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.

The losses and debts increase for Tottenham

ANOTHER week, another Covid battering for one of Europe’s big football institutions. This time, it’s Tottenham Hotspur, who announced a pre-tax loss of £ 80.2 million for 2020-21 and an increase in their net debts of over £ 100 million.

Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy admitted the pandemic has had a negative impact on the club but equally, hailed Tottenham’s robust nature. The club’s revenues were down by around 11% to £ 361.9 million (2020: £ 402.4m), largely due to the loss of matchday income, which slumped by 98% to £ 1.9 million. Thankfully, resilience came in the form of media income, which rose by 42% to £ 208.1 million, while commercial revenues were down by just under 6% to £ 151.9 million.

Spurs’ loss of £ 80.2 million represented a swing of over £ 200 million since 2018 when they made a profit of £ 138.9 million. This is the second successive year of sizeable losses, coming after 2020’s £ 67.7 million deficit. Furthermore, they have lost £ 100 million in revenues since 2019. More positively, since leaving their ancestral home of White Hart Lane in 2017, the club’s commercial revenues have more than doubled.

Also within that timeframe, Tottenham’s wage bill has climbed by over 60% – from £ 127 million in 2016-17 to £ 205 million in 2020-21, making them one of the biggest payers in English football. The wage-to-income ratio is now 56.63%, still low by Premier League standards, but the highest over the past five years by some distance.

Tottenham were one of Europe’s biggest spenders in 2021, gross transfer fees amounting to just under £ 100 million – they spent more than Liverpool,  Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Atlético Madrid. 


As well as the loan deal involving Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, Spurs paid out big fees for Sergio Reguilón (Real Madrid, £ 25m), Pierre Emile Højbjerg (Southampton, £ 15m) and Matt Doherty (Wolves, £ 13.4m). On the other side of the balance sheet, they sold Kyle Walker-Peters to Southampton for £ 12 million. The club’s profit on player sales amounted to £ 18.9 million, which was highest profit since 2018. It remains to be seen if they will sell Harry Kane in 2021-22 and cash-in on one of their prize assets. According to Transfermarkt, Kane is still worth over £ 100 million, although his market value has declined by 20% over the past 18 months.

Spurs have grown significantly over the past decade, but they have yet to fulfil the potential of their new stadium due to the pandemic and a downturn in their fortunes on the pitch. A combination of these setbacks, along with the financial cost of relocation to their magnificent ground has also seen gross debt increase to £ 853.9 million and their net debt position grow to £ 706.3 million.

Spurs missed out on Champions League or Europa League qualification for 2021-22, but they are competing in the Europa Conference League and should be one of the favourites. They also have a new manager in the form of Antonio Conte, who replaced Nuno Espirito Santo who was only appointed last summer. They are still waiting to win their first trophy since 2008.

Daniel Levy, summing-up the financial results for 2020-21, commented: “Sustainability is a key word in football. We have seen how fragile the finances of a football club can be and the impact of losses on the stability of the football pyramid. As custodians we have to protect the club for future generations of fans…We remain relentlessly ambitious and are determined to deliver honours and make our supporters proud.”

Spurs hire big, but Conte’s stay won’t be the start of a dynasty

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR may just have made their most important managerial hiring since Bill Nicholson took the job in October 1958. Certainly, Antonio Conte is the most sought-after coach they have hired in a long time, and you can count José Mourinho in that field. Conte still has success ahead of him, is still considered contemporary enough to challenge the most glittering prizes.

Conte has considerable work to do to make Spurs into contenders, but he’s arguably the best equipped to have taken on that role since Mauricio Pochettino’s team went beyond its peak in 2019. But they will need to do it fairly quickly, because Conte, like Mourinho, does not hang around too long. There will be no clinging onto the job like some managers, no element of denial that the opportunity has passed. Conte is his own man and if that’s not permitted, he will be on his way. Being in London also positions him nicely for future employment, including a return to his old club, Chelsea, an unlikely destination at this stage but modern football has taught us to expect the unexpected. Interestingly, he becomes the fourth former Chelsea manager to take the Spurs job.

Since Conte joined Juventus in 2011, he’s only had one blank club season in terms of trophies, that was in 2019-20, his first year at Inter Milan. There have been other campaigns without silverware, but two were with Italy and one was in the period after leaving Chelsea. In total, he’s won four Serie A titles, the Premier League and FA Cup and he took Inter to the Europa League final in 2020.While Tottenham are unused to success in recent times, Conte is used to lifting trophies on an annual basis.

Antonio Conte appointments – 2011 – 2021

GamesWin ratePeriod
Juventus 15167.55%38 months
Italy2556%19 months
Chelsea10665.09%24 months
Inter Milan10262.75%24 months

Will Spurs warm to Conte’s style given one of the reasons for Nuno Espirito Santo’s exit was the way his team played? Some, wrongly, consider he is a defensive manager, but his approach is demanding and well organised, built on a strong back line but also intense attacking play. 

The days of Arthur Rowe’s “push and run” and Nicholson’s 1961 double team are long gone at Spurs and although they hanker for the attacking football the club were once renowned for, the best they will get in today’s game is the kind of mix that Conte can produce. The alternative is a Bielsa-type style that may excite but also make a team vulnerable – witness Leeds United’s second season syndrome. Spurs is one of the few clubs where dull, defensive football would not be tolerated even if it proved successful and filled the boardroom with shiny things.

Will Conte be given the time he needs to make Spurs successful? The team he inherits is ill-equipped and needs rebuilding with some quality acquisitions that can adapt to the conte system. His contract length – an initial 18 months at £ 20 million which can be interpreted as a probation period – looks rather strange given the current position of the club and the need to establish if Harry Kane and Dele Alli, for example, are part of the future. And this needs to happen before Conte decides to move on or he starts to lock horns with Daniel Levy.

If, however, this is the marriage that Levy has wanted all along, then Conte can end the most barren period in the club’s history since the inter-war years when they went from 1921 to the post-war season of 1950-51 without a major prize. It has been more than 13 years since they won anything. Spurs have been an under-achieving club for too long, now is the time to put that right and Conte may be the man to do just that.