Tottenham vs Arsenal: North London's power struggle is not over yet

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur - Carabao Cup: Quarter Final

Where the old White Hart Lane used to sit, nestled inconspicuously among the Tottenham tower blocks, the new stadium bursts through the landscape with the same message in giant letters at every turn:

“Watch us rise.”

It is all change down the end of the N17 High Road. Emerging out of the Seven Sisters station, there’s still a choice. Left down to Spurs, or right into Arsenal territory.

The divide in north London feels greater than ever, though the gap between the two clubs in the Premier League table no longer looks unassailable from the Gunners’ perspective.

It would have been a fitting test then, for Spurs to welcome their rivals to their new home as the Lilywhites’ look to reassert their dominance and ensure they finish above them for a third successive season.

Instead, they will reconvene at Wembley once again, which has been met with little surprise as it was always unlikely that such a potentially volatile fixture would be used as the curtain-raiser.

In the grand scheme of things, there have been north London derbies with far, far greater things riding on them. Spurs are out of the title race and are all of a sudden warding off Arsenal, not for honours, but for a top-four spot. 

Yet the visitors know that for the sake of bragging rights – their club’s overall status, even – they can’t afford to let another season pass where they are no longer the central force in north London.

Tottenham fans will tell you the tide has been turning that way since the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino in May 2014.

Pochettino vs Emery

Pochettino, who will celebrate his 47th birthday on Derby Day, has taken charge of 11 north London derbies, losing just three. The Argentine is yet to taste defeat at the hands of the Gunners at home in the Premier League.

However, there is another statistic, one which the red half of north London might feel is more telling.

Chelsea FC v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

In that time, Arsenal have won two FA Cups, while Spurs are yet to add to their trophy cabinet, which has been growing dusty since 2008.

Of course, there is a deeper debate to be had about how success is measured in football. Is all that Pochettino has achieved to be discounted because he’s yet to win any silverware?

Spurs’ progress since he took the reins has been undeniable, while the last few months have only highlighted that Emery still has to endure many of the same difficulties as Arsene Wenger. There have been glimpses of brilliance, like against Bournemouth, but not with any real consistency. 

Arsenal’s record on the road this season has been poor, losing as many games as they have won in the league. Those victories have all come against teams currently placed 10th or lower, and only one of them has been achieved since November.

Where the Pochettino project has seen Tottenham transform from Europa League also-rans to a team regularly talked about as title contenders, the narrative at Arsenal has been the exact opposite.

An alarming lack of investment

In one way, the two clubs are fighting the same battle, struggling to compete financially with a top six – and beyond – whose spending has rocketed out of control. The question, at Arsenal, is why.

The Emirates has been paid off, yet Emery admitted he was only able to bring in loan signings in January. That has left the finger pointing firmly at Stan Kroenke, who much like Spurs’ enigmatic owner Joe Lewis, is rarely to be seen at the club and seems reluctant to loosen his own purse strings.

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Tottenham, meanwhile, have failed to make any additions in the last two transfer windows.

On occasion, Pochettino has shown his frustration at that unwelcome piece of Premier League history, but on others, he has argued it hasn’t been a ‘failure’, more a conscious decision not to spend when his starting XI is already so impressive.

Arsenal have long needed reinforcements, most obviously in defence, where they have the worst record in the top eight. In fact, it is those shortcomings at the back which have already convinced Unai Emery that there will be no ‘St Totteringham’s Day’ this year. 

“First of all we have to say that there are better teams than us now,” Emery told a press conference in early February.

“Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham are so far away.”

The Spaniard feels an unfortunate stooge in the unfolding drama. Like Pochettino, a coach for whom much of his education came in La Liga and subsequently at Paris Saint-Germain has brought exciting methods to his new club.

It will take time for him to cement his way of playing and for it to yield results. In the meantime, his side are fast running out of time to escape their tags of north London’s ‘yesterday’s men’ for another campaign.

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Spurs have embraced their new, self-proclaimed, role as the kings of the capital. All around, tube stops advertise the new stadium as ‘the only place to watch Champions League football in London’ – posters that very nearly backfired when they looked on the brink of exiting the competition before the ground had even opened.

New horizons 

It will hold 62,062 fans, eclipsing the Emirates’ capacity of 60,260. Another statement of intent, it would seem, but one that will need to be backed up by a continued supremacy on the pitch.

Locals often remark that the shiny new infrastructure looks incongruous with the surrounding buildings, somewhat like a spaceship has landed in the middle of the High Road.

When Arsenal make their first visit next season, they may indeed feel there is something a little alien about all this.

By then, Spurs may well have taken another step towards cementing what began with the final whistle of the last ever north London derby at White Hart Lane. It was the first time they had finished above their enemies for 22 years, but it signalled something even bigger.

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal - Premier League

The gulf that existed for so long between these two giants of English football was no more, particularly as by all accounts, Spurs had the better season in 2015/16 too despite finishing third and Arsenal second.

Every so often, what appears to be a fake quote from Sol Campbell does the rounds on social media. “I always dreamed of winning the league at White Hart Lane,” so recalled the former centre-back, who left for Highbury in 2001. “So I left and joined Arsenal.”

The fact it is so readily believed, despite most likely having been plucked out of thin air, speaks volumes.

A ‘power shift’ is perhaps a strong term for the change that has taken place in north London, and Tottenham still have a little way to go. The defeats at Burnley and Chelsea, on yet two more occasions when it really, really mattered, were a reminder of that.

And yet, another derby defeat for Arsenal would be all the more crushing because of what it would mean symbolically.

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