Tottenham is Still Looking At Arsenal As Their Chief Rival for a Top 4 Place

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistJuly 4, 2013

Arsenal has finished one place above Tottenham Hotspur for each of the last four years, as well as in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

The Gunners dominance of the North London rivalry has diminished with this bridging of the gap, with Tottenham recording some emotional wins against them along the way.

The facts, however, do not lie. As close as Spurs have pushed them, Arsenal have continued to find ways to deny them their Champions League dream (the exception being in 2009-10, when the former qualified with them).

Sweet though these bragging rights have been, Arsenal's own harsh truth has been seeing their fortunes decline to the point that pipping Spurs to a place in the top four has been the closest thing to success for them over the last half-decade.

Consistently making European football's top club competition is nothing to sniff at. It has not quite compared, though, to the trophy-laden first ten years of Arsene Wenger's tenure as manager.

Spurred on by the unrest of his supporters, Wenger may have at last reached a point where his more idealistic interpretation of the beautiful game can no longer be hidden from the practical realities of modern football.

It should not be forgotten that in his early years at Highbury, the Frenchman was not shy in spending to facilitate his vision. Though not exorbitant, the likes of Marc Overmars, Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord and Jose Antonio Reyes did not come cheap either.

The building of, and move to the Emirates Stadium in 2006 understandably prompted a need for slightly tighter purse strings.

Wenger still spent hefty sums on players including Samir Nasri and Andrei Arshavin. But in comparison to his significant signings of years earlier, they were neither as good, nor were they augmented by the kind of cornerstones that Overmars, Henry and co had to work with.

The Arsenal boss had lucked into having players like Tony Adams and David Seaman, but he showed an appreciation for the reliability and leadership they provided, and brought in Patrick Viera, Jens Lehmann and (to a slightly lesser extent) Sol Campbell to supplement, and then replace it.

Crucially, they had the quality to fit into his side too. Many of the replacements that have come since then have been nice footballers, but few have had the kind of character to be truly more than that.

To be fair to Wenger, even with a less idealistic and more aggressive approach, Arsenal may still have found it difficult to reach previous heights. The newly-moneyed Chelsea and Manchester City, plus the perpetually strong Manchester United, would have been serious foes regardless.

Wenger's induced "epiphany" over the last year or so may appear to be about to take proper hold with the likely, big bucks signing of Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain—a £23 million deal is imminent according to The Guardian's Sid Lowe.

In fact, and despite another challenging season last time around, he has been gradually putting together a side more capable of challenging for honors again for a couple of years now.

Per Mertesacker, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Nacho Monreal have provided a collective upgrade not only in talent, but also mindset. Losing Robin van Persie to Man United was a blow, but Arsenal have recovered remarkably well, quality-wise, considering his importance to them.

Wenger has not entirely given up on bringing in less proven players, as his recent purchase of a French Ligue 2 player—20-year-old Yaya Sanogo—showed.

The side Tottenham are eyeing cautiously from across North London, are undoubtedly shaping up to be a sterner proposition.

Despite Arsenal's improvements—progress that may be about to be taken even further with the signing of Higuain—they remain the team Spurs will look at as being their chief rival for a top four place again this season.

With the two clubs facing each other at the end of August, it is as good as chance as any Spurs will have to strike a blow against them. As strong as Arsenal could potentially become, the first month of the season is still a formative stage for any team.

Though Spurs will be facing a similar challenge in settling into the campaign, they will view this as a big opportunity to showcase their own progression under Andre Villas-Boas.

Arsenal still have some catching up to do in matching Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs. This year may be when they do it, but until that becomes clear, they remain the "weak link" to which clubs like Spurs, Liverpool and Everton will aspire to mugging for fourth place.


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