A rivalry that spans more than a century, 104 years to be precise, one of English football’s biggest rivalries started in 1913 when Arsenal, then called Woolwich Arsenal moved to Highbury, a stadium built just four miles away from Tottenham’s White Hart Lane. Over the years, this rivalry has seen many great games and now it has grown into one of England’s biggest rivalries.
For the better part of Arsene Wenger’s reign at Arsenal, Arsenal have had the edge over their North London rivals. The last two seasons though, tell a different story. An acute rise in Tottenham’s football stock has seen them record their first finish over Arsenal in the last 22 years. This has led many a football fan to believe that there has been a ‘power shift’ in North London.
The past few years have seen a dramatic rise in Tottenham’s status from a club fighting for the 6th and 7th spots in the season to being genuine title contenders. Last season saw them establishing themselves as a part of this new formed ‘top 6’ in the Premier League. The present scenario for Tottenham looks very promising and why wouldn’t it, they’ve finished 3rd and second in the league in the last two years, have accumulated more points than any other team in these two years, they have some of the most bright and exiting English prospects in their squad. They do not pay the outrageous wages that other top 6 clubs do with their highest earner being Hugo Lloris with a wage of 120,000 pounds a week. Compare that to Paul Pogba, the league’s highest earner at 290,000 pounds a week it is almost miraculous that they are able to hang on to the kind of players they possess. In order to maintain this, you must have a capable manager and Tottenham have one of the most exciting managers in world football, Mauricio Pochettino. At 45, he is the youngest of the other top 6 managers and if his press conferences are anything to go by, he isn’t going anywhere. To top it all off, Tottenham are moving into a new stadium set to be even bigger than Arsenal’s Emirates stadium. This, in itself provides both a threat and an opportunity. The opportunity resides in them holding on to their current players and building on from what they have already achieved which is simpler said than done and their North London rivals know all about the pitfalls of going into a new stadium, and therein lies the threat. The way football works now, with fat fees for agents and outrageous riches coming from billionaire owners converting into higher wages and transfer fees it almost seems like a magic trick that Tottenham have kept their players on such disciplined wages. Tottenham do not possess the financial might of a Chelsea or Manchester city, nor have the brand value of a Manchester United to keep the club well financed. This is where the progress they have made could meet some stumbling blocks. There is already strong talk of Kyle Walker moving to Manchester city in the summer and Toby Alderweireld being part of an insane summer spending spree of Inter Milan. These are two vital cogs to the Spurs’ defence. Also, with James Rodriguez seemingly likely to move to Old Trafford it is not inconceivable to see Dele Alli as a possible replacement for Real Madrid who seem to have a likening for Tottenham players. This is where the financial capabilities of Tottenham are going to be stretched with money invested in the new stadium (estimated 750 million pounds) and players demanding more money to stay in the future, Daniel Levy and Mauricio Pochettino face an uphill battle to hold on to their best players. The problem for Tottenham also is that even though they have made tremendous progress they have nothing tangible to claim as theirs. 2nd place is not a trophy (although Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola would disagree). If Tottenham end up having to sell their best players to keep their financial position safe (which if their North London neighbours are anything to by, is likely to happen) they will be back to square one which is what they need to protect against.
On the red side of North London, it feels like every season has the same theme to it. You could give Arsene Wenger full marks for consistency of league position but as we know that in itself is not a trophy. Arsenal have not won the league since 2004 and while they can boast 2 FA cups, it is evident that the fans are not happy. Whether its Arsenal Fan TV or the banners flying over stadiums or the internet, the once mighty Arsenal is a club that flatters to deceive. They are not able to produce performances when they really need it but are just able to produce enough to slip into the top 4, although that may not happen this year. At the centre of it all is one man, the man who has been manager at Arsenal longer than some of us have even been alive, Arsene Wenger. He has been at the helm of affairs since 1996 and never has the pressure been higher for the Premier League and Arsenal’s longest serving manager. He has won more trophies than any other Arsenal manager and has gotten them into the Champions League every full season that he has managed, surely that’s not a bad record, but the way modern football goes, you either deliver or you are sacked. Arsenal fans have a divided opinion of him, while some believe he still is the right man to lead the club some believe that he has passed his expiry date as a manager. The common criticism is that Arsenals are not strong, mentally or physically on the pitch and Arsene Wenger is at fault for this, after all he is in charge of Arsenal in every way possible. He runs the club in every aspect and everyone knows it. Another criticism is transfer activity. Surely, with 200 million pounds in the bank a club cannot cite lack of funds for lack of transfer activity. They have improved though, spending money on players like Xhaka, Mustafi and Perez although their impact is debatable and the club seem set to finish outside the top 4 for the first time in 21 years. Their two most prolific players have threatened to leave with Alexis seemingly likely to depart this summer. The club seems to have stagnated and needs some form of freshness whether it is change of thinking or new management or a change in thinking from current management, time will tell. The positives for Arsenal are though that they are in the FA cup final for the third time in four years, they are financially stable and with a change in formation and improvement in results, it seems Arsene Wenger is capable of change.
I believe that that these two clubs have futures with a lot of threats but by no means have Tottenham surpassed Arsenal to ensure a power shift in North London. Arsenal may not be as competitive as Tottenham this year or even last year but that does not bear the weight of all the previous years where Arsenal have been superior than Tottenham. Tottenham have more to lose in terms of players moving for greener pastures. It does not help Tottenham’s cause that they haven’t won the league in over 50 years and that their trophy drought now spans 9 years, now the same than Arsenal’s much famed trophy drought. Tottenham have the players to form a good league side but need the infrastructure and the platform to become one of the world’s best.