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North London Derby Drama

Although I have no allegiance to either club, I’ve always been intrigued and fascinated with the North London derby. Like so many local derbies, it’s often a frenetic, highly charged affair and despite the fortunes of the respective clubs, usually competitive. This weekend’s Premier League meeting between Tottenham and Arsenal at White Hart Lane will be one of the biggest and most important clashes of these bitter rivals in recent memory.


I think I was first struck by this fixture back in 1991 when the two sides met in the FA Cup semi-final and Paul Gascoigne scored an incredible free kick. I actually spent weeks with my friends trying to recreate that free kick. Finding the top corner, past an imaginary David Seaman, from fully 30 yards was easier said than done. The passion and intensity of that match was magnetic and the fact it was a FA Cup semi-final only added to the sense of occasion. In the 25 years since then, Arsenal have usually been above Spurs in the league, but often that only served to inspire Spurs to lift their game to entertain the neutral watcher.

Back in 2004 at White Hart Lane, the two sides met in a Premier League classic that ended with the Gunners celebrating a 5-4 victory. It was another of those games with poor defending and saw great attacking that make fantastic viewing for the neutral. 2008 saw another thrilling encounter that finished 4-4 and saw an unbelievable goal from David Bentley. It would probably unrealistic to expect another goal-fest this weekend. The reverse of this fixture earlier in the season was not as spectacular as some of those aforementioned classics, finishing in a 1-1 draw, but was still an interesting contest.

Intrigue and drama will be the order of the day when the teams take to the pitch Saturday lunch-time with the stakes so high. For Arsene Wenger and Arsenal, defeat would be the final nail in the coffin of their faltering title challenge. Their dismal defeat to Manchester United was followed by an embarrassing loss at home to struggling Swansea and with elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Barcelona inevitable, the Gunners season is unravelling fast. In contrast, Spurs have been gathering momentum in recent months and although a 1-0 loss at West Ham midweek cost them a chance to go top of the Premier League, they are still the form side coming into this tie.

Mauricio Pochettino has added solidity to Spurs, whilst maintaining a certain attacking flair. With such an effective system and the additions of Toby Alderweireld and Dele Alli, Spurs have found a nice blend that has garnered an impressive level of belief and confidence. Whether they can take it to the next level and win a trophy to shake off the age-old ‘choker’ tag remains to be seen. How they respond to the West Ham defeat and handle the pressure of the title run-in will be interesting and as much as this game is a test for Pochettino, it’s also a huge test for Arsene Wenger. The Gunners boss is coming under renewed pressure and if Arsenal can’t win the Premier League in this of all seasons, then it’s hard to see how they are going to do it next year with a Pep Guardiola inspired Manchester City, Chelsea sure to be back amongst the reckoning and whatever Manchester United does in the summer.

All of these circumstances are just added ingredients to an already fascinating match in prospect. For Arsenal, this is an undoubtedly a ‘must win’ game for obvious reasons and though perhaps Spurs could technically handle a defeat, they really need to win to maintain pressure on leaders Leicester, who sit 3 points clear. Back in 1991, it was Gazza imprinting his name on this fixture and with the likes of Ozil, Eriksen, Sanchez and Kane on show, the opportunity for one of them to write themselves into North London Derby folklore is up for grabs. So, with both teams needing the win and so much to play for, it should be a tense atmosphere and with the added spice of it being such a bitter local derby, I cannot wait to see it.

Andy Wales
Andy Wales
Football writer and podcaster. Family man and Liverpool fan.
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