When Arsenal lost to Tottenham at White Hart Lane the media and papers the next day wrote the headlines that the ‘power had shifted’ in North London, the talk on the terrace was that Arsenal were ‘dead and buried’ and no longer the ‘big team’ in North London. It sounded too canny, its all been written before but this time it seemed to be written with more distinction and certainty in their headlines and words, the phrase ‘mind the gap’ springs to mind something which seems to be said every season between the two North London rivals.
Many a time, pundits in the game have spoken of the ‘power shift’ in north London, a cycle that they say is going to happen at one point or another, but its yet to happen, season after season in recent years Tottenham have had it within their grasp and thrown it away. Is this the year the ‘power shifts’ in North London?
Last season, complacency and inconsistent in the later stage of the season was Tottenham’s downfall and saw them lose a 13 point lead they had over their North London rivals in February, only to see Arsenal crawl it back and finish above them in third. It was something which the Tottenham players have said this season they won’t let happen again, the Arsenal fans wouldn’t let Tottenham fans live it down if they were to let another point’s gap slip. But once again this season we see the media talk about the recycled cliché of a ‘power shift’ in North London which has been asked on countless times it begins to lose true meaning, it has been said since Arsenal’s last season at Highbury in 2006, when Tottenham were within a win of finishing above their North London rivals.
Geoff Shreeves, jumped the gun when he asked Arsène Wenger, in his post match interview after the defeat against Tottenham which saw the North London rivals open a seven point gap, if it meant a ‘shift in power’ in North London: “Does today’s result signal a shift of power in North London?”. In answer Arsene Wenger said; “That’s not the impression I got from the game today. We were not efficient in those decisive zones, not at the back or up front. We were not cautious enough. On the two goals we played offside in a position where we shouldn’t play offside.” When the season ends we will see if Arsene Wenger’s words ring true.
Sam Wallace of the Independent carefully avoided the cliché in his own interpretation of the North London rivalry and ‘power shift’: “Slowly, but perceptibly, these two clubs are passing one other in the natural order.”
Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail, stepped away from the media hysteria and took a more rational approach and not referring to a ‘power shift’ in North London; “Those hoping for a sign that the balance of power had changed with permanence, however, must wait. Tottenham are better then Arsenal this season and the league table confirms that. It would not take much though, for the positions to once again reverse”.
By it’s very definition, ‘power’ isn’t a commodity in football that can be shifted so cheaply as the newspapers often say, it would take more then Tottenham opening a seven point gap on Arsenal to justify the argument that the ‘power has shifted’ in North London. It would need consistency by Tottenham to claim to be the top dogs in North London, many times they had the chance to establish themselves as the biggest club in North London but season after season they seem to let it slip from their grasps.
Arsenal’s history of 13 league titles to Tottenham’s two league titles over fifty years ago is superior to their North London rivals, which gives them the argument to suggest they still remain the superior team in North London. Arsenal’s Invincibles clinched the title on Tottenham territory in 2004; dethroned as champions eight years ago, something which should not be underestimated and can’t go without being mentioned when referring to a ‘power shift’ in North London. Arsenal will have tough competition to secure their status in the Champions League for a seventeenth consecutive season but its something they thrived on in recent seasons and always come out on top against their North London rivals. Even Wenger’s ‘weakest’ squads which haven’t won a trophy for eight years still seem to have that upper hand over the ‘stronger’ Tottenham squads we have seen. Is this season finale going to be any different?
This season, the appointment of a younger and dynamic manager for Tottenham has seen Andre Villas Boas potray a more organised team as a unit, which has seen Tottenham produce an impressive run of form as well as having the in form player of the season Gareth Bale, even the most optimistic Arsenal fan had to think twice to whether this was Tottenham’s year to finish above Arsenal – Had the North London tide truly turned? Doubt and uncertainty would have manifested in the mind of the Arsenal players as they looked an already beaten team to top 4 as they walked of the pitch at White Hart Lane knowing the North London rivals, Tottenham had opened a seven point gap. Arsenal do have the advantage with history on their side, having finished above Tottenham for the last 16 seasons it would give Arsenal the ‘mental edge’ over Tottenham and is something which Arsene Wenger will use as valuable experience in the nine remaining fixtures.
Villas Boas deserved all the praise he was receiving from the press, just purely for taking a different approach to the previous Tottenham managers, by introducing a unique style of coaching and tactics and formulated a different philosophy which made Tottenham the more fancied proposal to finish above Arsenal by most pundits. The Tottenham team who were beaming with belief and confidence having been on their longest unbeaten in the league were sitting in third and seven points ahead of Arsenal but past failures from previous seasons would have still played on the players mind as their form dipped in the most crucial part of the season.
Suddenly Tottenham blistering form which would have led most fans thinking surely Tottenham can’t blow another opportunity to finish above their rivals had faded, with a below par performance by Tottenham at Anfield and in the same week they were outplayed and outclassed at the San Siro by Inter Milan and looking ordinary as a team without their talisman; Gareth Bale. Arsenal was all a sudden back within grasp of Tottenham with an important game in hand which would see that seven point gap close to within a point. Arsenal was written off by the press weeks before as a ‘beaten’ team who were ‘dead and buried’ to suddenly emerge with some fight and belief. It was the game at the San Siro in the second leg of the Champions League which would have given them that belief, the players went there as underdogs and already written off as beaten but they came back with their pride and their belief having won 2-0, after Arsene Wenger was slated and criticised by Gary Lineker for resting key players. In the same week, Tottenham’s dip in form was surprising but not unexpected looking at previous seasons at this point, the team were in sublime from, unbeaten for 12 games, (only 37 games short of the invincibles record in 2004,) you could understand the hype by the media saying the ‘power had shifted’ in North London. However that’s all it was hype.
