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Tales Of The North London Derby: A Rivalry

Arsenal Attack by Ronnie Macdonald is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Tales Of The North London Derby: A Rivalry

Estimated Reading Time: 12 Minutes

North London Derby

The second North London Derby of the year is upon us (7:30 AM Eastern time on February 10th), and I could not be more excited. Spurs are going through their toughest run of the season, and so far have managed to survive. After a win over Manchester United and a controversial draw at Liverpool, Spurs need a win against Arsenal to continue their aspiration for the top 4. This is the match that will mean the most. As the dogfight heats up, beating your closest rival is a great way to propel your confidence to the next level.

A Brief History

Tottenham came to be in 1882 in North London. Since then Spurs have operated out of the same area. At the same time, Arsenal was known as Woolwich Arsenal. They played south of the river Thames. There’s not much to the history of the two teams early on other than a couple matches here and there.

Fast forward to 1913. Woolwich was having a hard time getting people to their stadium. They weren’t close enough to transportation and ticket sales were hurting because of it. They decided to move to Highbury, stepping into Tottenham territory. This caused an immidate rift between the clubs and their fanbases. To get a true view on the effect this has on fans, check out this COPA90 series, Derby Days. The episode title says it all. “Some footballing conflicts are born out of political differences. Other times they come about because of incendiary incidents that occurred in the past. And sometimes, fans of two football teams come to hate each other simply because they’re there.”

Throughout the Premier League era, Arsenal have gotten the better of Spurs in terms of positioning in the league table. However in the past few years, Spurs have continued to hold a presence in the top 4 and have battled out some epic derby matches with their goon counterparts. Tides have been changing, and Spurs finally finished above the gunners last season. This year looks to be heading toward a repeat of that, with Arsenal potentially not making the top 4 for a second year running. Previously, this was something that never happened during manager Arsene Wenger’s tenure.

How does it compare to other sports rivalries?

If you grew up a baseball fan in the northeast, there’s a good chance you’ve had first hand experience with the Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees rivalry. No matter where the two teams sit in the AL East, they show up against each other. Simply because of who they’re playing against. I’ll never forget Jason Varitek slamming A-Rod in the face with his glove after Rodriguez was hit by a Bronson Arroyo pitch. Not to mention the chaos that ensued. This is the level of intensity that comes with the North London Derby. It’s brilliant, really.

Similarly, think about what it’s like for one of the cornerstones of your team to go to your most hated rival. Sticking with Sox/Yanks, I had never been so angry as when Johnny Damon went to New York. After being one of the self-proclaimed “idiots” on the team that finally brought Boston a World Series title after an 86 year drought, Damon switched his red socks for pinstripes. He became the enemy.

All about Sol

To get back to the NLD, there was a similar story of trading places in 2001. Sol Campbell, Tottenham’s captain, was close to the expiration of his contract. Spurs didn’t want that to happen, so they offered him a contract that would have made him the richest player in club history. The contract negotiations went on for months, and Campbell kept publicly assuring the media and fans that a deal would get done. Welp, that didn’t happen. His contract expired.

Arsene Wenger called a press conference. When he came out he had the most conniving grin on his face. He made the announcement that he was going to introduce a new player. Everyone was wondering who on Earth it could be. Out walks Sol Campbell. Now, to be clear, this is before my time as a Spurs fan. I can’t possibly imagine what it was like watching this in person. However, the reactions I’ve heard from those on both sides was a mix of anger, joy, and confusion. For Spurs fans, this was high treason. “Heyyyyy Sol Campbell! JU-DAS! I wanna know why you’re such a &%^#”

Honorable mention for treason in the Sox/Yanks debate: Roger Clemens

NLD: William Gallas doesn’t count

Back to the Future


We’re fresh out of silly season (the January transfer window) and both teams are locked in, ready to make a run. Arsenal have lost Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United, Theo Walcott to Everton, and Olivier Giroud to Chelsea. However, they gained Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. With Mkhi and Auba joining forces with Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Özil, Arsenal could beat my prediction of 6th and sneak into the top 4. Their main problem is that their defense is held together with shoelace and bubblegum. On paper they should be solid, but in practice they’re swiss cheese.

