For most of the transfer window, the Gunners struggled to land their major targets. Moves for Luis Suarez and Gonzalo Higuain failed to bear fruit. Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal fans were frustrated and forlorn.
Tottenham, meanwhile, embarked on a spectacular rebuilding scheme, twice breaking their club transfer record as they sought to construct a team capable of qualifying for the Champions League.
However, Tottenham’s summer had one major black mark against it: the loss of Gareth Bale. Bale was Spurs’ star player in 2012/13, but their failure to make the top four made his departure inevitable. Real Madrid had publicly anointed the Welshman as their next “Galactico." After that, the transfer seemed simply a matter of time.
Spurs fought to delay the deal, but eventually they could hold out no longer. A world record fee eventually prised Bale away from North London. Disappointed as they were to lose their talisman, Tottenham could not have imagined the sequence of events they had just triggered. It was a moment that would dramatically reverse the fortunes of both North London clubs, and have major implications for the 2013/14 season.
Having acquired Bale, Madrid suddenly needed to balance both their financial books and their squad. Arsenal, moreover, were still on the prowl for a marquee signing. It was a perfect storm of circumstance that saw Mesut Ozil move join the Gunners on a dramatic deadline day. For Spurs fans, the anguish of losing Bale was compounded by the knowledge that they had also nudged Ozil towards Arsenal.
It seems Arsenal are keen to make a similar splash in the January transfer window. Reports in The Mirror and elsewhere suggest they are pursuing Schalke’s promising attacking midfielder, Julian Draxler.
Draxler had been expected to wait until the summer before moving on. Schalke have already secured a pre-contract for Bayer Leverkusen’s Sidney Sam as a potential replacement.
However, Draxler’s availability could be accelerated by the return to Schalke of Tottenham’s Lewis Holtby. Holtby is out of favour under Tim Sherwood, and Schalke are said to considering bringing him home to Germany.
Holtby’s arrival threatens to free up Draxler to move to Arsenal. Tottenham might just be on the brink of pushing another star towards their rivals.
However, Daniel Lewis of The Mirror suggest Spurs have learned their lesson and are keen not to make the same error twice:
Schalke want a loan deal for their old boy Holtby as a replacement for Draxler, after admitting they could not stand in the way if a club triggered the 20-year-old’s £37million release clause this month.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is set to veto Lewis Holtby’s move to Schalke – because he doesn’t want to help Arsenal land Julian Draxler.
Levy has seemingly pulled the plug on Holtby’s move in order to prevent the knock-on effect of Arsenal being strengthened by Draxler.
Operating in such a tactical manner in the transfer market is not unheard of. When Chelsea bought Willian from Shakhtar Donetsk, Jose Mourinho was fairly open about the fact that one of him prime motivations to sign the player was to stop him joining Spurs. Similarly, Mourinho pulled out of a deal to loan Demba Ba to Arsenal after the Gunners acquired Ozil. Mourinho was worried that Arsene Wenger’s team had simply become too big a threat.
Clearly, that fear is shared by Spurs. This season has seen a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of the two teams. In 2012/13, Tottenham appeared to be a club on the up. In March, Andre Villas-Boas even had the temerity to claim that the Gunners were caught in a “negative spiral”.
Those words would come back to haunt him when, just a matter of months on, he lost his job as Tottenham manager.
There is currently an eight-point gap between the two teams. However, the competitive chasm is significantly wider: Arsenal are embroiled in a title race, whereas Spurs are still battling to return to the promised land of the Champions League.
Arsenal have already accelerated beyond their rivals. Based on their decision to stop Holtby joining Schalke, Spurs are patently worried that the signing of Draxler would see Arsenal disappear over the horizon.