Classic North London Derbies – Arsenal win the league at White Hart Lane (Twice)


Winning the league title for any club is a glorious occasion. Unless you support Manchester United nowadays, you can never be sure when the next one is coming, so you should make the most of it when it happens. Of course you can win 2 or 3 in a row, but you have to enjoy the moment when it happens.

Arsenal are currently third on the list of most league titles won with 13, trailing only Liverpool and Manchester United on that list. Arsenal’s most recent league title was won in 2004. It is arguably the best of the lot. The Gunners went the entire 2003/04 season without losing and sealed the title at the home of their North London neighbours, Tottenham Hotspur.

Winning the league at the home of your arch-rivals is a dream come true. To do it twice is something special. Arsenal seem to have a habit of clinching the title at the home of a rival team. In 1971, the Gunners won the league at White Hart Lane, 18 years later they won it at Anfield with virtually the last kick of the game. Needing to win by 2 goals, Michael Thomas scored in stoppage time to steal the title from Liverpool’s grasp in their own back yard. Liverpool at the time were the Gunners’ main rivals for the title. In 2002, Sylvain Wiltord’s goal helped clinch the title at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United and 2 years later it was back to White Hart Lane to win it there for the second time in their history. Oh and if I still miraculously have the attention of any Spurs fans, that is two times we’ve won it in your backyard. Two times being the amount you have won it in your history.

So let’s kick off this post with details on the first time Arsenal won the league at White Hart Lane in 1971.

Tottenham Hotspur 0-1 Arsenal – 3rd May 1971: Arsenal made the short journey to White Hart Lane knowing that they needed either a win or a scoreless draw to bring the title back to Highbury for the first time since 1953. A score draw would not do. Leeds watched on in hope of an Arsenal slip-up.

51,192 managed to fit into White Hart Lane with many fans outside hoping to get in. Spurs were desperate to deny Arsenal the bragging rights in North London.

It was a difficult situation to be in for Arsenal, oddly enough. If they scored, they still wouldn’t dare concede. As mentioned above, a score draw would have shattered Arsenal’s dreams. A Spurs goal at any stage was unwelcome.

Tottenham goalkeeper Pat Jennings made a number of fine saves throughout as Arsenal tried to break the deadlock. In the end, Arsenal were the team to break that deadlock. In the 88th minute, Ray Kennedy headed in a George Armstrong cross via the underside of the bar.

The goal only meant Tottenham would increase the pressure further in hopes of preventing Arsenal winning the title. A Tottenham goal would have been enough for Leeds to win the title, but there was very limited time for them to do it in.

In the end, it was enough for Arsenal. Bob Wilson prevented any Spurs equaliser from happening and Arsenal sealed the first half of the Double by winning the league at White Hart Lane, much to the delight of all their fans.

Five days later, Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 in the FA Cup Final at Wembley to complete a glorious Double.

Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Arsenal – 25th April 2004: Arsenal were simply unstoppable in the 2003/04 campaign. With the Gunners unbeaten still in April, it was pretty obvious that the league title was heading back to Highbury once more, it was just a matter of when and where they would seal it.

As fate would have it, Arsenal could win the league at White Hart Lane once again. Arsenal’s closest challengers were Chelsea, who had spent big in the summer of 2003 to get their hands on the title. On the 25th April, Chelsea lost 2-1 away to Newcastle, making Arsenal’s task in their game at Tottenham simple. Arsenal needed just 1 point to clinch the title at White Hart Lane. News of Chelsea’s defeat spread to the away fans at White Hart Lane, so even before the game Arsenal fans were in a jubilant mood.

Tottenham’s task wasn’t so simple. They had to do what no other team had managed to do all season and beat Arsenal to prevent their local rivals celebrating at the final whistle.

Within three minutes, Arsenal had the lead. Thierry Henry raced away down the left hand side after Arsenal had defended a Tottenham corner. The Frenchman provided a fine ball for Dennis Bergkamp, who crossed low to meet the sliding Arsenal skipper Patrick Vieira, who finished off what was a fine Arsenal move.

10 minutes before the break and Vieira turned provider for Arsenal’s second, as he cut the ball back to Robert Pires who continued an already fine goalscoring record against Tottenham by putting the visitors 2-0 up.

As the half time whistle was blown, the Arsenal fans were celebrating already. It was very unlikely that a poor Tottenham side would be able to score 3 second half goals to prevent it from happening.

They gave it a good go, clawing back two of them. Jamie Redknapp scored from range just past the hour mark to give Spurs fans hope.

For much of the second half though, it was more whether Arsenal were able to add to their lead. Robert Pires’ effort smashed against the crossbar as the Gunners looked the more likely to score again.

In the last minute of the game, Jens Lehmann was penalised for a foul on Robbie Keane and the Irishman made no mistake from the spot.

The thing I remember most about this game was the Tottenham fans going crazy as Keane scored that penalty. I didn’t understand it. Yes, they’d equalised and prevented Arsenal from winning the game. Celebrate the goal, fair enough. The way they celebrated though, it was as if THEY had just won the league. Quite the opposite. I’d have even understood if that goal had made it 3-2 instead of 2-2. Beating Arsenal to deny their unbeaten dreams and prevent them winning the title that day would have been something to celebrate for their fans. But they didn’t win the game and they didn’t prevent Arsenal from winning the title at White Hart Lane, so it made no sense.

Arsenal’s players looked a bit surprised by the reaction to the equaliser from the home fans, but it didn’t stop them celebrating the title with the away fans. I remember hearing Thierry Henry talk about it and he was as confused by it as I was, but both me and Thierry celebrated our title that day.

I remember hearing from Arsenal fanzines that the reaction outside the ground to Arsenal winning the league there was particularly unpleasant that day. Any North London Derby is pretty unpleasant if you dare wear red in that part of London. But Tottenham fans didn’t realise that whatever they would say or throw at the travelling fans that day, really didn’t matter. Arsenal fans couldn’t care less. They’d just won the league there, aside from killing every away fan that day, they could not have taken that feeling away from them.

I’ve been to North London Derbies when Arsenal are at home. Sure, I hate Tottenham, but I wouldn’t throw something at one of their fans. I wouldn’t be violent towards one of them. I could wind them up with words perhaps, particularly back then (the Sol wounds were still fresh and we won the league at the Lane) but violence towards them?. That’s not who I am. I’ve never really seen that at a North London Derby at Highbury or the Emirates. Verbal abuse is bound to happen at a North London Derby, but there are lines that are crossed verbally and physically. I’ve only heard of these things happening at White Hart Lane, not the Emirates.

I just find it strange how we go there and a lot of our fans don’t wear Arsenal shirts. When I have been to NLD’s at home, I’ve seen lots of Spurs fans in their shirts. I’ve never gone up to one of them and physically or verbally harmed them. There’s no need for that. At the end of the day, we go there to support our team and enjoy the atmosphere of a NLD and they come to Arsenal for the same reason.

Arsene Wenger celebrates Arsenal winning the league at White Hart Lane in 2004.