Tottenham and Arsenal: Why This Season's North London Rivalry Means so Much
Arsenal fans are well known for celebrating a special day every season, though it is never on the same day as the year before.
"St. Totteringham's Day" is the point in the campaign when the Gunners' local rivals Tottenham Hotspur can no longer overtake them in the league. It is a movable feast which has occurred every year since 1995, the last time Spurs finished above their north London neighbours.
But in the last few seasons Arsenal fans have not been able to mark the occasion until disconcertingly late in the day. The last three years have seen the mock tributes to the comedy saint not celebrated until May, with the final day of the season needed to mark the point last term and in 2010.
The relief of the club's support is neatly summed up in this banner created by a fan, listing all the things that went wrong but somehow still did not prevent the Gunners from finishing above the lot from down the road by a single point.
This season is a pivotal one for both clubs, and it may take until the final month before Arsenal fans know whether they can hang up the bunting once again or not. The next eight months are set to be a highly important period in the long history of enmity between the clubs representing the boroughs of Islington and Haringey.
Arsenal have started the season looking in good shape, buoyed by new signings Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and—most notably—Santi Cazorla. Hopes that the departure of former captain and top scorer Robin van Persie would free the rest of Arsene Wenger's attacking players appear to be justified, with even the much-maligned Gervinho revelling in the shackles of always playing towards one star player being removed.
However, it remains to be seen how the Gunners adapt to life without the reigning double Player of the Year in the long term, just as the Dutchman's own excellent start to life at Manchester United cannot be truly assessed without the fullness of time.
A win at Anfield and a draw at champions Manchester City are certainly encouraging signs of a club still able to compete in the biggest matches, but the recent home defeat to Chelsea was a stark reminder that the road back to their title-winning days remains an uphill one.
While Arsenal have grown used to starting a season without their captain and/or best player, the change at Tottenham has been felt at more than just squad level. Spurs have said goodbye to the highly influential playmaker Luka Modric and welcomed five brand new members onto their playing staff—Jan Vertonghen, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Hugo Lloris, Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey—but the installation of an entire new coaching staff had the potential to be far more disruptive.
The appointment of Andre Villas-Boas to replace Harry Redknapp was certainly a divisive one, given the Portuguese's short, unsuccessful tenure at Chelsea and all that his predecessor had achieved at White Hart Lane. But, after a shaky start with a defeat at Newcastle and home draws against West Brom and Norwich in their first three games, Spurs are up at the right end of the table following four straight league wins.
The standout of those victories is undoubtedly the thrilling 3-2 win at Old Trafford—a ground on which Arsenal had lost 8-2 almost exactly a year previously. Their first win on that ground for 23 years helped instil belief both in and outside the club, and suddenly Spurs appear to be a far more assured proposition.
Which club will finish higher in the Premier League this season?
That perception will certainly be put to the test in their upcoming games. Tottenham's next five Premier League fixtures include Villas-Boas' old team and current league leaders Chelsea coming to White Hart Lane immediately after the international break and a trip to visit Man City before, on November 17, they make the short trip to face Arsenal.
The Gunners have a slightly easier calendar before the first north London derby of the season, although their run includes a trip to Old Trafford, the scene of last term's low ebb.
Last season's opening derby saw Spurs win 2-1 at White Hart Lane as they streaked ahead of their faltering rivals in the table. But they somehow let a double-figure points lead on the Gunners at the turn of the year get overturned as they missed out on third place by a single point on the final day. That slump ultimately cost them a place in this season's Champions League.
This will be one of the final seasons before UEFA's financial-fair-play rules fully kick in, and when they do Arsenal look the club best placed in England to profit from their implementation. Spurs are on no bad fiscal footing themselves, but if they were to overtake the Gunners in this pivotal campaign it would strike a real blow to their local rivals.
Finishing above Arsenal would almost certainly mean denying the Gunners Champions League football, given the strength of Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs. Even a ship as tightly run as Arsene Wenger's would be rocked greatly by the consequences of that.
If Tottenham can stave off St Totteringham's Day for the first time in almost two decades this season, they could start to dream about inventing their own local holiday in the future.
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