There are some questions about fitness, with number 1 keeper Petr Cech out. He’ll be replaced by Colombian David Ospina. Cech seems to have been showing his age lately, so it will be interesting to see how Ospina steps up. In other injury news, it looks like Danny Welbeck and Nacho (yes, his name is Nacho) Monreal are back in action. Lacazette was questionable, but it looks as though he’ll be fit enough for the bench. Because Wenger doesn’t ever start him for some reason. I expect to see Iwobi in his place.


As I mentioned at the start, Spurs are in the midst of a crazy run and have managed to do well enough against United and Liverpool. They were relatively quiet in the transfer window but did manage to bring on Brazilian Lucas Moura from PSG. The hype of the derby may not be the best time for him to get a run out there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he made his debut off the bench. Because of the time at which he joined, Mauricio Pochettino isn’t going to be able to get him playing time in the FA Cup. This means he needs to fit him into matches that matter.

Erik Lamela is coming off arguably his best performance since returning from injury (and finally scored a goal), so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a start. Lamela impresses me. He has become a much more hardened player under Pochettino. He never seemed to stop moving against Newport County on Wednesday. If he’s running on all cylinders he’s a force.

Speaking of forces, defensive lynchpin Toby Alderweireld made his first appearance, since a hamstring injury sidelined him in early November, against Newport in the FA Cup. I don’t want to rush him back onto the pitch, but I would love to see him start against Arsenal. With him out, Spurs have mainly lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. With him, Pochettino can move to 3 in the back and deploy his wingbacks for a more brutal attack. Regardless of the lineups, this game is going to be a banger.

Projected Lineups

Since I’m making mention of lineups, here’s what I anticipate as the starting XI on both sides for this North London Derby.


Lamela – Kane – Eriksen

Davies – Dembele – Dele – Trippier

Vertonghen – Alderweireld – Sánchez

Lloris (C)



Iwobi – Özil – Mkhitaryan

Xhaka – Ramsey

Monreal – Mustafi – Koscielny (C) – Bellerin


My Prediction: I think Spurs win at home in the heightened atmosphere. Harry Kane and Erik Lamela will each net one. “He’s one of our own” will ring through the stands. Özil will thread one through to Aubameyang for a consolation.

Spurs win 2 – 1

Back to the North London Derby

To get back to where I began, the true mark of the North London Derby is the atmosphere. The fans keep the match moving. Their songs fill the arena. Cheers are deafening when their team scores. Chanting against specific players on the opposing team. The feeling of being in that stadium is one that is hard to describe. Then add the extra intensity of the derby and you can lift the roof off the place. Wembley is sure to be sold out, hosting the wildest league match it has seen.

A few years ago NBC sports did a special on the North London Derby, and they used the Boston supporters groups as part of their story. Each group had a camera recording throughout the match. Thanks to the result, it was an absolute blast for us. Since moving to NY I’ve missed the family up at Boston Spurs. Watching with them is like nothing else. One of these days I’ll do a feature on that experience (wait for it BSSC). Until then, you’ll have to do with this final cut used on air.


I reached out to some friends of mine. Some are fellow Spurs supporters, some are Gooners (nickname for Arsenal fans). I asked them to provide me with either a prediction or some perspective on what the North London Derby means to them. I leave you with their words. Some of them are a bit long-winded, but are good reads.


Lee, Spurs fan

91 semi. Is Gascoigne going to have a crack? Beating them 3-1 was amazing they were the top team at the time we stopped them from doing the double. I’ll never forget the Spurs fans giving it to the gunners as we walked back up Wembley Way.

Robbie, Arsenal fan

My, what a difference a week makes. Prior to the demolition of Everton, I would’ve given a hard think about catching up on sleep this Saturday. But after saying goodbye to a Chilean dog enthusiast and saying hello to Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal not only are a more difficult side to spell, we seem to be a more difficult side to defend. Now we get to find out whether or not our away woes continue in a most unfortunate circumstance. Losses at Nottingham Forrest, Bournemouth and Swansea since the start of 2018 are fresh on our minds, and our only hope is that Wembley Stadium truly is our second home, as a loss to Spurs would just about put a cap on any hopes of league success this season.

