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Contrasting Emotions: Previewing The North London Derby


This weekend’s north London derby takes place with both sides heading in very different directions. Spurs are riding high, sitting top of the table going into the weekend, while Arsenal’s tally of 13 points is their lowest after their opening 10 matches of a league campaign in almost 40 years. @Orbinho breaks down the history of this famous fixture, as well as analysing where this weekend’s clash could be won and lost. 

By: Rob Bateman

Next month sees the 100th anniversary of the first north London derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. The two sides had already met eight times before in the league but at that stage, the Gunners were a south London club based in Woolwich, before their move to Islington in north London in 1913.

Arsenal were relegated just before that move and spent two seasons in the second division, before World War One brought football to a standstill. Upon resumption of the league in 1919, the league was expanded to 22 teams, and there was debate about which teams should take those two extra places after the top two of Division Two were promoted. In the end, Chelsea who had finished 19th were granted a stay of execution, but Spurs were relegated to Division One having finished bottom of the top flight in 1915. Their place was taken by the team who had finished 5th in Division Two and that was Arsenal, after some intense lobbying by their chairman Sir Henry Norris.

Spurs were able to secure promotion the following year and the first true north London derby saw them beat Arsenal 2-1 on home soil in January 1921.

The two sides have had an intense rivalry ever since. Spurs were the first team to win the double in the 20th century. Arsenal managed to achieve the feat 10 years later. Spurs had won the most FA Cup finals by 1991, now it’s Arsenal who hold the record number of victories with 14. Spurs won the first-ever FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, Arsenal got their revenge two years later. Spurs 1960/61 vintage became the byword for stylish football, Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles also held that mantle for a while. And of course, the Gunners boast two title wins actually secured at White Hart Lane in 1971 and 2004.

The Premier League has seen an ebb and flow between the two teams. Only the Merseyside derby has seen more draws than Arsenal v Spurs.

Even when Arsene Wenger was in his pomp, Spurs would routinely frustrate the Gunners. There was a run where Spurs won only one of 27 Premier League meetings, but half of the other 26 ended as draws.

Since 2014, Spurs could argue they’ve had the upper hand with Arsenal winning just two of the last 12 meetings, but again, six of those matches have been draws.

Arsenal haven’t won at White Hart Lane since March 2014, although they did spurn a great chance in March 2019 when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed a penalty to see the game finish 1-1. Last season, the Gunners took the lead but then allowed Spurs to come back and secure a 2-1 win.

This season, Spurs are riding high, sitting top of the table going in to the weekend. With the Gunners in 14th you’d be forgiven for thinking this is the biggest divide between the two in recent history, but you’d be wrong. In 2008, Spurs visited the Emirates lying 20th in the table while Arsenal were 5th. They came away that day with a point after an incredible 4-4 draw including two goals after the 89th minute.

These fixtures are rarely dull and it’s only in the last few years that Liverpool v Arsenal has overtaken the north London derby as the top scoring fixture in Premier League history.

Arsenal have looked more solid away from home this season, keeping three clean sheets and only two teams have conceded fewer goals on the road. Considering the Gunners have already visited Anfield, the Etihad and Old Trafford, Mikel Arteta will be encouraged by their solidity on the road.

Arsenal’s Solid Defence Away From Home:

RankTeam (Away)Clean SheetsGoals Conceded
1Aston Villa32
2Tottenham Hotspur33

Spurs though, have the best defence in the league, conceding just nine goals thus far.

It’s in attack, however, where the two teams seem poles apart right now. Spurs will go in to this game with confidence – only Liverpool and Chelsea (22) have scored more goals than José Mourinho’s side. Son Heung-Min has scored nine goals so far, which is only one less than the entire Arsenal team. Mourinho’s side have been quite clinical, with only two sides converting a higher percentage of their chances into goals

On the flip side, it’s a contrasting story for Arsenal. Only three teams have scored fewer goals than Mikel Arteta’s Gunners. And only three teams have attempted fewer shots per game.

Arsenal have scored just one goal from their last 64 shots from open play in the Premier League.

It’s clear that Arsenal’s strikers have had less to work with, but it’s also clear from the numbers below that Kane & Son have been effective at taking the chances they have created or been provided far better than Arsenal’s main strikers.

Arsenal may need to be wary of Spurs on the counter-attack. No team has made more direct attacks than Mourinho’s men who have sprung forward from defensive positions with great alacrity. In contrast, only two teams have attempted fewer direct attacks than Arsenal who have appeared rather pedestrian in possession at times.

Only two teams move the ball up the pitch slower on average than Arsenal, who are progressing up the pitch at around 1.13 metres per second on average.

Who Is Slowest At Moving The Ball Up The Pitch In The Premier League? 

RankTeamDirect Speed (m/s)

And Spurs are adept at slowing the pace of opposition attacks, restricting their opponents to fewer direct attacks than all other team bar Chelsea and Crystal Palace so far.

Spurs Are Effective At Stopping The Counter:

RankTeamDirect Attacks Against
18Tottenham Hotspur10
19Crystal Palace8

Alexandre Lacazette may be eyeing a recall given the Gunners struggles in front of goal, especially as he has scored in three of the last four north London derbies. Of course, Spurs have their talismans too.  Gareth Bale has scored more goals (5) against Arsenal than against any other opponent in the Premier League.

Plus, Harry Kane is the joint-top scorer in north London derbies in all competitions. He has scored in 10 of his 11 Premier League appearances against Arsenal, though five of the last six have come from the penalty spot. Penalties have been a feature of recent meetings, with five awarded in the last four matches between the two sides.

In fact, only two fixtures in Premier League history have seen more penalties awarded.

While Arsenal have had the upper hand overall with 77 wins to Spurs’ 59 in all competitions over the years, Sunday will definitely see the Gunners as underdogs, especially with Mourinho in charge of Spurs. He has an incredible record against Arsenal, losing just one out of 17 Premier League games and that was after fielding a weakened Man Utd side ahead of the Europa League final in May 2017.

And the Portuguese manager seems to relish the big occasions. While Arsenal recently ended their run of 29 games without an away win against one of the other teams in the Big Six with victory at Man Utd, Spurs have lost just one of their last seven matches against the same rivals under Mourinho (W4 D2 L1).

If this has whetted your appetite for the game on Sunday, maybe test your knowledge with our north London derby quiz.

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