Is this the highest-quality North London Derby of the Premier League era?

Is this the highest-quality North London Derby of the Premier League era?

Considering the ferocity and bitterness of the North London derby, Arsenal were almost embarrassingly dominant in this fixture for a sustained period of time.

Arsene Wenger had evolved the Gunners into an imperious outfit and between 1996 and 2007, Tottenham could only muster one win over their closest rivals.

A 5-1 victory in the 2008 Carling Cup semi-final released the shackles and in 2010, Spurs notched their first league triumph over Arsenal in 11 years.

While the Gunners boasted some of the world’s finest footballers and consistently competed for the highest honours, Spurs, at the turn of the 21st century, were no more than a mediocre outfit whose impressive record in cup competitions kept them somewhat relevant.

Despite the one-sided nature of the rivalry, the animosity between the two clubs never ceased to dissipate. Sol Campbell’s switch across the north London in 2001 divide then exacerbated the hatred and added a seething sense of resentment to the fixture.

Is this the highest-quality North London Derby of the Premier League era?

LONDON, ENGLAND – MAY 12: of Arsenal and of Tottenham Hotspur during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 12, 2022 in London, England.

The rivalry remains intense 21 years on from Campbell’s infamous transfer, with a COVID-induced postponement in January riling up Lilywhite supporters in a manner which we haven’t seen since Sol’s treachery.

Thus, the re-arranged fixture at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in May this year boasted the ambience of a European derby day. The atmosphere, heightened by the importance of the clash with both sides gunning for a top-four finish, was electric, and Spurs claimed an emphatic 3-0 victory.

A once one-sided rivalry has grown immensely in competitiveness over the past decade, and, in 2017, Mauricio Pochettino helped Spurs finish above Arsenal in the Premier League for the first time in 22 years and they’ve topped the Gunners in each of the five seasons since.

A distinct lack of silverware on that side of the divide, however, means that cries of a power shift are pretty humorous.

Now, though, as Mikel Arteta prepares his side to avenge that chastening night on the Tottenham High Road in May, we’ve arrived at a point where these two teams are among the very best in a Premier League laden with quality and the upcoming North London derby could be the highest-quality iteration of the fixture in decades.

Arteta’s project at Arsenal, as Edu Gaspar predicted, is taking off this season. Improvements were on display in 2021/22, but immaturity, inexperience, and a lack of quality in key areas saw them stutter towards the finish line and finish fifth.

A busy summer, though, combined with the manager’s Guardiola-inspired ideals have seen the Gunners rise to the top of the Premier League table after seven games.

Antonio Conte’s Spurs, meanwhile, are expected to push on after snatching the final Champions League spot from Arsenal’s grasp last season.

They, too, were busy in the transfer market and while they haven’t been as convincing as their fiercest rivals, they’ve started the league season unbeaten. Ominously, their performances are expected to improve by some margin.

So, we beg the question: have these two north London rivals ever simultaneously looked/been so good?

Spurs were light years away from Arsenal for much of Wenger’s reign and when they did close the gap, the two sides were battling it out for a top-four spot in a much inferior Premier League compared to the current iteration.

Then, when the Lilywhites usurped the Gunners as north London’s supreme force, Arsenal had sunken to a shadow of their once all-conquering selves.

2015/16 was the only season in Premier League history when the North London derby had genuine title implications for both sides. Remember the 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane in March 2016? Well, Arsenal eventually finished second behind the magnificent Leicester with 71 points, while Spurs ended on 70 points.

Arsenal’s 2015/16 points haul was matched by a fourth-placed Tottenham last season. In short, that was a low-quality Premier League campaign – hence the 5000/1 title triumph.

This term, both sides will be looking to hit 80+ points tallies, such are the improvements they’ve made under their respective managers. While neither should be expected to win the Premier League title, they each have what it takes to emerge as the second and third-best teams in the top flight.

Thus, Saturday’s fixture could serve as a marker for the rest of the campaign and it’s poised to be a captivating battle between two stylistically contrasting managers.

Arteta’s progressive ideals have facilitated a brand of football synonymous with Arsenal, while Conte’s Italianisation of Tottenham has added another edge to the Lilywhites. They’re tough to beat, and the superstars they boast in attack mean they can take the game away from anybody.

It’s an ideological duel between the two managers – a less significant version of the Pep/Josė El Clasico rivalry, shall we say – and the Arsenal supporters, despite the kick-off time, will try their utmost to replicate the hostile atmosphere created by Spurs fans in May. Revenge is on the menu for Arteta and Arsenal, with a tense but enthralling bout in store.

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