Regardless of the situation, Arsenal’s next game is always the biggest of their season. It’s the fixture fans look ahead to with a perfectly terrifying mixture of dread and delirium. A game that, if won, sends your spirit soaring for days on end but if lost, hits you harder than an angry Roy Keane. That game is, of course, the north London derby.
Growing up as an Arsenal fan in the middle of the 2000s, Chelsea were the new kids on the block, threatening to upset the Gunners’ status as the Pride of London. As a result, I didn’t particularly understand the rivalry between the red and white side of north London, separated by the Seven Sisters Road and the Tottenham High Road over 4.5 miles. Throughout Chelsea’s emergence under José Mourinho, Spurs were still a long way off being considered among the best teams in London. Their league position of fifth in 2005-06 was their best for 16 years.
During this period, the north London rivalry was ignited by Sol Campbell’s infamous switch from the High Road to Highbury in 2001, yet Spurs still struggled to lay down a marker on the pitch, failing to beat Arsenal for seven years between 1999 and 2008. I truly felt the sting of a north London derby defeat in 2008, when a sorry Arsenal side were thumped out of the League Cup after a 5-1 humbling in the second leg of the semi-final. Juande Ramos’ men went on to win the competition, beating Chelsea in the final for their first trophy since 1999.
This is when it all changed. My father, who is a Tottenham fan, actually had a legitimate case to say that, for the first time in my life, Spurs had enjoyed a more successful season than Arsenal. It hurt. The hurt has been compounded each season since 2016/17, when Mauricio Pochettino guided Tottenham to their first league finish above Arsenal in 22 years, has been a painful one for the sole reason that Arsenal haven’t finished above Tottenham.
In the present, both sides are ironically, almost identical. Both have had new managers, Mourinho and Mikel Arteta replacing Pochettino and Unai Emery respectively. Both are out of Europe, having lost games against RB Leipzig and Olympiacos they should have won. Most revealing of the two clubs’ current situations is the fact that they both sit outside of where they should be, the top six. They are almost neck and neck in the table and if Tottenham beat Bournemouth on Thursday evening, they will move above Arsenal into 7th.
Arsenal and Tottenham are at a crossroads and Sunday’s clash could be the catalyst for change. A win for either side will not only give them much-needed momentum to finish the season strongly but, crucially, a better chance to secure a place above the auld enemy. A draw will suit neither side, with both teams desperately attempting to make up ground in the race for Europe having been mired in mid-table mediocrity for much of the season. Therein lies the story of the north London derby: a great game for the neutral but a stomach-churning, suffocating spectacle for Arsenal and Spurs fans.