match to be played at Highbury.
There was also a spell between 1999 and 2008 where Tottenham didn’t beat the Gunners in any competition. Bare in mind that Arsenal not only met them twice in the league every season, they also met in semi-finals of the FA Cup (2000/01) and League Cup (2006/07) in that period. That period of dominance ended when Spurs beat a mixed Arsenal team 5-1 in a League Cup semi-final back in 2008. Perhaps if Wenger had fielded a better side, Arsenal would have progressed to the final for the second year running. As well as this, Tottenham were so happy to have finally beaten us in something they released DVD’s, mugs, plates etc of the game.
2008 saw Harry Redknapp take charge at White Hart Lane following a poor start to the campaign under Juande Ramos. Harry got Spurs closer to finishing above Arsenal than any other Spurs manager has since Wenger took charge (you could argue Jol got them just as close in 2005/06 I guess). In one of his first few games in charge at Spurs, Arsenal blew a 4-2 lead at home to Spurs in the final few minutes and drew 4-4. It was the following season that saw Tottenham begin to come up to Arsenal’s level. You wouldn’t have believed it in October 2009 when the Gunners thrashed Spurs 3-0 at the Emirates, but Spurs qualified for the Champions League by finishing 4th in 2009/10. However, the Gunners still finished above Tottenham by coming 3rd. Spurs also won the North London Derby at White Hart Lane that season, winning it 2-1.
In 2010/11, Tottenham had relatively good success against Arsenal. Arsenal won the first match at White Hart Lane 4-1 in the League Cup. After that success though, in November 2010 (almost 2 years to the date of this upcoming fixture), Tottenham came from 2 goals down to beat the Gunners 3-2. It was Tottenham’s first win at Arsenal since 1993. Later that season the two sides drew 3-3 at White Hart Lane. Tottenham also progressed further than Arsenal in the Champions League. However, Arsenal did get drawn against Barcelona who were and probably still are the best team in the world. When Spurs were drawn against Real Madrid, who were that season clearly Spain’s second best side, they got absolutely destroyed, making one wonder how bad it would have been had they drawn Barcelona. I also recall that if Nicklas Bendtner had not wasted a golden opportunity in the final seconds of that game away to Barcelona, Arsenal would have gone through on away goals. My point being, Arsenal gave them a run for their money!.
2011/12 is the season that hurts Spurs fans most. Tottenham won the first derby of the season 2-1 at White Hart Lane. Arsenal had started the season slowly and hadn’t found their feet. At the start of February, Tottenham beat Wigan 3-1 at White Hart Lane and Arsenal drew 0-0 away to Bolton. Arsenal sat in 6th place on 36 points and Tottenham were in 3rd on 49 points.
At the end of February, Arsenal hosted Spurs in what was a must win game for the home side. Arsenal were in poor form. They had been hammered 4-0 by AC Milan in the Champions League and lost 2-0 to Sunderland in the FA Cup, effectively ending all hopes of lifting a trophy in 2012. All they had left was qualifying for the Champions League and if possible, finish above Tottenham. Before the game, the gap was 10 points. Arsenal on 43, Tottenham on 53. Spurs fans mocked the Gunners with t-shirts saying ‘Mind The Gap’ as you would hear on a London Underground train. Four minutes into the game and Spurs fans were in dreamland. Louis Saha gave the visitors an early lead at the Emirates. To Arsenal’s credit, they didn’t play too badly after conceding so early, but with ten minutes to go until half time, Gareth Bale tumbled over theatrically and conned the ref into giving Spurs a penalty. Former Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor stepped up for Spurs and ignored the booing from the home fans to give Tottenham a 2-0 lead.
Arsenal looked dead. If the scores stayed the same, Arsenal would have been 13 points behind Spurs with 12 games to play. Arsenal knew this. Their response was superb. Van Persie struck the post and every Arsenal fan couldn’t believe how unlucky they were. Seconds later they were celebrating as Arteta’s cross was headed in by Bacary Sagna, who looked fired up having suffered a broken leg in the game at White Hart Lane earlier in the season.
Minutes later and Van Persie curled in a beauty to level the scores. Arsenal went in at half time absolutely delighted to be level. Spurs tried to get the lead back by bringing on Rafael Van Der Vaart and Sandro at half time, but Spurs had lost the game mentally.
Five minutes after the break Rosicky put Arsenal ahead for the first time in the game before Theo Walcott scored a brace to seal up a vital win for Arsenal. They certainly didn’t do it the easy way that day, but they got what they needed, which was a win.
