Passionate, emotional, absorbing, full of goals and drama. Once again, fans of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur await one of the two showpiece games of their team’s season – the North London Derby – seen by some as the best rivalry in Britain. Gripping and exhausting for viewers whilst sometimes torturous for the players, the derby is a benchmark for bragging rights in North London. It is a time when heroes are discovered and villains are dispelled. It is the first game fans look out for when a season’s fixtures are announced.
When Woolwich Arsenal moved from South of the River Thames to Highbury in 1913, little did anybody know how much enmity and hatred the move would cause. Since then, the rivalry between the two clubs has increased and has often had individuals and encounters to fire up the hatred. For example, when Sol Campbell made the switch from White Hart Lane to Arsenal in 2001 after 225 appearances in the Lilywhite shirt, he was shown no thanks. To this day, he is perhaps the most hated and abused footballer in Tottenham history. Many have played for both clubs and some have made the direct switch but none will be as ill spoken about as Campbell.
In this article, I will be reviewing the five best North London derbies in my lifetime and previewing Sunday’s eagerly anticipated encounter at the Emirates Stadium.
It is fair to say that from my birth in 1997 until 2008, we didn’t quite enjoy the best of spells against the old enemy. The class of their sides including Henry, Pires, Vieira and Bergkamp made the derby a difficult one for the average Spurs sides until one night at White Hart Lane. Here are my top five games versus The Arsenal to date:
5. 21st April 2010. Nobody can hide behind the fact that this game was vital to both teams in the run in to the end of the season. With Harry Redknapp’s Spurs chasing a place in the coveted UEFA Champions League, a victory would put them in good stead for a fourth place finish. Up step, Danny Rose. The commentary of the goal is one that will stay with Spurs fans for a long time – and is even my alarm tone at five past six in the morning. After just 10 minutes, Gareth Bale swung in a corner which was met by a punch from Manuel Almunia. Tottenham’s left back, Rose, sprinted up to the ball around 22 yards out and volleyed a left footed shot beyond the reach of a helpless Arsenal goalkeeper. With a goal later on for Bale and despite a late consolation from Nicklas Bendtner, Tottenham were victorious by a scoreline of 2-1 and ended up finishing in 4th place, qualifying for the Champions League.
4. 20th April 2011. Another thrilling game at White Hart Lane ended in a 3-3 draw in what started and finished in a very high tempo. Theo Walcott gave Arsenal the lead after four minutes but Rafael van der Vaart levelled within a minute of the opener. Samir Nasri restored Arsenal’s lead before Robin van Persie put the Gunners 3-1 up. As half time approached, the ball fell to Tom Huddlestone just outside the box. Using a controlled left foot shot, Tom found the bottom left corner of Szczesny’s goal and pulled a goal back. The second half didn’t live up to the expectations of the first and produced just a solitary goal. Benoit Assou-Ekotto fed Aaron Lennon, who was brought down by the Arsenal goalkeeper in the box and up stepped van der Vaart to finish ever so coolly. A result that helped neither side but produced an exciting encounter for the fans and neutrals alike.
3. 20th November 2010. A day to savour in the history of Tottenham Hotspur. After 17 years of losing away to Arsenal, Harry Redknapp’s men managed to claw back a 2-0 lead and win 3-2 in dramatic fashion. Samir Nasri put the home side ahead after woeful defending from Assou-Ekotto and Gomes and the lead was doubled when Andrey Arshavin found Chamakh in the box, who despatched the cross. Rejuvenated by Redknapp’s half time team talk, Spurs came flying out the blocks and pulled a goal back through Gareth Bale. The equaliser came when Modric was sandwiched and Spurs were awarded a free kick outside the penalty box. Van der Vaart sent a curling effort towards goal, only for it to be blocked by a combination of Chamakh and Fabregas’ hands. A penalty was awarded and the Dutchman slotted home with his ever cool penalty presence. And with five minutes to go, the turnaround was complete. Van der Vaart whipped in a free kick which was met by the towering presence of Younes Kaboul, who flicked the ball past Szczesny and into the back of the net and sent the travelling Spurs faithful into delirium.
