The north London derby. One of the fiercest battles in the Premier League. One of the great struggles between two clubs who, traditionally, have been at the top end of English football. The stage for ferocious and often controversial encounters.
Who could forget the return of Sol Campbell? Spurs’ injury-time comeback in that 4-4 draw at the Emirates? Or Arsenal fans celebrating their title triumph at White Hart Lane?
Spurs may have won a few famous victories but there can be little doubt that – using the yardstick of league placings – Arsenal have won the war.
The battle for north London: Arsene Wenger and Andre Villas-Boas meet again at the Emirates on Sunday
Not since 1994-95, when Bruce Rioch delivered a player called Dennis Bergkamp to the North Bank, have the bragging rights at the end of the season belonged to those from N17.
Glory days? They have been few and far between – no matter that Arsene Wenger hasn’t won a pot for eight years and counting – the Frenchman has always been able to peer down on his club’s despised rivals.
Perhaps that is part of Arsenal’s problem. The pressure on Wenger would be that much more oppressive if Spurs were genuine rivals in the top four.
Thrifty: Yaya Sanogo (above) and Mathieu Flamini (below) are Arsenal’s only new additions this summer
Look familiar? Flamini previously spent four years at Arsenal from 2004, before leaving for AC Milan
Imagine if Daniel Levy and his cohorts had masterminded a triumph in the Barclays Premier League? Perhaps it might have persuaded Wenger to move more quickly in the transfer market than he has otherwise done. A moot point, perhaps. Now brought into sharp focus by the events this summer.
Back in way back when, while Wenger was taking advantage of the old (an ageing but capable back four) and bringing in the new (a collection of wonderfully-gifted French talents) Spurs were flailing around. Trying, but failing, to get it right.
Flashing the cash: Roberto Soldado leads Spurs’ heavy transfer spending, costing £26m from Valencia
Samba style: Brazil midfielder Paulinho arrived this summer from Corinthians in a £17m deal
Big boots: Nacer Chadli (left) could fill the void soon to be left by Gareth Bale on Spurs’ left flank
Spend, spend, spend: Etienne Capoue was brought in from Toulouse for £8.6m
Target: Ajax star Christian Eriksen (above) also looks to be on his way to White Hart Lane
Done deals: Erik Lamelav (left) and Vlad Chiriches (right) have already been snapped up this week
Premier League finishes since 1995 – when Spurs last finished higher
Arsenal: 4 – 73 pts
Tottenham: 5 – 72 pts
Arsenal: 3 – 70 pts
Tottenham: 4 – 69 pts
Arsenal: 4 – 68 pts
Tottenham: 5 – 62 pts
Arsenal: 3 – 75 pts
Tottenham: 4 – 70 pts
Arsenal: 4 – 72 pts
Tottenham: 8 – 51 pts
Arsenal: 3 – 83 pts
Tottenham: 11 – 46 pts
Arsenal: 4 – 68 pts
Tottenham: 5 – 60 pts
Arsenal: 4 – 67 pts
Tottenham: 5 – 65 pts
Arsenal: 2 – 83 pts
Tottenham: 9 – 52 pts
Arsenal: 1 – 90 pts
Tottenham: 14 – 45 pts
Arsenal: 2 – 78 pts
Tottenham: 10 – 50 pts
Arsenal: 1 – 87 pts
Tottenham: 9 – 50 pts
Arsenal: 2 – 70 pts
Tottenham: 12 – 49 pts
Arsenal: 2 – 73 pts
Tottenham: 10 – 53 pts
Arsenal: 2 – 78 pts
Tottenham: 11 47 pts
Arsenal: 1 – 78 pts
Tottenham: 14 – 44 pts
Arsenal: 3 – 68 pts
Tottenham: 10 – 46 pts
Arsenal: 5 – 63 pts
Tottenham: 8 – 61 pts
Arsenal: 12 – 51 pts
Tottenham: 7 – 62 pts
Sure, they had a go. They tried blinking hard. But they couldn’t quite make up that gap.
Of course, there have been highs. At his peak David Ginola would have added a dash to any team before the turn into a new Millennium.
But then, there have been lows. How much was it that was spent on Sergei Rebrov? £11m? That’s a big mistake from which to recover.
And all the while Arsenal are moving ever further away. A new stadium, increased turnover, higher profile. It all adds up to bigger, better and more expensive players. Culminating in a team they called: ‘The Invincibles.’
It was about this time that Arsenal were at their peak. Could you ever have seen a time in the last 15 years when a player of Campbell’s ilk would have left Arsenal for Spurs on a free? Not a prayer.
During the time since Spurs last finished above Arsenal, the Gunners have pocketed three titles, and been runners-up five times.
They have lifted four FA Cups in triumph. And qualified for the Champions League every year for well over a decade, losing in the 2006 final to Barcelona.
Spurs? They won the League Cup in 2008.
That year appears now to have been a watershed in the club’s fortunes. Out went Juande Ramos – the latest attempt to find a foreign manager who could challenge Wenger – and in came Harry Redknapp. He sorted the wheat from the chaff and Spurs rocketed up the league.
The evidence? It lies in the final standings of the Premier League table.
In 2008-09 the difference between the teams was a whopping 21 points. Twelve months later it was whittled down to five. In 2010-11 – following Spurs’ qualification for the Champions League it stood at six. In the past two seasons there has only been one point separating them.
With chairman Daniel Levy making better decisions and and nurturing an appreciating asset in Gareth Bale, the boys from White Hart Lane could no longer be sneered at.
Particularly as the gap has narrowed. There was but a dodgy lasagne between the two during Martin Jol’s reign and it closed once more when Redknapp was in charge.
Now it has reached the point where Spurs are about to cash in on Bale for a world record fee.
And now Levy has decided it is time. It is time for his club to make a concerted effort – not just to burst past Arsenal – but to challenge the elite.
He has been out this summer. While Wenger has gone back to the future with the free signings of Mathieu Flamini and unknown Yaya Sanogo, Levy has bought the world for Andre Villas-Boas.
It’s almost like something out of those 1960s ‘Batman’ episodes. Bang! Roberto Soldado. Whack! Nacer Chadli. Sok! Etienne Capoue. Thump! Paulinho.
And there’s more to come.
Spurs’ fans must be reeling and giddy with the excitement of it all.
It is still considered a tall order to win at the Emirates, but even if the battle is lost on Sunday afternoon, at this moment in time Spurs fans have every right to think they can win the war.