Beginner's Guide to the Arsenal-Tottenham Rivalry

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistAugust 30, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 03:  Opposing captains Thomas Vermaelen of Arsenal and Michael Dawson of Spurs clash during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC at White Hart Lane on March 3, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Arsenal and Tottenham form one of the most heated rivalries in English football, the North London derby. 

One club has seen a myriad of superstars march through its doors over the years, the other has been living in its shadow but is now on the verge of bursting the rivalry wide open.

As their first meeting this season approaches on Sunday, it is time to look back on some of the best moments and players that the fixture has seen. 

For those unfamiliar with the match, we have a beginner's guide below with everything you need to know about the North London derby. 


The first competitive match between Arsenal and Tottenham was contested in 1909, when the Gunners won 1-0. 

Prior to that the clubs played friendly matches, beginning on November 19, 1887. 

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However, the rivalry only really started when the Gunners moved from Plumstead in South East London to Highbury in North London. 

The move created a  local rivalry as the clubs' stadiums are separated by just four miles. 


For decades, Arsenal were the dominant club in North London. 

As noted by this list of results from Arsenal.com, the Gunners have had plenty of success against their rivals. 

But in recent years Tottenham have begun to turn the corner and challenge the Gunners, and over the last two seasons the clubs have shared the honours.

Tottenham have won two matches 2-1, and Arsenal 5-2 on two occasions.

St. Totteringham's Day

There is no better representation of Arsenal's dominance in North London than the celebration of St. Totteringham's Day. 

For those new to the English game, St. Totteringham's Day is the day when Arsenal's finish above Tottenham in the league table is confirmed. 

For the last 18 seasons, the red half of North London has basked in the glory that is St. Totteringham's Day.

However, those celebrations may not happen this season with Tottenham loading up on star players like Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela and Paulinho.

Arsenal have spent nothing in the transfer window, though they have brought in two players on free deals. 

With continued improvements made by Tottenham, the traditional basking in glory by Arsenal fans in May could disappear this season.

Best North London Derby Matches

Now for a history lesson. 

As with all great sporting rivalries, Arsenal and Tottenham have squared off in some memorable and meaningful matches.

For older fans, the May 3, 1971 league clash holds a certain significance, especially for Arsenal. 

The Gunners needed a point to win the old First Division title and, in a game of intense passion, they won with a late goal from Ray Kennedy. 

Fast forward 20 years and Tottenham had their moment of glory at Wembley Stadium.

In what was the first FA Cup semifinal between the two clubs, Spurs defeated Arsenal, 3-1 with an early free-kick from Paul Gascoigne and two goals from Gary Lineker. 

The January 22, 2008 clash strikes a nerve for both sides. In the second leg of the League Cup semi-final, Tottenham steamrolled their bitter rivals 5-1 at White Hart Lane.

It was Spurs' first win over Arsenal since November 1999, and represented a turning point in their rivalry. 

What the Match Means to the Clubs' Supporters

It would not be a derby without outright passion from supporters of both clubs.

We entered the minds of two B/R writers on either side of the rivalry. 

According to Arsenal supporter and B/R World Football Lead Writer Michael Cummings, Sunday's clash could further illustrate a power shift:

Last spring, when Spurs beat Arsenal to take that big lead in the race for the top four, it seemed like the balance of power in North London had finally shifted. But then Arsenal went on that impressive run, finished fourth, reasserted local superiority and qualified for the Champions League. Since then, though, the clubs have moved in seemingly opposite directions.                                       

B/R's Thomas Cooper is a Spurs fan and agrees that the derby has reached a new, improved level:

As much as ever, beating Arsenal is such a big objective of Tottenham’s season. Getting those bragging rights for at least a few months is invaluable for supporters. What has changed over the last few years is Spurs are now a genuine rival of Arsenal’s again. 

Cummings concedes that Sunday's game could be a crucial point in the rivalry, especially given the amount of spending, or lack thereof, by the clubs this summer:

Spurs seem set to overtake Arsenal once and for all, starting with Sunday's derby. With their north London neighbors buzzing with purposeful action all summer, Arsenal have accomplished little.                                         

With big-name signings entering White Hart Lane this summer, Cooper admits the stakes are higher than ever: "The North London derby is not just about those bragging rights anymore. With both clubs competing for Champions League places, once more there is something tangible at stake."

The tension is building in North London, and Sunday's game is great opportunity to tune in for your first Arsenal-Tottenham derby.

Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90. 


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