With six London clubs currently plying their trade in England’s Premier League, there will be plenty of local derby matches to look forward to this season. None of these fixtures, it can be argued, will be more fiercely contested than those between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. The return of The Recently More Diplomatic One will have injected some spice into already key games with perennial title hopefuls Chelsea, but there is still something special about the north London rivalry. With only four miles separating the stadiums and only two points total in the last two seasons separating the teams, any historic animosity has only been ignited further.
With one tedious and protracted transfer window and a 1-0 to the Arsenal already in the books, it’s clear that both Arsenal and Spurs face pivotal seasons. Arsene Wenger is in the last year of his contract and currently on an eight year trophyless streak. Andre Villas-Boas has thrown the check book, kitchen sink and Gareth Bale at the transfer window and would surely not survive another finish outside of the top four. Both managers are under enormous pressure to deliver in an increasingly competitive league. What remains to be seen is which of their footballing philosophies will bear fruit.
For the first time in many summers, Arsenal fans didn’t have to endure the slow but inevitable departure of their star player (and usually the club captain to boot). Spurs fans, by contrast, spent the majority of it with one eye on a stage at the Bernabeu and the other on Twitter as a steady stream of new players joined their ranks. In an effort to mitigate the loss of their talisman Bale, Spurs went about their summer business aggressively and swiftly brought in seven very good signings. Arsenal, usually so reluctant to acquire anything that isn’t French or free (or preferably both), obliterated their club transfer record at the last minute on one world-class playmaker. It’s hard to imagine Wenger making such wholesale changes such is his preoccupation with team balance and stability. Wenger, so often criticized in the past for a lack of home grown players, is now betting on the evolution of a solid British core of Jenkinson, Ramsey, Wilshere, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlin. AVB’s expensive foreign revolution has only just begun.
So the period between now and the next transfer window in January will be a season within a season. Despite the Ozil transfer coup and the Flamini security blanket, Arsenal are still considered light in numbers and their thin squad must navigate a very tricky UEFA Champions League group. Spurs must hope that their new signings bed in quickly and find a more convincing synchronicity and understanding than they have demonstrated so far. Depending on what happens between now and 2014, both teams could find themselves squaring-off in another important transfer window. Any serious injury to Giroud or freshman wobbles from Soldado would leave both sides worrying about goals. With the majority of the much vaunted war chest still safely stashed under Wenger’s floorboards, combined with the draw of Ozil and a newly found penchant for spending, there could well be additional new faces at the Emirates. Spurs will argue that they recouped much of their summer outlay from the massive Bale transfer fee and could still spend more, but surely must now have one eye on their increasing wage bill.
Whatever transpires in the interim, by the time these two sides meet again in mid-March it will be fascinating to see whether north London is still red or turning white.