Next north London derby potentially the most important to date

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As derbies go, there isn't many that can boast to be as intense as Tottenham and Arsenal.

The north London pair have been bitter rivals for as long as they've been playing football, and whenever the two clash what follows is usually close to fireworks.

Although it's far too early in the footballing season to place too much emphasis on the outcome of one specific fixture, this weekend's game that sees Spurs travel to the Emirates has a number of factors making it more noteworthy than almost any of it's predecessors.

For years it was Arsenal who were considered favourites to triumph on derby day. Tottenham might have eked out the occasional upset, but for the majority of Wenger's tenure in north London, Arsenal have been the dominant force in the historic fixture.

But as far as this weekend's game is concerned, that record will have about as much bearing on the result as an unused substitute.

Whereas Tottenham have strengthened strategically and without reserve, Arsenal possess the very same squad as last season, with the exception of a series of departures and the influx of one untested 20-year-old.

Andre Villas-Boas has gone about his business this transfer window with astute attention to detail, to the point where the imminent departure of Gareth Bale, which would have been considered a wrecking ball to Spurs' hopes of attaining a top four position at the end of last season, is now considered to be a sale that will merely stand to bolster the clubs' coffers.

Arsene Wenger on the other hand, though still with time to add to his team, has been frustratingly dormant. It's not so much unfair as completely wrong to place the onus completely on the him, but the Gunners look decent at best, and anymore injuries to a squad already riddled with problems, could see last season's fourth place finishers enter very dangerous territory indeed.

Forgetting all that though, this next fixture between Tottenham and Arsenal is of paramount importance for both sides because, in my opinion, it highlights the opportunity to declare a changing of the guard. AVB's charges are looking more and more like succeeding their neighbours, and Arsenal look to be alarmingly lacking in ambition.

The upcoming clash will present the world with a chance to assess just how good Spurs can hope to be this year, and a victory at the Emirates would provide a psychological boost unattainable in any other fixture. At the same time it allows critics and fans alike to pick Arsenal's woes to the bare bones, which they undoubtedly will should Wenger's team look anything other than the superior outfit on Sunday.

The next derby won't have a massive effect on the overall seasonal standings come the end of the year, nor will it sink the loser or elevate the winner. It can however alter the way the two are judged in terms of who now rules the roost in north London, and subsequently becomes favourite to pip the other to the remaining Champions League spot this year, providing United, City and Chelsea all perform as expected.

If Spurs win it could install a very sudden realisation that they are no longer in the shadow of their old enemies, and should serve as a warning to other opponents that a Bale-less Tottenham are as far from the wounded, defenceless animal they were predicted to be, as they can possibly get. Furthermore it would be an all important statement of intent, and would mean a significant amount of difference to the ultimate prospects their current squad can strive towards.

If Arsenal emerge victorious then the critics and naysayers will be held at arms length once again. The Gunners have a chance to effectively rule out their indifferent start to the season, and would go some way to silencing those who are claiming that Villas-Boas and his band of newly formed crusaders can hope for anything other than the Europa League.

Though probably not capable of making a scrap of difference in terms of who finishes above who come the end of the season, this next north-London derby has the potential to be a season defining fixture.

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