Spurs fell apart from that day onwards. Arsenal’s form unsurprisingly improved. That ‘gap’ that the Tottenham fans were talking about slowly disappeared. By the final game of the season, Arsenal had control of their own destiny. Win at West Brom and third place was theirs. Anything less and Spurs had a chance to finish above Arsenal if they could beat Fulham at home. West Brom away was tense and nervewracking, but the Gunners got what they needed with a 3-2 win at The Hawthorns, thanks mostly due to the poor goalkeeping of a former Tottenham goalkeeper Marton Fulop. Spurs won and finished 4th in the table. So they qualified for the Champions League, right?. Wrong. Chelsea finished 6th in the league, but qualified for the Champions League Final. A win against Bayern Munich in the Final and Tottenham were in the Europa League. Chelsea won the Champions League on penalties on a night of mixed emotions for Gooners. Arsenal weren’t going to be the first London based club to lift the European Cup, but they at least had the joy of winding Spurs fans up once more!.
Whilst no Arsenal fan can deny that the two sides haven’t got closer in terms of ability since 2005, no Spurs fan can really say they’ve been a better side than Arsenal in those 7 years or so.
Crossing the divide: It takes a brave man to cross the North London divide. Arsenal could be playing a team from League Two and if a player’s name is read out that played for Tottenham’s reserve team, chances are you will hear somebody shout out ‘Tottenham reject’ or hear light hearted boos towards him!.
Tottenham fans certainly don’t want anything to do with Arsenal at their club. There are currently three former Arsenal players on the Spurs wage bill currently.
David Bentley: He is still contracted to Spurs even though he is on loan to Russian side FC Rostov having flopped since his move from Blackburn in 2008. Bentley was an exciting youth product at Arsenal who played once in the league for Arsenal and made appearances in the League Cup as well as the FA Cup in which he scored an audacious lob against Middlesbrough back in 2004. He has been sent out on loan three times since joining Spurs.
William Gallas: Former Arsenal captain Gallas was released by Arsenal in 2010 after he demanded wages of £80k a week to stay with the Gunners. The Frenchman played a big part in Tottenham’s 3-2 win at the Emirates 2 years ago and I would honestly say he was man of the match that day. Famous for his strop at Birmingham in 2008 whilst Arsenal captain, as well as being stripped of captaincy for criticising the club in the press, Arsenal fans were glad to be rid of him. He left Chelsea after a rift with Jose Mourinho, so it appears that he is a troublemaker wherever he goes, as good as a player as he can be on his day. Tottenham fans didn’t exactly welcome him with open arms, but the dislike for Gallas appears to have disappeared over time.
Emmanuel Adebayor: Once a hero at Arsenal, it appeared as though Adebayor would be a popular figure at the Emirates for many years to come. However, having scored 30 goals in all competitions in 2007/08, he attracted interest from the likes of AC Milan and Barcelona in the summer of 2008. Adebayor stayed put for another year, but in the summer of 2009, Manchester City offered Arsenal £25m for his services and the Gunners accepted it. City had a lot of money, but at that point they weren’t title challengers like they are today, but Adebayor took the money and moved to Manchester along with Kolo Toure. He upset Arsenal fans further in the 2009/10 when he ran the entire length of the pitch to celebrate a goal scored against Arsenal in front of the travelling Arsenal fans which sparked an angry response from the fans, who were trying to throw pretty well anything they could at him.
Personally I didn’t have a problem with Adebayor until that moment. I accepted that he left for the money and he’s not the only modern day footballer that would. But to rub it in the fans faces was the final straw for me, the fans didn’t deserve that and it was uncalled for.
Ultimately as City grew to become a bigger team, Adebayor wasn’t needed by them and he was just another unwanted name on the wage bill. He was loaned out to Real Madrid in 2010/11 where he briefly made Arsenal fans happy by scoring twice against Spurs in the Champions League that season. But it wasn’t long until Adebayor became a hate figure at the Emirates once again as he joined Spurs on a season-long loan deal in 2011/12. He scored in Tottenham’s 5-2 defeat at the Emirates in February, becoming only the second man to score for both Arsenal and Tottenham in a North London Derby. Adebayor made his deal permanent in the summer.
Tottenham to Arsenal:
Willie Young: I remember my Dad telling me about Willie Young. Young joined Arsenal in 1977 from Spurs and my Dad would tell me how every time he touched the ball the fans would be on his case saying things like “f*ck off back to Spurs” and much worse. But after a while, Willie became a very popular figure at Arsenal. Looking at his statistics, he was a regular at Arsenal and played in 237 games overall for the Gunners. Not bad going for somebody who the fans didn’t want. It shows that you can win the fans over if you cross the divide.
Pat Jennings: Perhaps the only one to go with the blessing of the Tottenham faithful. Spurs thought Jennings was coming towards the end of his career, so in 1977 he moved to Highbury. He stayed there for 8 years and won the FA Cup in 1979. A popular figure with both sets of fans.
Sol Campbell: Campbell made his Tottenham debut in 1992 and started off as a striker. He then switched to defence where he played every position until finally settling in central defence. He captained Tottenham to League Cup success in 1999, but Spurs never qualified for the Champions League during his time at the club, something Campbell wanted to compete in and also a competition then England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson wanted him to be playing in.
