Balance of power in north London on a knife-edge as Tottenham and Arsenal square-up

Dan Kilpatrick
·4 min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

It is commonplace before every game between Arsenal and Tottenham to question whether the result could cement a shift in the balance of power in north London.

Sunday’s match at the TottenhamHotspur Stadium — the first at the ground with supporters since March — is no different and the issue of supremacy feels particularly relevant, given the contrasting fortunes of the two clubs.

Sunday’s match at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium — the first at the ground with supporters since March — is no different and the issue of supremacy feels particularly relevant, given the contrasting fortunes of the two clubs.

At least until 6.30pm on Sunday, Spurs can claim immediate bragging rights, but it is debatable as to which club has truly had the best of it over the medium-term. Talk of a power shift, which seemed significant back when Arsenal stopped challenging for the title under Arsene Wenger and Spurs were growing as a force, has largely lost relevance.

The north London rivalry has now reached a strange juncture — which has been coming — in which both clubs can legitimately claim to have had the best of the past six or seven years, while simultaneously craving the other’s successes.

Spurs have clearly been the more upwardly-mobile and well-functioning of the two since the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino in 2014 and there is little doubt that their supporters have, generally speaking, been the happier.

But they remain without a trophy since 2008, a drought which has developed into a neurosis, helping to explain the decision to replace Pochettino with Mourinho a year ago.

Arsenal, by contrast, gradually slipped into malaise in the latter years of Wenger’s reign and since his departure, but even at their low ebb they have maintained a canny habit of winning silverware, with four FA Cups since 2014.

Their last Wembley win was just four months ago, but the architect, Arteta, is already under pressure after five defeats from 10 League games.

Arsenal FC via Getty Images
Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Arsenal might now accept a period of growth, stability and top-four finishes under the Spaniard, similar to the spell Spurs enjoyed under Pochettino, even if it means a barren spell. Spurs, by

contrast, have cashed in Pochettino’s long-term vision and progressive football for Mourinho’s promise of a silverware, even if the price winning is chaos down the road — judging by the Portuguese’s pattern of boom and bust.

While both clubs envy the other, neither can truly claim the power in north London until they combine domestic consistency with a winning habit. In the short-term at least, Spurs looked best placed to do so under Mourinho and a win over their neighbours would open up an 11-point gap and offer further evidence of their staying power in the title, race following the win over Manchester City and last weekend’s draw at Chelsea.

The north London derby rarely follows the form book, however, and it has often felt like a fixture where the more fancied the favourite, the more likely they are to slip up, which bodes poorly for Spurs.

Mourinho’s side should nonetheless start the more confident, even after their B team were held to a wild 3-3 draw by LASK in the Europa League last night, while Arsenal’s impressed in a 4-1 home win over Rapid Vienna.

Just as they did against City and Chelsea, Mourinho’s side can be expected to lie in wait for Arsenal with a contain-and-counter approach, hoping the visitors shoot themselves in the foot, as they did in the corresponding fixture — a 2-1 Spurs win — last season.

For all Arsenal’s struggles, Arteta has an impressive record at managing the big games, as Mourinho acknowledged last night, and the Gunners boss may welcome an occasion when his players should need little motivation, particularly with 2,000 Spurs fans in attendance.

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