The North London Derby; one of the most-storied and hotly-contested rivalries in English football.
For Arsenal and Tottenham, and their millions of fans both at home and abroad, the fixture list every year is unquestionably defined when they clash with “that lot” next door. Some of the greatest matches of the Premier League era have featured these two bitter rivals, perhaps none more iconic than the two times that Arsenal secured League wins at White Hart Lane in 1971 (1-0 win) and again in 2004 (2-2 draw).
Though there are not many that would claim that Tottenham is a bigger club than Arsenal historically, Spurs have gone through a relative purple patch in recent seasons and have finished ahead of Arsenal in the table for five consecutive seasons beginning in 2016-17. But that recent badge of honor does not hold up to the historic comparison between the two clubs, with the Gunners boasting thirteen league titles and a record fourteen FA Cup wins, compared to Tottenham’s two league wins and eight FA Cup triumphs.
It’s North London derby debate time!! 🗯️
Here is Pete’s Tottenham-Arsenal combined XI…. any interesting choices? 🤔
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) May 11, 2022
In every sense of the word, Arsenal is massive by comparison, but history can only be levied in your favor but so much, and most Spurs fans will tell you that they feel they are now the top dog in north London.
And with both clubs coming into the North London Derby separated by just four points with two matches remaining, Tottenham is in need of a win to keep their hopes alive of leapfrogging their bitter rivals into the final Champions League place in the top four while both clubs also have a chance of usurping Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea who has slipped mightily of late.
But what do the fans think? Let them tell you.
Two of 101 Great Goals’ own – Ben (Arsenal) and Jaime (Tottenham) – run the rule over the rivalry and what it means this season as the two clubs once again come to grips with massive implications at stake.
With that in mind, here is the first installment of War of Words; the North London Derby edition.
Victoria Concordia Crescit
Ask most Arsenal fans and the notion of a return to the Champions League next season was not the primary goal. Being competitive is at the root of the desire for a passionate fanbase, but no one would have dreamed that the Gunners could go into the North London Derby with not only a chance at securing top four with a win but possibly finishing third in the table ahead of last seasons Champions League winners Chelsea. For Ben, this notion signals a successful yet unexpected 2021-22.
“I think that this season has got to go down as a success. Arsenal can finish no lower than 5th. If you’d offered most fans 5th after back-to-back 8th places, they would have bitten off your hand. Add to that the transfer business that many saw as underwhelming, and the media dismissed as confused, and fifth was what most fans expected.”
“Now, they have a chance of finishing third, and should they win on Thursday, they will be back in the Champions League for the first time since 2017. All that with Eddie Nketiah, Mohamed Elneny, and Cédric Soares featuring. It is something that few would have predicted.”
With Arsenal potentially returning to the top club competition in Europe, the question now ultimately becomes if their overall performance of the season should be viewed as the benchmark moving forward, or if this is what the Gunners overperforming and exceeding their maximum capacity irrespective of some of the trials and tribulations they have had under the command of Mikel Arteta.
Ever the optimist, Ben views this season as the new flooring moving forward rather than the ceiling.
“I do think that the Gunners have overperformed this season, and I think that they have benefitted from a lack of alternative football as well as the catastrophic form of Tottenham at the beginning of the season and Manchester United from October.”
“Next season, you would expect both sides to be better, and Arsenal to have more competitions to compete in. On the flip side, Arsenal should strengthen their squad significantly this summer and their young players can only get better.”
“This now has to be the benchmark, but it is certainly possible that they fail to sustain the form amid greater expectations, scrutiny, and pressure next campaign.”
And tomorrow’s clash at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is yet another moment where the two rivals have come together with seemingly larger-than-life expectations attached to an already bitterly-charged clash. For many, including Ben, this is the biggest match for both sides in years dating back to 2004 when Arsenal secured their last league title before going on to complete their invincible run that season.
“It is probably the biggest game for both sides. People will point to the 2004 game (where Arsenal won the Premier League at White Hart Lane), but the Gunners still had 4 games to play that season, and the only motivation from Spurs was to stop utter humiliation at their own ground.”
“This time, both sides have it all to play for. After this, Arsenal head north to take on Newcastle United in a game that Spurs will see as a tricky one for Arteta and co., but should they beat Conte’s side, the game becomes irrelevant.”
“For both sides, it feels like a seismic occasion that could set the tone for seasons to come.”
But where could the match be won or lost from an Arsenal perspective at the tactical level? The Gunners have continued to improve in this arena under Arteta, especially this season. What was once a side that lacked balance in almost every department, now looks like a much more polished article than seasons past; one that is capable of surveying their opponent and countering potential weaknesses while addressing their own in the same vein. As Ben notes, that key battle could come in wide areas as perhaps expected.
“I think the matchups from full-back to winger is key on both sides. Heung-Min Son is in a brilliant run of form, and is likely to come up against Cedric Soares or Takehiro Tomiyasu on Thursday night, with the impressive Dejan Kulusevski lining up against the other.”
