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Rivals: Arsenal vs Tottenham | Bragging rights in the North of London

The latest series on Outside of the Boot is back after an international break. Hrishi Anand takes us straight to the heart of an intense rivalry that’s existed for over a century now. It’s time for the Arsenal vs Tottenham.


Arsenal Football Club versus Tottenham Football Club. A spectacle of English football, one of the oldest rivalries in England is more than just a game for all those involved. It is, put simply, about the bragging rights and dominance of North London itself. Over the years Tottenham have perpetually finished below Arsenal and their trophy count is hugely lower than their illustrious rivals. Arsenal have even famously won the league at White Hart Lane. However with the Gunners seemingly not progressing as was hoped and with Mauricio Pochettino’s revolution at Spurs, it may finally be Tottenham’s chance to emerge from the shadow of Arsenal


Arsenal and Tottenham were founded in 1884 and 1882 respectively. They did play each other a couple of times but there was no rivalry as of such as Arsenal were based out of Woolwich. The fierce animosity rose when Arsenal moved to Highbury stadium, a few miles away from Tottenham’s White Hart Lane. With the ending of World War I in 1913, both Arsenal and Tottenham were in English Football’s second division. It was later decided that First Division was to be expanded and new teams added. Both Arsenal and Tottenham bid for a place but it was Arsenal who found a place in the First Division on a very controversial note which stoked the fire between the two clubs. Mistakes in the calculation of Arsenal’s goal average and a controversial vote left Tottenham in the Second Division while their Highbury neighbors joined English Football’s Elite. In 1915 Chelsea finished 17th and Tottenham 18th and both were to be relegated but as the league was expanded Chelsea was saved. The final spot came down to Tottenham, Arsenal, Barnsley, Wolverhampton, Nottingham Forest, Birmingham, and Hull. Arsenal won the vote with 18 votes and were endorsed by League and Liverpool president John McKenna on account of their longer membership in the league, while Tottenham received 8 votes and was therefore relegated to the second division. To this day, many Tottenham fans believe that Arsenal made it into the top divison through bribery and it still remains a touchy subject between both fans. The early matches between the two clubs were noted for their viciousness and a particularly violence marred game in 1921 led to both clubs being censured by the FA and threatened with being forced to play behind closed doors. Arsenal fans celebrate the day when Tottenham cannot mathematically finish above them as St.Totteringhams day while Spurs fans celebrate St.Hotspurs day in honor of the 3-1 win over Arsenal in the 1991 FA Cup final.


Founded as Dial Square in 1886, Arsenal are one of English Football’s most illustrious teams. Renamed Woolwich Arsenal and later just Arsenal upon moving to Highbury Stadium. Arsenal’s first spell of glory came with the appointment of Herbert Chapman who led Arsenal to two league titles and an FA Cup triumph. Following the war, Arsenal appointed Tom Whittaker who also led the club to two league titles and an FA Cup. In 1966, Bertie Mee, the club physio, was a surprise appointment for the manager’s role but the club enjoyed a renewed spell of success under him winning their first European trophy, the 1969–70 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. A third spell of success was ushered by former player George Graham in 1986.

A revolutionary moment in Arsenal’s history was the appointment of Arsene Wenger in 1996. The most successful manager in the club’s history. Arsenal won two League and Cup doubles, and were victorious in two FA Cups. The pinnacle of Wenger’s Arsenal was the 2003-04 season where the club won the Premier League title without losing all season. Nicknamed the Invincibles. Wenger was also responsible for the signing of club legends like Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira.


Tottenham were founded  on Tuesday 5 September 1882, the Hotspur Football Club was formed by grammar-school boys from the Bible class at All Hallows Church and named as Hotspur FC and played in the Southern League. They were elected into the League’s Second Division in 1908. However in 1901 Tottenham won the FA Cup becoming the first non-League team to do so.

Bill Nicholson had joined Tottenham as an apprentice in 1936. He was a figurehead in what are considered to be the glory years for Tottenham. In 1961, he led Spurs to a double, the FA Cup triumph as well as a European Cup semi final and a Cup Winners Cup. Nicholson spent 68 years at the club ranging from bootkeeper to club president and is considered to be instrumental in the revival of Tottenham. He won eight major trophies in 16 years and his spell in charge was the most successful period in the club’s history.

