Things are not great at Arsenal right now in the Premier League, at least relative to expectations. They’ve been out of the title race since January, playing like they haven’t got much of a clue how to be a cohesive unit, and just generally looking like a spent force in relation to its supposed title rivals.
Sunday’s loss, of course, stung just that little bit more - it’s never fun to lose a north London derby, but it’s especially not fun when it seals the fact that there will be no St. Totteringham’s day this season. It also adds fuel to a particularly annoying narrative, one that says that things have inevitably turned Tottenham’s way, and that this loss was just one more data point in a supposed Tottenham Hotspur ascendancy and usurpation of the alpha dog status in the north London rivalry.
Before I continue this piece, I do need to say that Tottenham are scary good this year. The Derby win was their ninth win in a row in the league, and they’re putting a ton of pressure on Chelsea - four points back with four games to play is kinda where we all wanted Arsenal to be, but here we are, a shambolic mess (relatively) while our noisy neighbors slay all comers. And fair play to them, they’ve earned their position - they’re really flowering under Pochettino, and it’ll be nice to have a rival worthy of the designation again.
That said, a lot of the hyperbole I’m seeing is of a ‘changing of the guard’ in north London. There’s even talk that Tottenham are “leaving Arsenal behind”. And, while I freely admit that Tottenham are, in fact, much better than Arsenal this season (Towards the end of last season, I even started saying out loud that I thought Spurs might be a title contender this season, and I can’t say I’m surprised they are where they are), I also have a handy little chart that might illustrate why I’m not gnashing my teeth or rending my garments just yet:
Again: full, unironic, honest credit to Spurs, who are absolutely having a great season. But here’s my thing: until Spurs run off a streak of several above-Arsenal finishes and a title or two, I don’t think it’s really a “changing of the guard” as much as it is an “occasionally shit like this happens”.
Spurs are about to spend a season being tenants at the national stadium, a 90,000 seat facility that they’ll sell a ton of cut-price tickets for in order to make it look full. They’re going to be in the Champions League again, and expectations will be higher than this year’s third place group stage finish. They’ll be wanting to position themselves well to make another title run and to inaugurate their new home in August 2018 as just as strong a team as they are now, all while fending off the super rich clubs for their best players and navigating the medium- to long-term financial realities of building a new stadium as they attempt to augment their squad.
In short, I’m not sure that what we’re seeing this year is the beginnings of a, dare I say, Wenger-style dominance of this rivalry. Arsenal absolutely have their challenges both on and off the pitch, and I don’t mean to minimize them, but Arsenal’s also in a much better financial and reputational position to overcome those challenges and maintain the pecking order of North London in the long run.
And in the meanwhile, Arsenal have an FA Cup final to look forward to.
So, let Tottenham have their summer of banterific fun, knowing that the last time this whole pecking order oddity happened, a good portion of you either weren’t alive yet or were far too young to care about anything but throwing your Cheerios across the room when you were done with them, and know that the order of things will be restored well before any Spurs fan can produce a chart like the one in this article.