Arsenal aren’t used to looking upwards at Spurs. The Gunners finished above their North London rivals for 22 years in succession before the 2017/18 season, when Spurs broke the trend that had been over two decades in the making.
Indeed, the dynamic of the North London derby has been flipped in recent seasons, with Spurs setting a precedent for Arsenal to aspire to, rather than the other way around. While Mauricio Pochettino has built a team within touching distance of mounting a genuine title challenge, Arsenal have struggled to break into the top four.
The Gunners are in the midst of a revolution, with Unai Emery replacing Arsene Wenger in the summer. This is a long term project that won’t even be judged on what is achieved in the first season under the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla boss. With this in mind, though, Arsenal have already made progress.
While the Gunners may not be good enough to challenge for the title this season, they are back in play for a top four spot. What’s more, Emery has restored Arsenal’s identity as a team. Once again, they are one of the most dynamic, entertaining teams in the Premier League, with the likes of Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all in good form.
After two years looking upwards at Spurs, Arsenal might be back on an equal footing with their North London rivals. The two teams are occupying the same section of the Premier League table this season, competing for the same places. That will give this weekend’s derby, the first of the season, a real edge.
In terms of sheer competitiveness, the North London derby might be the Premier League’s fiercest right now. The Manchester derby is a mismatch in its current form, with City streets ahead of United. The Merseyside derby is historically also a mismatch, and even more so at this point, with Liverpool title challengers and Everton only aiming for the top six.
Then there’s the Second City derby, with both Aston Villa and Birmingham City down in the Championship at present. Arsenal and Chelsea is a London derby, and like Arsenal and Spurs, they are competing for the same places this season, but it’s not a rivalry entrenched in history like the North London derby.
For Arsenal, this Sunday’s game will be a real marker for the improvement made, or not made, under Emery. The Gunners have won almost every game they have been expected to win so far this season, but they have lost or drawn to every higher calibre side they have faced. Spurs, at the very least, are a team of equal quality. This weekend’s match could have a real bearing on how this season turns out for both rivals. It will have a symbolic and sporting impact.
How well do you know European Football? Want to challenge the best English Fantasy Managers? Play www.epl-fantasy.com now.