Spurs vs. Arsenal: The Least Anticipated North London Derby Ever?
Sunday is this season’s third instalment of one of the fiercest rivalries in the Premier League. Usually this is a huge event – a potential turning point for both clubs which promises goals, cards and entertainment for fans and the neutral alike. It is a fixture that throughout the Premier League has spawned classic contests and moments which for both sides are among their highlights. For Arsenal it is surely The Invincibles winning the league at White Hart Lane. For Spurs winning the Carling Cup in emphatic fashion. However, this year for both sets of fans, it feels quite different.
Early in the Premier League contests were marked by a distinct narrative. Arsenal were, for long periods, contenders for the league whilst Spurs were a mid-table side with no chance of touching their North London rivals in terms of league finish. This sets up the classic David vs. Goliath narrative. WIth Spurs were unlikely to achieve much else in most seasons the scalp of Arsenal and the added chance to scupper them winning the league was huge. For Arsenal this presented a chance to rub their superiority in, as often they did.
In later years this intensified into a proper rivalry. As Tottenham progressed and become genuine contenders for Champions League, Arsenal slipped from genuine title winners to a side just below that. This produced some brilliant contests and made the match feel pivotal. A genuine 6 pointer with a cup-tie feel each time they met.
This time it is different. Arsenal will finish 3rd or 4th and Spurs will finish 5th, 6th or 7th. Arsenal are the better side, of that there can be no dispute, but in league terms they are not the Goliath and neither are Spurs David. They are sides that are a weight-division apart where there is an odds-on favourite but that if the non-favourite takes a victory it is not a classic sporting triumph.
Further to this the result is unlikely to have much impact on League position. Arsenal are comfortably better than the sides below them but are also a level below a Mourinho and Hazard led Chelsea and a star-studded Manchester City. They are likely to contend with Liverpool for 3rd or 4th and win, lose or draw this isn’t going to change. If Tottenham do pull off an upset win they are still unlikely to pick up enough points to catch Arsenal because they are a poor side that lacks consistency. Lose and they are more likely to be overtaken by a David Moyes’ side with a resurgent Fellaini and a very good Everton side with their striking issues now resolved. This may leave Spurs outside the Europa League spots but, realistically, who cares?
There’s also a low probability of a good game compared with previous seasons. Recent history of the fixture has thrown up a thrilling 4-4 draw and two 5-2 Arsenal wins. Thrilling, passion filled games. The first two games of this season’s trilogy have been slow-paced, tactical affairs devoid of passion from players, certainly on Spurs side. An Arsenal side which has improved immensely in it’s variance in counter-attacking football adding to surety in possession has picked off a Spurs side which was comfortable in possession but with very, very little cutting edge and a proclivity to balls up in defence. The games have been so thoroughly dull that the only notable moment came from Theo Walcott on a stretcher.
The likely run of play will see this repeated but perhaps to an exaggerated extent. In recent games Spurs’ have looked lost of passion, desire, tactics and any feature you expect of a good side. Jan Vertonghen seems to have his eyes on pastures news, Younes Kaboul seems poorer after a very long-term injury, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker are both happier in the oppositions half and prone to the game-changing brainfart. It would surprise nobody if Arsenal were to win this game 4 or 5 to nil and whilst Arsenal fans would no doubt delight in this, thrashings are not truly entertaining for even their fans.
There is a small caveat that keeps a glimmer of hope for this fixture and both sides fading aspirations coming in the form of two players.
Arsenal’s early form which looked like boosting them to genuine title winners was hugely driven off the back off the talismanic Aaron Ramsey and their form since his injury has sputtered just enough to pull them away from the summit. In Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain they have a player able to drive them forwards, to set up goals, to score and to win matches. If he tears Spurs apart it may just produce enough belief in the Arsenal ranks to push them towards the title towards the season end.
For Spurs it is the diminutive Dane Christian Eriksen. Displaying moments of class but without real consistency he is the only summer signing who looks like a really good purchase (and one, if you believe reports, that was a back-up option). If Eriksen is given enough time on the ball to pick apart the sometimes weak double-pivot of Arteta and Flamini and inspire a Spurs victory they might just have the man to push them on an unlikely run to catch Arsenal.
I expect Tim Sherwood to name him on the bench.
Follow Mac on Twitter, @ScroobiusMac