2. 29th October 2008. Spurs took the lead in Harry Redknapp’s second game in charge through a stunning goal by David Bentley. He controlled the ball near the halfway line and shot over the helpless Almunia to put his side ahead against his former club. But Arsenal clawed ahead through goals from Silvestre and William Gallas. The Gunners then extended their lead through Adebayor and all looked to be lost for Spurs. But when Darren Bent pulled one back, hope was restored. However, Robin van Persie thumped home and Arsenal were 4-2. With minutes to go, Jermain Jenas won the ball on the halfway line and curled home a beautiful effort. At 4-3, Spurs believed and the ball fell to Modric outside the penalty area who clattered a shot against the upright. The ball bounced out but to the left foot of Aaron Lennon who slotted home to send the Spurs fans into delirium. An incredible comeback to add to Redknapp’s reputation of “Houdini”, ended in a commentary of “Lennon! 4-4!” and sent Sky Sports’ Phil Thompson into hysterics. A perfect end to what felt like a win for Spurs.
1. 22nd January 2008. The night where Spurs gained a place in the 2008 League Cup Final. After a 1-1 draw at the Emirates Stadium, the teams returned to White Hart Lane for the second leg of the League Cup semi-final. The Spurs fans were in fine voice as “Glory Glory Tottenham Hotspur” was passionately sung around the ground and the roof was blown off the stadium when Jermain Jenas put the Lilywhites one up after just two minutes. The lead was doubled shortly after when goal scorer turned provider and Jenas’ free kick was headed into his own net by Nicklas Bendtner. Juande Ramos’ side weren’t finished yet as shortly after the break, Robbie Keane finished superbly to put the hosts three up and had one foot into the final. Despite a goal from Arsenal, there was still more to come from Spurs. Interchanges between Chimbonda and Lennon sent Keane through, who squared to Lennon and the tricky winger finished through the keepers legs to put Spurs four up and into the final. In the dying embers of added time, Jenas ran through on goal and put the ball on a plate for cult hero, Steed Malbranque to seal the tie for good. The White Hart Lane crowd were on cloud nine and the players’ emotions after the game demonstrated how much it meant to them. Final score: Spurs 5-1 Arsenal (aggregate 6-2).
Moving on to Sunday, the two teams have had contrasting summers. Arsenal were unbeaten in pre-season but have so far failed to attract any marquee signing to bolster their squad and add to the depth of the side. They started the season with a 3-1 home defeat to Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa but rejuvenated their campaign with a victory at Fulham to the same scoreline. With Wenger and the board under pressure from the fans, who are in a split between themselves, a derby day win would ease the tension around the club.
On the other hand, Tottenham have completed the signing of six players and the seventh arrival is imminent. Spurs started of the summer spending by bringing in Brazilian international Paulinho from Corinthians for a fee of £17 million. Next in was Belgian winger, Nacer Chadli from FC Twente for approximately £7 million. After cries from the fans to bring in a big name striker, Spurs announced another club record signing on 5th August. The services of Roberto Soldado had been acquired from Valencia. Next in the door at White Hart Lane was defensive midfielder and “tank”, Ettiene Capoue from Toulouse from a fee believed to be in the region of £9 million. And on Friday 30th August, the signings of defender Vlad Chiriches from Steaua Bucharest and forward Erik Lamela from AS Roma were announced for a combined fee of up to £38.5 million. With the imminent arrival of playmaker Christian Eriksen, the White Hart Lane faithful are looking forward to a successful season under Andre Villas Boas.
Despite being involved in the biggest saga of the summer and with the departure of superstar Gareth Bale leaving for Real Madrid for a world record fee, Spurs have been quick and efficient in replacing the Welshman. After bringing in Franco Baldini to fill the Director of Football roll, Daniel Levy worked in tandem with the Italian and Villas-Boas to bring in the undoubted talent to N17. Whether Bale was to remain a Spurs player or not was not a question as owner, Joe Lewis, pumped money into squad in an attempt to bring some silverware back to North London.
In terms of the derby, it will be a close fought battle and hopefully lives up to the excitement it always brings. Two teams with contrasting summers and styles will provide for excellent viewing come Sunday afternoon. Predicting the outcome of the game has never been successful for me so I will leave you with this instead, from @YidV2Dan on Twitter and YidVids2 on YouTube. Enjoy the derby and Come On You Spurs!