Key games down the years

April 2004: Premier League: The game in which Arsenal-The Invincibles famously won the league at White Hart Lane continues to be a source of pride for Gooners and an easy way to rile up Tottenham fans. Arsenal who needed a draw to be crowned Champions took a 2-0 lead at half time thanks to goals from Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires, Tottenham did however level scores with goals from Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Keane. Thierry Henry famously told the Spurs players who were celebrating a draw about how Arsenal needed only a draw to win the league before proceeding to celebrate on the pitch of their fiercest rivals. Arsenal fans also unveiled a banner targeting Tottenham’s trophy drought and using Sol Campbell who was considered a Tottenham legend before his move to Arsenal and becoming a stalwart in the Invincibles as a source of frustration for Spurs fans.

November 2011: Premier League: Tottenham celebrated their first win at Arsenal in 17 years as they came back from 2 goals down to beat Arsenal 3-2 at the Emirates Stadium. Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh gave Arsenal a 2 goal lead at half time but Tottenham won the game with goals from Gareth Bale, Van Der Vaart and Younes Kaboul. This was perhaps an indicator of a slight shift of power between the two clubs with Arsenal’s frustrations at the lack of trophies and star players leaving for rivals indicating the difficulties the club was facing.

March 2016: Premier League: The most important derby played between the two clubs in a very long time was an indicator of Tottenham’s development under Mauricio Pochettino. Both clubs were firmly in the title race chasing Leicester City and there was a feeling that Spurs had finally emerged from Arsenal’s shadow to challenge for trophies. Arsenal took the lead through an Aaron Ramsey backheel and went into the break with the lead. Francis Coquelin’s sending off gave Tottenham the numerical advantage and they went on to score through Toby Alderweireld and Harry Kane’s sublime finish. Alexis Sanchez levelled for the Gunners as the game ended in a draw effectively ending Arsenal’s title challenge and severely denting Tottenham’s hopes. This derby was touted as the most important one in decades and did not fail to disappoint.

Important Figures

Sol Campbell: A Tottenham captain who moved to Arsenal. Enough Said. Campbell was worshipped at Tottenham where he won League Cup and played 255 times. He however wanted a move to a club that could promise Champions League football and proceeded to transfer to arch rivals Arsenal where he was an assured starter in the heart of the defense and soon became a fan favorite. He was also part of the famous Invincibles line up that won the league at White Hart Lane. Labelled ‘Judas’ by Spurs fans, Sol Campbell is the embodiment of the intense rivalry between the two North London Clubs.

Emmanuel Adebayor: A player not too fondly remembered by Arsenal fans, Adebayor is another player to have donned the Red of Arsenal and the White of Tottenham. Signed by Wenger as an exciting young talent, Adebayor scored 61 goals for Arsenal before proceeding to move to Manchester City where he is known for infamously celebrating a goal in front of the Arsenal fans. He then moved to Tottenham where he scored 41 goals. The top scorer in the derby, Adebayor has 10 derby goals to his name and has also been sent off for Tottenham against Arsenal in their 5-2 defeat to the Gunners at the Emirates Stadium.

Thierry Henry: Arsenal’s record goalscorer doesn’t just have 8 goals against Tottenham, he also has a penchant for taking digs at Arsenal’s rivals. Celebrating in front Tottenham fans in the famous 2-2 draw in the Invincibles season before celebrating Arsenal’s title at the same pitch, Henry is fondly remembered by Gooners for his love for the club and hatred for Tottenham once quoting ” ‘During my eight years there, something came into me,’ Henry told l’Equipe. ‘I have learned the culture of this club… I learned to hate Tottenham.”

Present Day

While Arsenal are clearly superior in terms of head to head stats, Tottenham seem to be developing brilliantly under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino. With an emphasis on creating an English core, Pochettino has made stars out of the likes of Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Dele Alli. Building a strong defense and making smart signings Tottenham now look to be able to challenge for the League. Their fast play and incessant pressing make them difficult to beat and Tottenham should look to tie down Pochettino to the club in the long term and make sure the club moves forward. Champions League football is also an opportunity for the club to grow.

Arsenal are however succumbing to the same issues that have plagued them for the last few years. Poor defense, inability to cope with pressure and a lack of world class forwards have left Arsenal stuck in a rut. Wenger’s reluctance to sign more players, add to squad depth and persistent injuries to key players are what Arsenal fans are slowly becoming accustomed to paired with the frustration of Arsenal’s style of play leaving them vulnerable to counter-attacks and emphasis on scoring the perfect goal. It is important that Arsenal sign world class players in the coming summer to ensure that next season they are right up there in the title race and more importantly finish above Tottenham

There is definitely a shift of Power in the capital, Tottenham are no longer pushovers and are sure to keep Arsenal worried. The next few years are sure to be exciting in terms of the North London Derby  and with both teams hopefully challenging for the title, there promises to be a renewed rivalry between the two clubs.

Written by Hrishi Anand

Hrishi Anand

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