Tottenham Hotspur must have thought it was their season last year. Having not finished above Arsenal since the 1994/95 season, Spurs had taken advantage of a trouble-filled season for their neighbours and sat 10 points in front of their rivals with only a couple of months of the Premier League season remaining.
Under Harry Redknapp, Tottenham were exhibiting some of the best football across Europe, with the likes of Luka Modric and Gareth Bale excelling. Meanwhile, Arsenal were being dragged along by Robin van Persie.
But by the end of the season, Redknapp’s side had again succumbed to Arsene Wenger’s team. Arsenal surged to finish third. Tottenham collapsed and edged into fourth place – but ultimately missed out on Champions League football due to Chelsea’s European heroics.
Frustrating as it may have been to miss out on Europe’s elite competition, Spurs supporters would also have been irked by their inability to finish above their north London nemesis. It was certainly a missed opportunity.
However, after Arsenal’s hit and miss start to the season, new-look Tottenham, led by Andre Villas-Boas, have another excellent opportunity to play the role of noisy neighbours this year – starting with the first north London derby of the season at the weekend.
Arsene Wenger’s side will need to be on their guard. The Gunners have conceded 12 goals in their last four matches and have struggled to assemble a defensive quartet which is more resolute. With Thomas Vermaelen’s excursion at left-back in the past couple of matches having yielded little success, Wenger may opt to shift Bacary Sagna to that flank, allowing Carl Jenkinson to regain a starting spot on the other side.
Whichever backline Wenger chooses to start the Tottenham match, the eyes of Spurs’ attack will be lighting up. With the likes of Gareth Bale, Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon all in good form, among others, each will be keen to exploit any defensive worries.
It may only be November, but both teams will be aware of the effect that the north London derby can have on a team’s season.
Last season, Arsenal launched an amazing comeback to beat Tottenham 5-2 at the Emirates Stadium – a result which acted as a catalyst for the rest of the season, and led to the league table eventually finishing as it did. Conversely, two seasons ago Spurs won 3-2, also in November, to start a run which saw them lose just once in 14 Premier League matches.
Both teams will be confident of finishing above the other this year and, while this weekend’s result will not decide who will have the bragging rights at the end of the season, it could go a long way to doing so.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Arsenal