Are Tottenham and Arsenal as closely matched as they have been in the Premier League era? Joe Tyler keeps getting told the gap is closing between the North London rivals, and in the build up to Sunday’s encounter he gives his verdict on a current best XI from the two clubs.
I live in an area populated by Tottenham and Arsenal fans, split roughly down the middle, and consider myself fortunate to be on the red side of the divide. But the prospect of Tottenham being on a level par with Arsenal has become more likely, and once or twice has led me to shudder at the thought of looking up the table at our fiercest rivals.
Thankfully, it hasn’t happened in a very long time. Arsenal have finished above Spurs in the league every season since 1994/95 – back then Spurs were seventh, Arsenal 12th. This was a period when I revelled in playground bragging rights, the glory of Dennis Bergkamp, and the comedy of Ramon Vega.
The trophy-laden Wenger years of 1997-2005 (hopefully to return soon) brought satisfying success, especially as Spurs’ two League Cup wins and occasional failed UEFA Cup campaigns during this time were a source of snobbish fun to Gooners.
But, whether Arsenal fans like to admit it or not, the gap has closed since the days when Gerry Francis, the last manager to lead a Spurs side to a higher finish, was in charge at White Hart Lane. Spurs being struck down by food poisoning on the final day of the 2006 season, when they needed to win at West Ham to guarantee a Champions League spot at Arsenal’s expense, was pure, glorious luck for the Gunners, and warned at a tighter future between the two sides.
Several thrilling encounters later, including Spurs aggregate 6-5 win over Arsenal last season and the 4-4 draw at the Emirates two years previous, it’s wholly apparent that it will be a tight run thing again this season.
I hope it isn’t, and that Arsenal cement their superiority starting on Sunday at White Hart Lane, despite a three game winless run in the league against Spurs.
The best way to measure who has the upper hand will be to simply wait for the game on Sunday and see who wins. In the meantime, here’s my Tottenham and Arsenal XI, to help us decipher who might claim the early upper hand.
Wojciech Szczesny – Arsenal
Arsenal have conceded 16 goals in nine games this season, but it would have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for the young Pole. He’s made a habit of making fine saves to bale out his leaky defence, and would get the nod over the experience but aged Brad Friedel.
Bacary Sagna – Arsenal
One of the most consistent defenders in the league, Sagna’s positioning and crossing makes him the most reliable member of Arsenal’s defence.
Ledley King – Tottenham
King will forever be associated with his injury problems, but Tottenham’s defence is a different proposition when he plays. A natural leader, he is a source of calm at the back.
Thomas Vermaelen – Arsenal
Parallels can be made between the Belgian and King – dominant, left-footed, and the best defender at their respective clubs. His absence on Sunday must be exploited by Spurs.
Gareth Bale – Tottenham
His most thrilling football may have come when he was deployed further up the field, but with no obvious candidate for left back, he will be bombing forward from deep in this team.
Theo Walcott – Arsenal
Walcott has been seen as a great hope for English football since he was drafted into the 2006 World Cup as a 17-year-old. He hasn’t reached those heights, but this is more down to media pressure than his own ability. He has added a consistency that Aaron Lennon lacks.
Jack Wilshere – Arsenal
He’s out until the new year, but his technique, passing and tenacity made Europe take notice last season.
Scott Parker – Tottenham
Parker has already made a difference to Spurs, and looks to be the perfect foil for Luka Modric. He would form a solid base with England colleague Wilshere.
Rafael van der Vaart – Tottenham
Just pipping Arsenal new boy Gervinho to the third attacking midfield role is the Dutchman. He’s often criticised for his work rate, particularly away from home, but his quality can’t be called into question.
Luka Modric – Tottenham
Modric has been a class act since arriving at Spurs in 2008, and walks into this team. If Cesc Fabregas was still around it may have been different, but the Croat has picked up the mantle of North London’s finest schemer.
Robin van Persie – Arsenal
Fresh from cementing his place as an Arsenal legend by scoring his 100th goal for the club on Saturday, van Persie has become as vital to his team as Fabregas and Patrick Vieira before him. His movement, finishing and hold-up play is amongst the best in Europe.
Brad Friedel (gk); Kyle Walker, Per Mertesacker, Alex Song, Gervinho, Aaron Lennon, Emanuel Adebayor
Tags: arsenal, Arsene Wenger, Emmanuel Adebayor, gareth bale, Harry Redknapp, Jack Wilshere, Ledley King, theo walcott, Tottenham Hotspur