Of all the derbies within the English game, Tottenham Hotspur versus Arsenal is one of the most fierce rivalries. This afternoons fixture sees the red half of North London starting on the back foot which has been quite rare in the Premier League era.
The last time Spurs finished above the Gunners was in 1995 but this season, the Lilywhites look like they can mount a serious challenge again for 4th place. Last season, the Champions Leaguesapped a lot out of them and from 2011 onwards, the White Hart Lane side never appeared front runners for 4th place.
This year, Spurs have a great opportunity to finish higher than their fiercest rivals. Their chances should only increase after being knocked out of the Carling Cup early on and with manager Harry Redknapp fielding youngsters in the Europa League.
So why is the game so important for each side?
The rivalry cannot be overlooked. A derby victory for either side will help to drag onside any disillusioned fans. This particularly applies to those of a red persuasion. To the supporters, any bragging rights will be priceless come next Monday morning, so they want to see total commitment right from the first whistle.
For Arsenal, currently North London’s top dog, they have to start winning away. If they don’t turn around their form fast, they will find it very difficult to get into the top 4 this season. Arsene Wenger needs his team to find some consistency. If the Gunners were to record back-to-back victories, it would show some steadiness in his so far inconsistent side. Momentum is important to any team and although they probably have held it for much of the Premier League era, in the last four years Arsenal have struggled against Spurs.
The significance of the game for Tottenham will have the White Hart Lane faithful purring with excitement. They have the opportunity to record their fourth consecutive win in the league. They have only lost to Arsenal once in their last six league meetings and they’ll be desperate to continue that run. A win on Sunday would send a powerful message out for the season especially after their convincing victory against fellow Champions League challengers Liverpool.
They shouldn’t count out Arsenal’s strike force either, though. Robin van Persie demonstrated against Bolton why the Spurs defence cannot afford to take him lightly. Bagging a brace and in the process his 100th goal for the club, van Persie has definitely been a consistent threat in the Arsenal side during 2011.
Should Arsenal win at White Hart Lane on Sunday, it would be a massive result in the context of their season so far. It would scare away some of the encircling vultures around the future of Arsene Wenger. Ultimately even if the Gunners were to lose at the weekend, although it would be a tough blow, it wouldn’t represent a change in power.
If Tottenham displaced Arsenal in the Champions League, it would certainly signify a sizeable momentum shift in North London. Still, it’s hard to argue it would show the passing of the baton though. Spurs will need to finish above Arsenal for a few years before this can be declared and there’s a long way to go before that happens. However, a victory for Spurs on Sunday could be a watershed moment in this rivalry.