His contract expired in the summer of 2001 and Campbell stated that he was willing to stay at Tottenham. Spurs then offered him a contract that would have made him the highest paid player in their history. Campbell was attracting interest from all the top clubs in Europe. Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester United and Inter Milan were amongst the clubs with big interest in Campbell. There was one problem though. Campbell was happy and settled in London. He had 3 teams in London that could afford his wages. Tottenham had their offer on the table, one they believed up until the last minute would keep Campbell at White Hart Lane. Chelsea showed an interest despite the fact their finances weren’t great at the time and still spent money that summer (Petit and Lampard) so they could have got Campbell. There was one thing that both Chelsea and Spurs were missing though. Champions League football. Arsenal were the only London based club in 2001 that could offer Campbell what he wanted. So, in a move that shocked the world and North London in particular, Campbell joined Arsenal on a free transfer in July 2001.
Campbell became an instant Arsenal hero. Captain of Tottenham leaving them for Arsenal on a free transfer because he wanted to win trophies. There was no doubting that Campbell would be a success at Arsenal, especially with Tony Adams in the Arsenal defence for the 2001/02 campaign. At the time Sol was one of the best defenders in the world and Arsenal had stolen him for nothing from their neighbours. He did command £100k a week in wages, but it was worth it given that there was no transfer fee involved and what Campbell would do in future.
The response from the Tottenham fans was unsurprisingly angry, branding Campbell a ‘Judas’ for joining Arsenal. Campbell went on to win The Double in his first season at Arsenal and added 1 more title and two more FA Cup’s to his collection before leaving Arsenal. Campbell also featured in the Champions League Final for Arsenal, scoring Arsenal’s goal in their 2-1 loss to Barcelona in 2006.
Sol went on to win the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008 and shocked the football world again in 2009 when he joined then League Two side Notts County. After just one appearance, Campbell left County by mutual consent, becoming a free agent. Campbell couldn’t sign for a Premier League club until January, so trained with Arsenal to keep his fitness levels up. Spurs manager Harry Redknapp stated that he would have loved to have signed Campbell, having managed him at Portsmouth, but in the end he decided not to because he knew that the response from the Spurs fans would not have been pleasant. Plus Campbell probably wouldn’t have gone back anyway, having suffered homophobic and racial abuse from Spurs fans since leaving for Arsenal.
In January 2010, Campbell joined Arsenal until the end of the 2009/10 campaign to make him even more of a legend in Arsenal eyes. His return was mocked by many, stating that Arsenal were desperate and that Campbell was well past it. Sol’s return wasn’t bad at all though and he played a big part in Arsenal finishing above Spurs once again that season.
Managers: The final shout out really goes to players that have turned into managers of rivals. Herbert Chapman was on Tottenham’s books during his career as a player, but became a legend at Arsenal as a manager. He was honoured with a statue outside the Emirates last December as part of the club’s 125th anniversary celebrations.
Joe Hulme played for Arsenal before managing Spurs between 1945 and 1949.
Terry Neill played for Arsenal before going on to manage both clubs. Neill said he received hate mail, death threats etc, but when he saved them from relegation, he became an instant hero at Spurs.
George Graham played for Arsenal and was an extremely successful manager for Arsenal too. After the bung scandal, in which Graham was guilty of accepting illegal payments to sign players (John Jensen and Pal Lydersen) from a Norweigan agent, Graham was sacked by Arsenal. After serving a ban he returned to football management with Leeds. Graham was then offered the job of Tottenham manager in October 1998, a role that he took. It seemed strange that Graham, a former Arsenal player and manager would take the role, but perhaps Graham was angry at Arsenal for not sticking with him after the bung scandal as he had won Arsenal a lot of trophies.
Graham was manager of the 1999 League Cup winning side. Imagine that, Spurs winning a trophy with a former Arsenal player and manager in charge and their captain was a future Arsenal star. Quite amusing on reflection. Spurs fans never really warmed to Graham, I believe they used to sing “the man in the raincoats white and blue army” instead of saying his name. In 2001 Graham was sacked by Spurs.
This Game: Much of the talk in this preview has been about the rivalry and rightly so, as any rivalry is important to talk about the history. This game should be entertaining. Just thinking back the last few seasons, most of the games have been high scoring. 5-4 Arsenal at White Hart Lane in 2004, 4-4 at the Emirates in 2008, 5-1 Spurs in the League Cup, 4-1 Arsenal in the League Cup, 3-2 Spurs at the Emirates, 3-3 at Spurs that year too as well as last season’s 5-2 win for Arsenal. With Arsenal’s defence starting the season so well at the back, they’ve begun to let goals in a lot of late. So Arsenal will most likely let goals in. However, Spurs have been far from perfect too and Theo Walcott always gets up for the derby, Giroud has found form lately and Podolski ended a goal drought last weekend too. So there are certainly goals in this game. Both sets of fans will be very much up for it and I am sure that the atmosphere will be superb as always!.