The North London Derby: Arsenal & Tottenham back at it again

To Tottenham fans, the final moments of last season only served to underline the curse of Arsene Wenger’s reign. That the Frenchman’s Arsenal side had managed to pip their North London rivals to the post again right at the death, seemed almost like a bad joke, as Spurs lost 5-1 to an already relegated Newcastle side. It had happened again – for the 21st time in a row – to be exact.

Despite the palpable relief around the Emirates at full time on that blindingly sunny May afternoon, there was the uncomfortable truth that they had come unbelievably close to relinquishing their hold on the top spot in North London. Tottenham had missed a golden opportunity and the Arsenal faithful knew it all too well. 

This season feels different however. the league is up for grabs after Leicester’s stunning smash and grab. Both North London teams are aware the shift of power could happen at any minute, and to say that Spurs are chomping at the bit would be an understatement. They remain the only unbeaten team in the league, and while they may have come unstuck midweek at Wembley, they will view this as a perfect occasion to prove themselves. Harry Kane’s possible return is the icing on the cake of their self-belief.

For all of their swagger and rampant goalscoring in recent weeks, Arsenal have looked less than comfortable in defence. That Ludogorets put two goals past a dawdling back four proves the Gunners are regressing to arrogant and complacent ways.

You need just cast your mind back to November of the 2010/2011, which saw Arsenal self-destruct in devastating fashion. After Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh put the Gunners two nil up in the first half an hour, the team began to showboat in outrageous style. Three second-half goals saw Tottenham run away with it, Younes Kaboul wheeling away in triumph as Arsenal’s arrogance got the better of them.

While it is unlikely that the current Arsenal team will take Spurs lightly, they have liabilities to be wary of. Grant Xhaka’s return could well be a poisoned chalice if his disciplinary record is anything to go by. Two red cards and three yellows in just 13 games is an astounding return. Few Arsenal fans would criticise him however, as Arsenal have time and again been accused of being too soft. The reckless Swiss midfielder is the furthest thing from pillowy.

But the North London Derby is a match that sees the players feed of the fans’ passion and genuine dislike of their opponents. Xhaka could get swept up in the emotions inside the ground and commit a ridiculous foul. If Emmanuel Adebayor’s tortuous Arsenal career is anything to go by, nothing is off limits when Arsenal and Tottenham lock horns.

Amusingly, at the start of every match at the Emirates Stadium, the stadium announcer makes sure to extend a big ‘sporting’ welcome to the visiting team over the tannoy. A cursory glance at the sneering faces among the throngs would appear to paint a different picture of the kind of welcome the fans had in mind.

What this weekend provides is a chance to see these title rivals in their element, with a sprinkle of hatred and derision mixed in for good measure. What’s the fun in being friends after all?

 Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexVryzakis

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