This Sunday, Arsenal travel to White Hart Lane to face Tottenham in what could be a defining North London derby. The Gunners have finished above their rivals in the Premier League table every year since 1995, but this could be about to change.
As it stands, Spurs hold a healthy 14-point advantage over Arsene Wenger’s side in the league table. However, mathematically it is still possible for the traditional roles to be restored.
Arsenal have six games left to play, meaning it is possible that they could pick up 18 points and overturn the existing deficit between them and Tottenham. However, were Mauricio Pochettino’s men to win this weekend’s derby, Arsenal would be 17 points behind them with 15 left to play for.
However, regardless of the result, it appears that the relationship between the two clubs is shifting. Here, Football Whispers ponders if a footballing changing of the guard in North London is on the cards.
For the first time since Wenger took charge, Arsenal are on course to finish outside of the Premier League’s top four. Currently, four points separate them from fourth-placed Manchester City, and three separate them from fifth-placed Manchester United.
The Gunners’ hopes of Champions League qualification are not completely done and dusted, but their position is a worrying sign.
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However, Arsenal’s average position and points tally has in fact improved, if only slightly, in recent seasons. Between 2006/07 and 2010/11 they achieved an average position of 3.6 with an average point total of 73.2. But in the period between 2011/12 and last season they achieved an average position of 3.2 with an average point total of 73.6.
While these statistics deny the presence of any decline in their results inside the last decade, their improvement is extremely moderate when compared to Tottenham’s Premier League performance.
Spurs’ average position between 2011/12 and 2015/16 was 4.6, an improvement of two places upon their average between 2006/07 and 2010/11. At the same time, their average point total was 68.8, which was an 11-point upswing on their average in the previous five-year period.
Tottenham’s progress domestically has been clear and looks set to continue this term, with a minimum second-place finish all but guaranteed. This would ensure Champions League football for the third time in eight seasons.
Arsenal, meanwhile, have regressed on the continent, where they have failed to go beyond the Champions League second round since 2010. This, along with the genuine possibility that next season could be their first outside of Europe’s elite club competition since 1997/98, hints at a gradual stagnation.
Who a team signs in the transfer market can often be used as a good indicator of their pulling power, and subsequently can suggest their reputation as a club. In this respect, Arsenal’s worldwide status – given their ability to lure stars such as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil from the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid – would still appear to be more prominent than Tottenham’s.
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However, strategy can often contradict status. A club’s spending may not necessarily correlate with their brand, and Spurs are a good example of this.
Despite being one of the Premier League’s traditionally stronger clubs, if not a frequent member of the top four, Tottenham have been one of the most efficient in the transfer market in recent seasons.
In the last five years they have made a net gain on two occasions. And, in total, their net spend for this period stands at £7.98 million, a figure that is positively paltry when compared to their domestic rivals, Arsenal included.
The Gunners, in complete contrast to their North London neighbours, have spent big in recent seasons. In the last half-decade only once (2012/13) did they make a net gain in the transfer market, but this was overridden by extravagant purchases in the four years since.
As a consequence, their net spend in the last five years stands at a grandiose £210.45 million, which is more than 20 times Tottenham’s net spend in the same period.
So Arsenal still spend more than their local rivals, and they also tend to bring in bigger name players. However, they are nowhere near as astute at finding value.
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Much of Tottenham’s transfer work has been highly intelligent. They have made reckless acquisitions – £25.5million for Roberto Soldado and just under £30million for Moussa Sissoko stand out – but generally they have added wisely. Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Victor Wanyama and Christian Eriksen all joined for fees less than £15million.
During Arsene Wenger’s first decade in charge, Arsenal were seen as one of the most progressive and exciting teams in the Premier League, on and off the pitch.
The Frenchman brought an increased awareness of diet and fitness to the club while also disbanding with the old 3-5-2 and bringing in a more fluid 4-4-2 system populated by fast, athletic and technically refined individuals.
However, in an increasingly systematised game, Wenger’s laissez-faire, individualised approach to the game has appeared more outdated by the year. He has rigidly retained his preference for the 4-2-3-1 in recent seasons, but the lack of structure apparent in his side has led to them being exposed and outclassed by more organised sides at home and abroad.
By contrast, Tottenham have become one of the Premier League’s most coherent teams under Pochettino’s auspices. They defend and attack collectively as a unit, with aggressive pressing and patient possession. And, in addition to this clear tactical identity, they are committed to developing young players.
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Spurs have the youngest squad in English football’s top flight with an average age of 25.2. And this isn’t based on a group of young back-ups; some of their key players are in their early 20s (Harry Kane and Eric Dier are 23; Dele Alli is 21).
This, as well as the fact Tottenham continue to produce their own talent, with the latest example being 21-year-old central midfielder Harry Winks, suggests their future is brighter than Arsenal’s.
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Spurs’ results have improved significantly in recent seasons. Consequently, they look set to finish above Arsenal – whose results have stayed roughly the same – for the first time in over two decades this season.
And, while one campaign is not enough to conclusively prove Tottenham have overtaken their rivals, their more intelligent transfer dealings, clearer tactical identity and greater emphasis on youth suggest that they may well do so in the near future.
NB: All transfer fees used in this piece were provided by Transfermarkt.co.uk.