Tottenham versus Arsenal: is this the tipping point in the battle of north London?

Gunners face rivals on Sunday knowing that defeat may end 18 years of league superiority

It has been a long shadow that the Arsenal created by Arsène Wenger have thrown across their neighbours Tottenham Hotspur for the 16 years that the Frenchman has been in charge.

In that time the Premier League head-to-head tells you that only one team has really mattered, even before you peer in the respective trophy cabinets. Arsenal have won the fixture 15 times out of 33, with only four going Spurs’ way.

There have been some crushing blows for Tottenham, like that occasion at White Hart Lane in November 2004 when Spurs scored four, only for Arsenal to get five. Wenger’s side had secured their last Premier League title there the previous May in a game they would have won were it not for Jens Lehmann pushing Robbie Keane and conceding a penalty. It took Spurs more than 10 years between 1999 and 2010 to win a league fixture against their rivals.

On Sunday, however, there is a very different flavour to the game. Wenger has been under pressure many times in the last five years or so but this one is different. He faces a Spurs team four points ahead of his own in the league and with Gareth Bale, the in-form player in the division, in their side. It is a Tottenham team winning matches in style. Of course, this is the same Spurs who blew a bigger advantage over Arsenal last season, but no one could ignore this year’s threat.

Perhaps it was those factors that caused Wenger to make the kind of mildly dismissive comments about Bale at his press conference yesterday when he questioned how long the 23-year-old’s current form might last. Over the years he has been  accustomed to the talk being about the exceptional players in his own side, certainly in the north London derby, rather than being quizzed on how he plans to cope with the star of the opposition.

The point that is almost too painful to make in the presence of the Arsenal manager is that Bale looks every inch the kind of player that his club once signed as a matter of course, the prototype that Wenger made a virtue of bringing to the club: a remarkable physical specimen with a very high skill level and an ascetic dedication to his craft. If Bale was an Arsenal player then his recent performance would be drawing comparisons with the best of Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie.

Instead, today, Wenger was forced to build an argument that in the absence of an exceptional stand-out talent in his current team – and that is not to say that Jack Wilshere cannot reach a similar level one day – he was content with goals coming from all over the pitch. He said, not for the first time, that Arsenal have scored more goals than they had at this point last season and were not at the mercy of one individual to score them.

If only it was that simple. Things can change quickly in a league where only four points separate the three teams chasing the leading pair but, all the same, Arsenal look further from flourishing into a coherent, consistent side than Spurs. Wenger’s problems tomorrow are just as likely to be in defence as they are in attack, especially against Bale.

There is no Bacary Sagna in the team with the Frenchman regarded as something of an expert in coping with Bale. In Sagna’s absence, Wenger bridled at the suggestion that he might do something different to handle the Welshman’s threat. “We don’t plan for anybody,” he said, a remark that reads a little more devil-may-care than he intended. What it seemed like Wenger meant was that he was not going to change his formation to deal with Bale.

Even in the bad times, Spurs’ league record at home to Wenger’s Arsenal has been robust. In 16 games, the record is three wins each with the other 10 draws. In that period Wenger has seen off eight Spurs managers, not including the six caretaker interregnum. But this time it is not a case of them breathing down his neck. Rather, Wenger is up against a young manager in Andre Villas-Boas who is as hungry to begin an era of his own at Spurs. Indeed, he may even be the first Tottenham manager to outlast Wenger.

“He has done well,” Wenger said of Villas-Boas. “For the rest, I don’t know how life is on a daily basis. It is very difficult to assess that. They play well. They are a good side. They have renewed a lot their team and they are doing quite well.”

That is about as high as the praise goes from Wenger and certainly he has been more lukewarm about the achievements of others in the past. As ever with Arsenal, they are capable of pulling off a result – they have won the last two league fixtures against Spurs 5-2 – but it is the bigger picture that matters and whether Spurs can finish above their rivals in the league for the first time since 1995.

That record sprang to mind when Wenger was asked yesterday whether the half-yearly profit that Arsenal announced on Monday would have been better spent on a team that could have won trophies. “There is only one trophy and that is the championship [Premier League],” Wenger said.

 “The real value of the team is where you finish in the championship. If it was just sorted out by the numbers [financial power], you would always have Chelsea or Man City champions every year. Chelsea finished sixth last year, what people forget, and that’s the real value of the team for me.”

Were Arsenal to finish behind Spurs this season in fourth, with a Champions League place, it would not be a disaster. They could still confidently embark on that rebuilding programme in the summer. But you get the impression that Wenger’s record of never having finished behind Spurs is one of his benchmarks of excellence at the club that he really does not wish to give up. He has been forced to accept a fair few indignities in the past few years and this one would be particularly hard to take, but the threat has never been quite so real.


Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
videoWatch Lynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance
A view of today's Spanish papers
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'

Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 pose for Children in Need 2001
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution

Review: Witty banalities aside, the comedian has an authentic voice

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London