When Spurs finished above Arsenal last season there was talk of a power shift in North London. But while Spurs have been the better team over the past three years, Arsenal have won more and are closer to doing so again. So where does the power lie ahead of Saturday’s game? By Jamie Braidwood
A win in any North London derby is big, but rarely had it ever felt this significant. As Harry Kane tucked away a 58th-minute penalty to put his Spurs side 2-0 up against Arsenal, you could sense the power in North London was shifting.
These were two rivals moving in opposite trajectories. Spurs under Pochettino were a club on the up and were about to finish above Arsenal for the first time in 22 years. Their young team, led by Kane, were challenging for the title for the second consecutive season, and it seemed it was only a matter of time before they made the next step.
Arsenal, on the other hand, were spiralling into another crisis. This was nothing new, of course, but this latest defeat would actually have dire consequences. At the end of the season Arsenal not only finished behind Spurs, but outside of the top four, failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time under Arsene Wenger.
For years Arsenal had made up for a lack of tangible success with consistent Champions League qualification. Without that to fall back on there was talk that the Wenger’s empire would crumble, especially with stars Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil approaching the end of their contracts. Spurs were set to dominate for the foreseeable future.
Ironically though, only one team finished with silverware at the end of the season. In the FA Cup Arsenal surprised everyone by beating Manchester City in the semis and then Chelsea in the final. Despite everything that was going on at the club, Arsenal had found a way to win – lifting their third FA Cup in four seasons – while Spurs, a team who were again the second best team in the country, won nothing.
So where are we now, almost a year after Spurs’ 2-0 derby win? The sides meet again at Wembley on Saturday, with Spurs four points ahead of Arsenal in the table. Again, the narrative centres around the ongoing ‘power shift’ in North London, with Spurs entering the game in good shape to capitalize on Chelsea’s issues in the race for Champions League qualification, while Arsenal languish behind.
But for a side who have only won three Premier League away games all season, and who lost their best player to a direct rival last month, the mood at the Emirates is hopeful. The hurt that was caused by Sanchez’s departure to Manchester United has been more than healed by the signings of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, as well as Mesut Ozil’s timely contract extension. Their attack in last weekend’s 5-1 over Everton was devastating.
The frustration for Spurs is that for everything they have done right over the past three seasons, Arsenal are still there. It helps that they have the greater financial muscle. While Spurs had to be prudent to sign out-of-favour PSG forward Lucas Moura, Arsenal were able to spend £58m on Aubameyang – a fee that Spurs simply can’t afford.
By all means, Spurs will finish above Arsenal in May for the second consecutive season. They also have the chance, and the quality, to advance in the Champions League at the expense of Juventus, but an Arsenal win on Saturday would move them to just a point behind Spurs. They won the reverse fixture in November 2-0, after all.
Arsenal also have the small matter of a League Cup final against Manchester City at the end of the month to consider. The Gunners aren’t favourites, but there is always a chance in cup finals. Significantly though, Spurs have been the best team in North London over the past three seasons but in that time Arsenal have won more and are closer to doing so again.
At this moment in time nothing is more important to Spurs than winning a trophy. The club haven’t lifted silverware since the League Cup in 2008 and while that drought extends they are at their most vulnerable.
Given Zinedine Zidane’s precarious position at Real Madrid, there is a natural anxiety that Pochettino could be on his way to replace him in the summer. If that would happen, and if Spurs don’t win anything this season, how many of his stars would Pochettino be able to lure away? Then there is the debate over Kane. Would the best striker in the world remain at his boyhood club if they continue to fall short – and if Madrid came calling?
There was a definite power shift in North London last March, but Arsenal are still not far away. They are arguably only a goalkeeper and holding midfielder away from a title-winning team and if there was a change in management over the summer they could be a threat next season.
Wembley will be packed on Saturday and it should be a special North London derby. There will be more talk of which team, the white of Spurs or the red of Arsenal, holds the power in North London. But whatever the score, it’s probably closer than you think.