When a ten-man Arsenal limped off the pitch at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in May, the implosion was all but complete. Arsenal players, prostrate and spent, wore the 3-0 defeat to their hated rivals on their entire beings. Every bit of hope that had been accrued through an improbable run of matches that had the Gunners in 4th ahead of the match had been dashed over the course of 90 minutes. Another season, another missed chance to secure Champions League and finally, mercifully celebrate a long-anticipated St. Totteringham’s Day. In an All or Nothing season, the loss to Spurs all but guaranteed a Nothing fate for the Gunners.
Fast forward to now. The Gunners are in 1st and in a form that can only be described as resplendent. Arteta’s once maligned process has borne fruit in the form of the league’s top side. Spurs are, for lack of a better term, unpredictable. The unrest amongst fans has gone from a murmur to a subtle roar, as Antonio Conte’s dedication to the club has been called into question with some cryptic comments off the pitch and some dreadfully anti-football performances on it.
Despite the seemingly disparate states of the two clubs, this Sunday’s North London Derby feels no less significant. There are the usual stakes - bragging rights, London supremacy, pride, etc. But for the first time in what feels like forever, there are genuine title implications at stake, specifically for Premier League-leading Arsenal. Throw in the potential for history to be made for the Spurs, and the showdown has all of the grandeur and importance you’d expect from such a storied rivalry.
Recent history has not done the NLD justice. The once-heavyweight bout has become an undercard draw at best, as neither team have been true threats to unseat Manchester City and Liverpool - until now. We don’t need to spend any time explaining how sublime Arsenal’s season has been to this point. Sure, they have benefitted from other typical top 4 rivals falling off. But the Gunners have been dominant and ever-consistent when it has mattered, much to the chagrin of the rest of the league.
Spurs have not been immune to this season’s odd nature, and in many ways have typified it. Their summer transfer business was widely lauded by media outlets, spending nearly €170m to bolster the side and giving manager Antonio Conte an expensive vote of confidence. But the results haven’t really measured up to the expectations, and a hot start cooled of by October, with the Spurs currently in 5th, a full 11 points behind Arsenal.
But there is always that grim specter of past performances away to Spurs to remind us that nothing really matters when it comes to form or table positions. Arsenal have not managed a win away to Spurs since 2014, and last season’s disasterclass showed that there is no room for error at their ground. The Gunners will need to be at their best if they want to secure a crucial win. Arsenal’s 3-1 victory over Spurs at the Emirates feels like a distant memory, but proof that the Gunners can do the damn thing if they try.
Of course, what would the derby be without an extra layer of historical significance? Harry Kane, ever the thorn in Arsenal’s side, is two goals away from surpassing Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves and outright owning Spurs’ all-time goal scoring record. You can practically envision the stoppage time Tottenham penalty that has been written into the script, can’t you? Not that the Spurs need any more motivation, but there you go.
There is no need to explain the motivation for this match. Arsenal have not finished above Spurs for six seasons. A win in Sunday’s NLD will be one massive step toward restoring the natural order of things and celebrating a long-overdue St. Totteringham’s Day. A win puts a massive 14 point buffer between the two sides and turns the screws on Conte and company. A win keeps the Gunners ahead of the pack nipping at their heels. A win is a statement that Arsenal are for real.
A win is all that matters.
WHAT: Arsenal at Tottenham Hotspur
WHERE: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London
WHEN: 11:30am EST/8:30am PST/5:30pm BST
HOW TO WATCH: Streaming live on Peacock
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