Tottenham’s sudden dip in form couldn’t have come at a such a better time for Arsenal, in the same week that the gunners showed real desire and belief with a win away at Bayern Munich and Swansea, but more importantly the poor defensive frailties seemed to have been solved with two clean sheets and the all a sudden the tables had been turned, Arsenal are now the in form team going into the unwelcomed international break and have the advantage to close the four point gap within just a point of their North London rivals.
Now Arsenal are back in the fold and have the ‘psychological’ edge with their experience of finishing above Tottenham for the last 16 seasons, you now tip Arsenal to finish above Tottenham for the seventeen consecutive season. This is an Arsenal team that have not been performing as well as in other seasons, an Arsenal team who if you believe what you read in the media have been in ‘crisis’ and were ‘dead and buried’. One paper wrote, there surely no way Arsenal ‘can come back from defeat at White Hart Lane and finish above Tottenham again’. The selling of RVP, the talisman and leader last season, has had a much more of an immediate impact that any other recent departures such as Cesc Fabregas and Samri Nasri but still when the chips are against Arsenal in their race for top 4 they always seem to come out fighting with the mental edge of their rivals. The talk about the ‘power’ shifting in North London may have been premature, especially with what happened last season when Tottenham had the 10 point gap over Arsenal and still finished below them in fourth. Tottenham fans understandably can feel a sense of pity and resentment having put clear daylight between themselves and their North London rivals.
Apparently the ‘power had shifted’ to Tottenham because they had opened a seven point gap after winning the North London derby a few weeks ago but the media made their prediction too prematurely to say the least and it shouldn’t be taken as grounds to place the argument that the ‘power shift’ has taken place in North London. The gap between Tottenham and Arsenal has gone from seven points at the start of last week to within just one point if Arsenal win their game in hand on Tottenham.
But even the most optimistic Tottenham fan will be looking over their shoulder with doubt. Only at the end of the season will we really see whether the ‘power’ has shifted in North London or like many seasons before it was media hype. It may all boil down to the psychological edge which favours Arsenal and the experience of Arsene Wenger in finishing in the top 4 above their North London rivals every season. It’s something which will play in the back of the minds of the Tottenham manager and players particularly now a seven point gap has been closed.
The next nine games on the fixture list will tell a better story for both teams. Looking at Tottenham’s remaining fixtures, they do have the difficult run of fixtures, needing to play five teams in the top half of the table including, Chelsea, Everton, Man City, Swansea and Stoke away. Tottenham do have the fixture list against them and Arsenal have the upper hand with the fixtures remaining and are now within closing the gap of seven points a week ago to within just a point if they win the game in hand. It raises the question to whether Tottenham had opened a four point gap on their North London rivals because they had played the ‘easy’ fixtures and the real test of mental strength and ability for Tottenham will come in the next challenging nine fixtures. But more crucially for Tottenham, they will have one eye of the ball with the last 8 of the Europa League to play, which means a more congested fixture list and players are likely to become jaded which showed in their weekend defeat to Fulham having played at the San Siro a few days before. That will play in Arsenal’s favour. Arsenal however, do have the easier run of fixtures and have to play just three teams in the top half of the league table, including Manchester United and Everton at home and their difficult fixtures are tricky away games at West Brom and Newcastle.
The odds are in Arsenal’s favour if they win their game in hand and take full advantage of Tottenham recent slip in form. However, the table never lies, Tottenham are still above Arsenal by four points, but the table doesn’t always reflect the likelihood of finishing in that position. Tottenham do have reason for being optimismistic as they are still in control of their own destiny and there no better time for a club who back is against the wall now to prove those doubters wrong and win their remaining challenging fixtures.
Tottenham would change the monopoly by upsetting the apple cart in North London if they did finish above Arsenal for the first time in seventeen years, something which has never happened under Arsene Wenger’s managerial reign. Questions will be asked and fans will want answers. Everton finished above Liverpool for a few seasons now but it didn’t mean there was a ‘power shift’ in Merseyside, Liverpool’s history is far too superior to Everton’s, the same principle can be said with Manchester United finishing second to Man City last season, there wasn’t a sudden ‘power shift’, Manchester United have the more illustrated history. If there were to be a ‘power shift’ in North London, than Tottenham will need to consistently finish in the top 4, at the expense of their North London rivals, Arsenal. Until then the argument against a ‘power shift’ in North London is stronger in most respects then the argument for. If Arsenal win their game in hand they have on Tottenham the seven point gap will jus be a single point. Is history going to repeat itself again and Tottenham will throw away another points lead over their North London rivals and finish below them for the seventeen consecutive season? Nevertheless whatever happens to Tottenham in May if the season does end again with them behind Arsenal, they may feel regret but this was the season on change and transition with Villas Boas leading the way forward, on the basis of things Tottenham are over-achieving in their transition period.