North London clash is still the capital’s biggest derby

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR play host to Arsenal on January 16, a clash of two teams still trying to find their most comfortable place in the third decade of the 21st century. Both made hard work of their FA Cup third round ties, Spurs sneaking through against Morecambe by 3-1, but Arsenal were knocked out by Championship side Nottingham Forest. For Arsenal, it means their last chance of silverware will be the Carabao Cup, but for Spurs, the FA Cup may be their sole hope of a major prize if they fail to turnaround their semi-final against Chelsea in the same competition.

Spurs versus Arsenal is, arguably, the top London derby. It’s not the closest meeting as Chelsea and Fulham are just 1.6 miles apart and West Ham and Leyton Orient, who are unlikely to meet in league competition, have 1.7 miles between them. Tottenham’s new stadium is 4.1 miles from the only marginally less impressive Emirates. But there’s real venom in clashes between the two North London teams, regardless of how they are faring.

At the moment, both teams are performing reasonably well, probably better than envisaged last summer. Arsenal, after a grim first couple of weeks, found some rhythm and seem to have some talented young players – Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, for example – who could form the backbone of the Gunners’ team for a few years to come. Being absent from European competition may have helped them, but they certainly look better than they have for a while. 

Trophy haul of the North London duo

LeagueFA CupFL CupEurope
Arsenal131422
Tottenham2843

Nevertheless, it should be noted that for all Arsenal’s progress, they still struggle to beat any of the top teams such as Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. Of their six defeats, five have been at the hands of these teams, the only other defeat was at Brentford on the opening weekend of 2021-22. They did beat Spurs 3-1 at the Emirates.

Tottenham, meanwhile, are beginning a new era under Antonio Conte. Spurs have not been beaten in the league under the Italian, but five of his eight games have been at home. Like Arsenal, their record against the top clubs is patchy, although they did score a victory against Manchester City in the season’s first round of matches.

Spurs went into the season under Nuno Espirito Santo, who they hired from Wolves. The appointment didn’t work, unfortunately. They also endured a summer in which their star striker, Harry Kane, was being courted by Manchester City. Kane was persuaded to stay, but Spurs may now regret hanging onto him as the optimal time to sell might have been before 2021-22. Kane has had a mixed campaign and has scored just four Premier League goals. There are now renewed rumours about Kane’s future and it won’t be a surprise if he leaves Tottenham in the summer. They might not get the fee they could have commanded in July 2021.

Kane is considered to be “one of us” by the Spurs loyalists and he’s as close as the club comes to having a local lad in their line-up. Kane is from Walthamstow, which is closer to the Tottenham stadium than Arsenal’s ground. Spurs’ current first choice XI includes players from France, Brazil, South Korea, Denmark, Wales, Argentina and Welwyn Garden City. While some might claim this is a symptom of the modern game’s globalisation, it is often forgotten that the Tottenham double winners of 1961 included only three players who came from London. Similarly, Arsenal’s double side of 1971 only had Charlie George who could be considered “local”. And way back in time, the Preston North End league champions and cup winners had two Preston-born men in their line-up, along with a third from nearby Fulwood.


These examples go someway to diffusing the argument that the current model of elite football has driven any feeling of genuine local rivalry out of the game. Can teams comprising hired guns from all corners of the globe feel the same way as home-grown players who live within a goal-kick’s distance from the stadium?

Recent past meetings

SpursArsenalArsenalSpurs
2021-22   31
2020-2120 21
2019-2021 22
2018-1911 42
2017-1810 20
2016-1720 11

What makes local derbies special is not necessarily the players, it is the fans. It matters to them to beat their local rivals and at grounds like the Emirates, songs like “stand up if you hate Tottenham”, seem to be more important than ever before. It does seem to define the fans love for their own club as much as their “hatred” of the opposition.

The fact is, Arsenal need Tottenham more than they will ever care to admit, and vice versa. Local rivalry is a cause for motivation, it keeps clubs “on their toes” and acts as a form of competition outside the normal terms of engagement.  Would Tottenham have built such a statement arena if Arsenal had not constructed the Emirates? Is it not a case of keeping up with the Jones’?

Fans rarely forgive players who defect from one side of North London to the other. Sol Campbell’s transfer is a case in point, Spurs fans will now spit on the floor at the mere mention of his name. Only seven others have played for both clubs, including legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings, William Gallas (also Chelsea) and Emmanuel Adebayor.

For the past five seasons, Tottenham have finished above Arsenal, but since the Premier League was formed, Arsenal have been on top in 22 years to Spurs’ seven. Chelsea, whose rise pushed Arsenal off their London leadership perch, have finished ahead of both clubs 14 times, including the past three years.

Tottenham have won both league meetings with Arsenal at their stadium, but they have an awful record at the Emirates. There’s plenty at stake in the 2021-22 clash as places are still up for grabs in the race for a Champions League spot. Arsenal are currently in fourth position, four places above Tottenham. One thing is certain, whatever the outcome, the game will be dissected afterwards and the outlook for both sides will be closely examined. Both desperately need a good result, so there will be shortage of passion and that’s why Tottenham versus Arsenal is an attraction for the neutral.

2 thoughts on “North London clash is still the capital’s biggest derby

  1. Was this article written in 1998? ‘The era of multicultural teams’..uh you do realise this has been the case for over 20 years now. Seriously, where have you been???

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