A diminished and fragile side strolled into Old Trafford this Sunday and were shipped for eight goals by the reigning champions, a continuation of the painful stretch Gooners have suffered through. After all the years of success, the warnings of "falling from the Big Four", Arsenal suddenly find themselves in a true state of crisis, struggling mightily at the opening gate due to injuries and fleeing starlets. They oft say "misery loves company." Well, it seems we don't have far to look to find our bedfellows.A short jaunt from the empty Emirates Stadium, another Manchester side was rolling over our neighbour and hated rival. City pushed five past Spurs, on the back of the in form Dzeko and the re-energized passing of new boy Narsi (I'll let you simmer over that for a bit). Although not ultimately as embarrassing, Tottenham looked nearly as lost as Arsenal, facing many of the same problems: a want-away midfielder, shaking defense, uncertain transfers. For the past few seasons, the noise out of White Hart has been how Spurs have caught Arsenal, ready to challenge for titles, trophies and the coveted Champions League. One Carling Cup and one season in the CL seemed to prove them right. But lately, I've wondered if it isn't just that Tottenham has risen to Arsenal, but Arsenal has fallen to them. But there is a more personal reason for these thoughts.
My father grew up in North London. As a boy, he played full back (as he tells it, a pure hacker at the position, which I'm sure meant exactly what you think it does) and so one of his favourite players was Roger Byrne, English and Manchester United fullback. Because of this, his first fandom fell in with Busby's Babes. Tragically, the Munich Air Disaster led to the death of my father's favourite player and burgeoning connection with Manchester United. Following this, for reasons never truly explained (and despite the one and only Bobby Charlton), he swapped clubs for the closer by Tottenham Hotspur.
An odd choice because his father was a Chelsea man and his elder brother a Gunner, which is the way it still stands. We have a complex family. When English Football became an interest of mine, I needed only my seldom seen British uncle's coaxing and a day watching Dennis Bergkamp on his television set to be sold. And thus began probably my favourite part of football - having it out with my dad over our rivalry.
Of course, it is all incredibly good-natured, as I deride the inconsistent Spuds and he denounces players who play like Arseholes. But yesterday, something different happened. After wresting the phone away from my mum, he simply said, "I hope things go better for North London tomorrow." No egging on about lost Gunners, no jeering at not having scored a goal, but simple understanding between two fans of struggling teams set to take on most pundits picks for champions - one Manchester or the other.
It has been a long while since the Kings of North London has meant so little. Over the past season, Arsenal had been a perennial challenger, a force in England with trophies, if not assured top four, to lay claim to the that title, while Tottenham a team eager to knock them off their perch, searching for ways to gain the edge in the table and on their North London rivals. Even when Tottenham were midtable, defeating Arsenal was a trophy onto itself (and they rarely got that either!). But now, both teams are suffering big, early set backs. If Modric does indeed leave, Spurs will have a taste of the Arsenal exodus, particularly if you couple that with Berbatov's departure a few years back. Injuries are biting both teams. And now, both have suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of the, debatable, new seat of footballing power, Manchester. (In Spurs' case, two defeats.)
In a month, Tottenham, who currently sit last in the table, hosts Arsenal, who sit 16th but with the worst goal differential, in the first leg of the classic North London Derby. Each has three games and three transfer days to improve their outlook on the table: Swansea, Blackburn (A) and Bolton for Arsenal; Wolves (A), Liverpool and Wigan (A) for Spurs. Either could have new players, new managers or no change at all. But it could be on of the lowest ranked North London Derbies in years, and while I will never give up the chance to put my boots into the Spuds, this year, it feels a little more like kicking the face in the mirror.