“On the other hand, should Saka be fit his battle with Ryan Sessegnon, as well as Gabriel Martinelli’s matchup with his compatriot Emerson Royal, will determine the course of the game.”
Audere est Facere
To dare is to do; Tottenham’s club motto since 1884 and a rallying cry for Spurs supporters the world over after the club hit a new gear in recent times, first under former beloved manager Mauricio Pochettino and now during the current Antonio Conte era at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Reaching a recent Champions League final was proof-positive to many in the fanbase that the club was on a trajectory of introducing itself to the elite tier of English clubs, coupled with a brilliant new home ground and a rising status among the sport on a worldwide level.
But this season did not begin in a manner that so many were hoping, but if not for an arduous period under Nuno Espírito Santo, Conte’s arrival may not have come to pass at all. When asked how Tottenham has got on under the former Italian international this season, Jaime had nothing but glowing things to say about the Italian’s tenure.
“Considering the mess Spurs were in under Nuno Espirito Santo, it seems unfathomable that the team is now competing for a top-four finish. That is certainly to the credit of Conte, who in such a short space of time, has managed to breathe a new lease of life into this team. Only three teams have collected more points, only two have scored more goals and only two have conceded fewer than Conte’s Spurs.”
“There remain some inconsistencies in terms of results but considering we are only six months into the project and missing so many key areas of a Conte system, the foundations which he is laying are very promising.”
And speaking of that foundation, the dynamic duo that is the attacking pair of Harry Kane and Heung-min Son has been at the forefront of the club’s revival this season under Conte, to the point that Kane – who once looked one foot out the door at Tottenham – seems incredibly happy at the club once more while finding his voice alongside Son who has been stellar all campaign long. But Spurs are so much more than Kane & Son for Jaime and most of the fan base, and where the club can continue to go under Conte has a lot more to do with the current collective overall.
“Tottenham’s recent recruitment under new sporting director Fabio Paratici has been very solid and he has added some talented young players to supplement Kane and Son. Namely Cristian Romero, Dejan Kulusevski, and Rodrigo Bentancur. Romero has the potential to become one of the best central defenders in Europe, Kulusevski has added another dimension to Spurs’ attack and Bentancur has been a very solid option in midfield. Meanwhile, the likes of Ben Davies, Eric Dier, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, and Hugo Lloris have all stepped up since Conte’s arrival.”
“However, as just mentioned, there is still some way to go before we truly see the best of a Conte-led Spurs side. Wing-backs are one of the main features of a Conte side and Spurs are seriously weak in this position on both sides. Lots of work that needs to be done in the summer transfer window.”
The best performance under Conte, even if every piece is not evident at the club at current, is certainly required when the two clubs clash on Thursday night. Tottenham still have a chance to pull ahead of Arsenal by the end of the season, but in order to do so, must secure all three points in front of the home support, who Jaime feels could play a massive role on the night.
“This is without the biggest north London derby in my lifetime and probably the biggest since the 1991 FA Cup semi-final. In itself, this game feels like a cup final with the winner potentially taking Champions League football. There is massive pressure on both teams, with Arsenal having it all to lose and it being a must-win for Spurs. It will be very interesting to see which team deals best with the pressure.”
“Arsenal has a young team with an inexperienced manager, but Spurs have a team that has shown many inconsistencies and is a club that has stuttered when in the big moments. The Tottenham Hotspur stadium is what could make the biggest difference though. The atmosphere in N17 will be absolutely incredible with this being the first NLD at the new stadium in front of supporters, there still being the animosity there from Arsenal postponing this fixture back in January, and of course, what is at stake. I believe the Spurs fans will make the biggest difference and get Spurs over the line on Thursday evening.”
And regardless of the result that will unfold over 90-minutes, Tottenham still can take positives from the current Premier League season as well as the overall progression the club has made in recent years. But for that progress to bring tangible results, both Antonio Conte and club director of football Fabio Paratici have work to do during the summer transfer window if Spurs are not only to keep up – or ahead of – Arsenal, but possibly push on to greater things in what is hopefully a new era for the club. How might the club do that? Jaime has his answer.
“Tottenham’s biggest need this summer is new wing-backs for either side. My choice for the left-side is either Ivan Perisic, who would be a free transfer or Marc Cucurella of Brighton. For the right wing-back, I would like to sign Jonathon Clauss of RC Lens, who was recently called up to the French national team.”
“Finally, I’d like to see Spurs move for Alessandro Bastoni from Inter Milan. Spurs need to upgrade Ben Davies and Bastoni is the perfect choice for a left-sided central defender. He played a major role in helping Conte win Serie A back in 2021.”
I would like to thank both Ben and Jaime for their contributions to this piece, and you can look out for all their work here at 101 Great Goals across all avenues of coverage we offer. Thanks, guys!