When the Premier League fixture list is announced each summer, one of the most eagerly anticipated dates in the diary sees north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham go at it hammer and tongs in the pursuit of three points, local pride and much more besides.
It is a game steeped in history – these two sides have been colliding for more than a century, and while the battle for postcode-based dignity is a key aspect of each tussle, these days the fixture has taken on added significance.
And that’s because the hunter has become the hunted. Tottenham, for so long living in Arsenal’s shadow as far as domestic and European success is concerned, have now leapfrogged the Gunners partly due to their manager Mauricio Pochettino’s excellence; and the dithering of his counterpart in the other dugout, Arsene Wenger.
Just four points separate the sides in the Premier League table, and the bookmakers are fairly stumped as to how this one will pan out on Saturday lunchtime. Arsenal are the 6/4 favourites, with Tottenham – sans Toby Alderweireld of course – outsides at the 19/10 mark. Those punters happy enough to sit on the fence can do so by backing the draw at 27/10.
Should your appetite for a fierce local derby need any more whetting, here are five reasons to enjoy the latest instalment of this captivating, century-old rivalry:
When Arsenal and Tottenham meet, sparks tend to fly. There has been only one goalless draw between these two sides in their past 50 clashes, which is an extraordinary record.
Indeed, some of the most memorable outings have been the high-scoring matches. Who can forget Arsenal’s 5-4 win at White Hart Lane in November 2004, or the 3-3 draw in 2011 which Spurs almost single-handedly ended the Gunners’ chance of winning the title.
Perhaps the most famous result, certainly for Arsenal fans, is the 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane which secured them the Premier League title during the 2003/04 campaign – what a way to rub your bitter rivals’ nose in it.
As you might expect in such a toxic atmosphere, the north London derby is never short of incident or controversy.
Goal celebrations have been one area in which the players have allowed their passion to run away with them. Who can forget Thierry Henry running half the length of the pitch to score, and then running all the way back again to celebrate in front of the Spurs fans in November 2002 (what is it about November that brings out the best in this fixture?), or Theo Walcott’s 2-0 hand gesture to the Tottenham fans when he was stretchered off?
Social media has been the latest technology for players to explore, and it has naturally brought out the worst in them when discussing their disliked rivals. Nacer Chadli, the former Spurs attacker, tweeted about ‘shutting the crowd up’ at the Emirates in a 1-1 draw, while Arsenal legend Ian Wright once wrote:
“I love the derby… I loved it even more when it was at White Hart Lane because you knew it would be even more heartbreaking for them.”
— Nacer Chadli (@NChadli) February 6, 2015
All of this controversy is just one reason we love this fixture!
Crossing the Divide
If anything sums up the rivalry between these two giants of the English game it is the furore that unfolds when a player or manager does the unthinkable: joining the other club across the north London divide.
Emmanuel Adebayor did it, and he was routinely tortured by the Arsenal fans after latterly joining Spurs.
George Graham did it, and he was subject to chants of Judas and traitor after becoming Tottenham’s manager after a spell at the Gunners.
But perhaps the most high profile of the lot was Sol Campbell’s move from Tottenham to Arsenal. On his return to White Hart Lane the defender was subject to extreme abuse, and at one point was hit by a drinks bottle no doubt thrown by a ‘supporter’ who used to sing his name on the terraces.
The Kane Game
These two sides have had some rather handy strikers on their books through the years, and of the modern generation it is Harry Kane that is etching himself into north London folklore.
It must be a strange game the England frontman to play in, given that he has been outed as an Arsenal fan as a kid. Perhaps that explains why he seems to realise just how important the occasion is to the supporters of both sides.
Kane has scored six goals in as many north London derbies, including in each of his last five appearances.
When the historians look back on this fixture in another 100 years’ time, the name ‘Harry Kane’ will indelibly be marked on their records.
Meeting of Minds
The two managers neatly represent the fortunes of their respective teams. Mauricio Pochettino is the young, dynamic type that is a symbol of Spurs’ upswing in the past few years.
Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, is the metaphorical ‘old dog’ that refuses to be put down.
The fact that Pochettino is unbeaten in six north London derbies in the league does not come as a surprise; his attention to detail and tactical nuance is far superior to Wenger’s fumblings and reactive approach.
Nobody would be surprised if Poch makes it seven unbeaten on Saturday….