Arsenal make the short journey to White Harte Lane on Saturday to play their local rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. The two teams are very close geographically, but in terms of history and trophies there is a wide gap between them. Arsenal have won 13 league titles compared to Tottenham's two, and overall Arsenal have won 28 major honours against Tottenham's 17. The big difference of course is in the number of league titles, and that's the true measure of the greatness of any team in England.
The rivalry didn't really begin until 1913 when Arsenal moved from Plumstead to a new stadium in Highbury which was only five miles away from Spurs' ground. It meant the two teams became local rivals, and there is always animosity between local rivals in football. Arsenal were a second division club at the time and Spurs were in the top flight, but that didn't last very long. World War One interrupted the world of football from 1914 until 1918, and when the war was over things took a turn in Arsenal's favour. There were plans to expand the first division from 20 teams to 22 teams, and Spurs hoped to stay up despite finishing 20th in the last season prior to the war.
Somehow or other Arsenal managed to take the last spot in the top flight despite the fact that they had only finished sixth in the second division in that last season before the war. There were rumours and allegations that Arsenal chairman Sir Henry Norris had used underhand dealings to obtain their promotion, but nothing was ever proven. Needless to say Spurs were far from happy with the outcome, but they soon won promotion back to the first division to set up the rivalry. The first league encounter between the sides was in early 1921, and Spurs won 2-1 at home. After that the games between the sides became rather heated, and after a particularly vicious game in 1922 the FA threatened to make both teams play behind closed doors.
The rivalry might have become even more intense after that, but Spurs spent most of the time between 1928 and 1950 in the second division. During that time Arsenal rose to prominence in English football with six league titles to their name, while their local rivals still had none to their name. Spurs only spent two seasons in the top league in that time, and Arsenal won the title on both occasions.
Directly after the second World War things improved between both clubs, as Spurs allowed Arsenal to use their ground. Highbury had suffered bombing damage during the war, and Spurs proved that rivalries can be forgotten in times of need by offering their ground for use. Spurs were promoted back to the top flight in 1950, and they have remained there ever since with the exception of the 1977/8 season. Arsenal have of course never been relegated since that season when they mysteriously managed to gain a place in the top flight in 1919.
Arsenal have had the pleasure of winning the league title on Tottenham's ground on two occasions in 1971 and 2004. The 1971 victory also brought Arsenal their first domestic league and cup double which emulated the Spurs achievement of 1961. Up until then Spurs were the only team to manage that feat in the 20th century, but others have gone on to do it since and Arsenal have three doubles to their name now.
Arsenal fans are very fond of reminding their Spurs rivals that it has been over 50 years since they last won a league title, and Arsenal have won six of them since then. The Spurs fans look for solace where they can find it, but occasional cup victories hardly compensate for league titles.
When Spurs beat Arsenal in the 1991 FA Cup semi final their fans decided to celebrate by naming April 14th as St. Hotspur Day. Arsenal fans have since celebrated what they call St. Totteringham's Day on the day when Spurs can no longer mathematically catch them in the league. Since Arsene Wenger took over at Arsenal they have celebrated St. Totteringham's Day every single one of the 18 seasons he has been their manager.
Since the advent of the Champions League Arsenal have also managed to qualify for the competition every season under Wenger, but Spurs have only once managed to do so. Arsenal made it to the final in 2006, and the failure to beat Barcelona was probably the highlight of that season for Spurs fans.
At the very end of that season Spurs had the chance to finally finish above Arsenal in the league, but they lost their game against West Ham on the final day of the season to allow Arsenal to overtake them. It was a dramatic day as Spurs looked to have their game called off due to a bout of food poisoning among their players, but the game went ahead. Apparently a dodgy lasagna was blamed for the sickness, but there have also been suggestions that the team simply bottled it.
Due to the intense rivalry between both clubs there have been very few players who have played for both of them during their careers. Jimmy Robertson was the only player to have scored for both clubs in the north London derby for a long time, but Emmanuel Adebayor has added his name to the list in recent seasons.
Perhaps the most famous and controversial player to cross the divide was Sol Campbell who left Spurs in the summer of 2001 on a free transfer to join Arsenal. He was Tottenham's captain at the time, and the move did not go down well with their fans. He claimed to have left Tottenham to win trophies, and the two league titles and two FA Cups he won with Arsenal probably justified his decision.
He has actually won as many league titles with Arsenal as Spurs have ever won. He also played in and scored in the 2006 Champions League final, and at Spurs he never got the chance to play in that competition at all.
At the moment Tottenham are a couple of points below Arsenal in the Premier League, and they feel they finally have a chance to outshine their bitter rivals. That chance has come their way a few times in recent seasons, but every single time Arsenal have found what was needed to finish above them. There is no reason to believe this season will be any different by the time the season ends.
The demise of Arsenal as a top four club has been predicted for a few years, but they always manage to bring in the players to make them competitive and finish above Spurs. History would seem to indicate that Arsenal will again manage to overcome their difficulties, and leave Spurs in their wake yet again.
A rivalry is usually based on two teams that are in some way close, but it's only a geographical closeness with Arsenal and Spurs. Arsenal hold the upper hand in meetings between both clubs in all competitions, as well as having far more league titles.
Up until April 2010 Spurs had not beaten Arsenal in a league game in almost 11 years, but they have improved slightly in the last few seasons. Last season belonged to Arsenal though as they beat Spurs at home and away as well as putting them out of the FA Cup. The meeting at the Emirates earlier this season was dominated by Arsenal, but they didn't take their chances and had to settle for a 1-1 draw.
Whoever wins this coming Saturday will have the bragging rights for the rest of the season and I have every confidence Arsenal will prevail again before going on to finish the season above Spurs as per usual.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.