While we may have fixed some of our attacking problems during January, nothing was done to sure up the defense, and although we managed a clean sheet in the 2-0 win at the Emirates earlier this season, it’s hard to see Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen misfiring a second time around. It’s a derby that rarely fails to entertain, and that’s a trend that doesn’t look like changing on Saturday. Hopefully — pleadingly — it’ll be an all-too-rare-of-late derby double for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal, but I fear comeuppance from November. If Kane scores, Arsenal’s best hope is a draw, but keeping him off the scoresheet portends well for the Gunners.

Dave, Spurs fan

I rarely enjoy the NLD, the game is normally an emotional rollercoaster that has the capacity to ruin my mood for the foreseeable future. Many of the great games at WHL were nerve-wracking affairs but the 5-1 in 2008 was fun. As was the 86th-minute winner by young Harold Kane a couple of years ago. The 4-4 draw when Bentley scored is a highlight purely because of the last five minutes. In a bar, filled with Gooners.

Kurt, Arsenal Fan

Really looking forward to this NLD. The first derby was arguably Arsenal’s finest showing of the season. Now that the Sanchez saga has ended, and with recent signings in Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang already showing what they are capable of contributing, Özil resigning, along with the general feeling that things behind the scenes are genuinely starting to change within the club, could all hopefully spark a late-season run towards the top 4. And what better way to ignite than a north London derby win?

All this, and yet the midfield issues remain unaddressed and the back line not fortified. It remains to be seen if the best defense is strong attack approach will pay off against a very well balanced Tottenham side.

Chaitanya, Spurs fan

The 2-3 at the Emirates in 2010. That’s the game that got me into the game (and Spurs) fully. Most of my friends to that point were Arsenal fans, but I wasn’t really following any team closely until I found myself cheering like a madman when Kaboul scored the winner.

Elmer, Arsenal fan

As an American fan cheering for my team from thousands of miles away, the NLD doesn’t have the same vitriol as it does for residents of north London. I have several friends who are Spurs fans, and though I hold that against them, it’s not a breaking point. That said, I still hate Spurs. The NLD, for me, is often a nerve-wracking affair. I hate when Arsenal loses any match, I especially hate when they lose to one of the other ‘Big Six’. The worst, however, is when they lose to Spurs. For me, a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan (yes, I’m bringing football into this, I had to, they just won the Super Bowl!), losing to Spurs is akin to losing to the Cowboys – basically the worst team imaginable.

One of my favorite memories from the NLD, this one in the FA Cup rather than the league, came in January 2014. Former Arsenal winger, Theo Walcott was being stretchered off the field after tearing ligaments in his knee. Rather than wincing in pain, Walcott held up 2 fingers on his right hand, and made a zero with his left, signifying the scoreline. It was such a cheeky move. For his efforts, Walcott had to dodge a storm of coins, and other items thrown by angry Spurs fans (see Philadelphia fans aren’t the only ones who – allegedly – throw things at players. At least it wasn’t a pig’s head – ask Luis Figo about that one).

Come on you Gunners!

Conor, Spurs fan

I never truly understood what hate was until I became an avid fan of Tottenham and started watching two Arsenal games a season. The NLD is the first fixture I check for every year when the schedule is released. It’s a 90-minute game, but the results can stick with you for the rest of your life. I can’t sleep the night before and the result effects my mood for the next week. It’s why I love football. The passion of the players and the fans can’t be found anywhere else. Heroes are born and villains arise every year. There’s nothing better than walking into work on Monday morning grinning ear to ear and going out of your way to find that one arsenal fan at work just to say hi and ruin his day.

Kevin is an actor, director, playwright, and musician who works in tech. He is die hard New England sports and an avid Tottenham supporter. His qualifications include scoring 1 point in his elementary school basketball career, 4 years of mixed little league results, and breaking his arm with a skip-it days before pre-season workouts started for Freshman football.

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