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.

20 years of Levy at Tottenham: Transformation without gilding

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR are not just one of England’s top clubs, they have moved into the top dozen in Europe. What’s more, they have leapfrogged Arsenal, their North London rivals, built a terrific new stadium and have reached the Champions League final. The past decade has been eventful for the Spurs, but they still haven’t won anything since 2008. 

As chairman Daniel Levy celebrates 20 years in charge, Spurs can reflect on a transformation that has made them into a modern European super club. In any other major league, they would probably have lifted a trophy or two by now, but Spurs’ misfortune is they are in a league with another five European super clubs.

There’s little doubt to many people that Spurs are playing in Britain’s most modern and eye-catching stadium, albeit an empty one at present. It’s not just functional, it also ticks many of the aesthete’s boxes. For quite a while, the club has had a squad that has been envied by most clubs, a minor achievement given Spurs under Levy have mostly been quite prudent with their wage bills. But there has been a missing ingredient, one that they have struggled to identify. When they hired José Mourinho, it was an attempt to bring someone to the club who knew how to win trophies.

When Levy took over in February 2001, Spurs were not quite in the elite category, but they did have cachet. The club’s true golden age was between 1960 and 1963 when they won the Football League, two FA Cups and the European Cup-Winners’ Cup. Aside from spells in the early 1970s and the early 1980s, in which they became strong cup fighters, Spurs have underachieved for a long time. They’ve won just two league titles and for a club of their size and heritage, that seems a paltry sum.

In 2000-01, Spurs finished 12th in the Premier and reached the semi-final of the FA Cup. Right up until 2008-09, they were occasional visitors to the top six. When they surprisingly beat Chelsea in the Football League Cup final in 2008, they ended the campaign in 11th position. Since 2009, they have not finished outside the top half dozen, arguably the most consistent run of final placings in the club’s long history.

In 2010, Spurs qualified for the UEFA Champions League. They were last in the premier European competition in 1961-62, when Bill Nicholson’s double winners reached the semi-final, losing to a brilliant Benfica side. This time they reached the last eight and they’ve competed at that level a further four times since 2011.

Like Arsenal, Spurs suffered from the rise of Chelsea under Roman Abramovich, sometimes missing out on players in the market to the South West London club. Like Chelsea, they seemed to go through managers rather quickly at times – Mourinho is the ninth man appointed by Levy. It did look, for a long time, as though Mauricio Pochettino was the right choice, but when they reached the Champions League final in 2019, it seemed to signal the end of an era, not the start. His win rate of 54.27% was impressive, although short-term hiring André Villas-Boas had a 55% rate. Pochettino’s departure was a shock, coming just a few months after their Champions League final.

Trophies aside, there has been a lot to admire about Spurs in the Levy era. The last decade, in particular, has seen them move from a pedestrian club in a tired stadium to a money-making machine in a space-age arena. The club also has a new training centre in nearby Enfield. Players like Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Dele Alli have all become part of the England set-up under Gareth Southgate.

In 2010-11, Spurs generated £ 163.5 million in revenues, way below both Arsenal and Chelsea. Within five years, they had reached the £ 200 million mark, but they were still £ 150 million behind Arsenal. The new stadium was always going to even things up and in 2018-19, Spurs’ income totalled £ 459 million, a major factor being the club’s temporary relocation to Wembley. In 2019-20, their revenues totalled £ 391 million, some £ 50 million more than Arsenal’s total. This represented a 139% increase on 2010-11, compared to Arsenal’s 53% and Chelsea’s 80%. Furthermore, Spurs have also tried to diversify their revenues by an innovative link-up with the NFL, which could prove to be a lucrative arrangement.

Over the past 20 years, Spurs expenditure in the transfer market has amounted to € 1.33 billion and their net spend has been € 475 million (source: Transfermarkt), making them the fifth most active club in the Premier League. Chelsea and Manchester City, unsurprisingly, have spent over € 2 billion and these two, along with Manchester United have run-up a net spend of over € 1 billion. The club has, over the past 20 years, continually broken its transfer record, notably in 2018 when they signed Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon for € 60 million. Their biggest and most celebrated sale was Gareth Bale, who went to Real Madrid for £ 85,300,000 in September 2013.

Quite rightly, Spurs stepped back from the market while their new stadium was being prioritised, but they would not have been able to attract Mourinho, for example, if there were no funds for squad development. 

Tottenham have been deprived of the opportunity to fully leverage their new home due to the pandemic, but once the crowds return, it is not hard to see Spurs continuing their upward trajectory, both financially and on the field of play. It will be interesting to see if the pandemic has affected their ability to pay for the gleaming construction on the Tottenham High Road. The club does currently carry worrying levels of debt that will take time to work through. Rebirth does come at a cost.

Levy is renowned as a tough negotiator and shrewd businessman. He has applied sound processes to running Tottenham Hotspur and although the trophies haven’t poured in yet, the foundations are in place. Even non-Spurs fans have to acknowledge that this is a model that will bear fruit in the future, the key will be to navigate uncertain times to ensure the club’s brave ground redevelopment doesn’t compromise that future. But even though he has his detractors, it cannot be denied Daniel Levy has been very instrumental in Tottenham Hotspur joining the elite band of European clubs. 

@GameofthePeople