Kings in the North

Arsenal or Spurs -- who rules North London?

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LONDON – The tension and pressure are building in north London. Big time.

On Saturday, Tottenham Hotspur welcome bitter rivals Arsenal to White Hart Lane for the most eagerly anticipated North London Derby in Premier League history. Period.

On both sides of the fence, the pressure is palpable, almost unbearable. Both teams are battling for the title in the same season, which has never happened in their rivalry dating back over 130 years.

Former Tottenham Hotspur captain Ledley King, 35 years old, was forced to retire early after chronic knee problems. He still works for Spurs as an ambassador. As a Londoner and one-club man who came through Spurs’ academy system and shined for the first team and England, he’s played in more NLD’s than most.

King says this is the biggest Tottenham vs. Arsenal clash in his lifetime.

“This is the biggest derby I can remember during my time at Tottenham,” King said. “For the two teams to be so close going into this game at such a late stage of the season, it makes it a huge, huge game. In previous times Arsenal were – especially when I was a lot younger in the first team – a team that were challenging for the league, and we were a team trying to get into Europe, maybe. A mid-table team. We’ve slowly closed the gap each year to a point now where there’s nothing between the two teams.”

Tottenham have the edge going into this clash. With 10 games of the season to go, the two north London clubs are in a four-way battle with little Leicester City and moneybags Manchester City for the title. Leicester lead, but Spurs sit three points back of the diminutive giants, and Arsenal sit three points back of Tottenham.

Watch Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur: Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN, Live Extra

Nobody would’ve predicted this before this season but Spurs’ ascension has pushed this derby into the forefront of people’s minds. It could be like that for quite some time if Mauricio Pochettino’s young squad is kept together.

“I expect derbies moving forward to have even more depending on the games going into them,” King continued. “That adds a little extra to the game. This will be the biggest. The fans on both sides will generate a massive atmosphere which is going to make a great game.”

 

Rare title battle between bitter rivals

This title race is great, too.

Two rivals duking it out for the crown rarely happens in the PL. If you look in the history books, neighbors and bitter rivals have barely fought for the title in the PL era. Manchester United and Manchester City have done it a few times over the past five years — with the memorable finale to the 2011-12 season set to live long in the memory — but apart from that, local rivals just haven’t locked horns for the title.

Now they are.

If you look outside of the PL era, of course there have been battles between local rivals, with the famous Liverpool and Everton dominance of the 1980s sticking out, plus the two Manchester clubs once again dominating in the 60s and 70s. But this is a new phenomenon for Arsenal and Tottenham. The latter have won two titles in its history, and during their success in 1951 and ’61, Arsenal languished in mid-table and weren’t battling with them.

During Arsenal’s three Premier League titles, Tottenham didn’t finish in the top six, so this experience of going toe-to-toe for the title is something new to both sets of fans.

Huddled against a brick wall outside Upton Park waiting to get into the stadium before Tottenham’s midweek clash against West Ham, brothers Robb and Glenn (named after Tottenham legend Glenn Hoddle) Ovel weren’t quite sure what to feel.

Excited? Nervous?

“Bit of both really,” Robb said as Glenn, wearing a Notre Dame woolly hat, nodded his head in agreement. “It’s obviously unchartered territory. We’ve never been here before. It is exciting while it lasts because once the TV money comes in next year you don’t know if you’re going to get this kind of chance again.”

“I can’t remember ever being above them!” laughs Glenn before his brother chimes in.

“I can remember us being above them before. But once it gets into the final games of the season we kind of drop away. Hopefully this year that won’t happen and we can push through. We still have some difficult games coming up. If we can get through that, we will be fine.”

Arsenal’s fans are confused too. They don’t quite know what to do. Should they applaud Spurs for challenging them? Legendary figures such as Ian Wright and Thierry Henry have both appeared on British TV praising Spurs through gritted teeth, but Wright also muttered the words: “It isn’t meant to be like this… we rule north London.”

That’s how the Arsenal fans feel too.

Heading into Saturday’s clash, former Spurs captain Gary Mabbutt believes all the pressure is on Arsenal.

“Going into this derby game, the fact that they lost last weekend means that they are under much more pressure than we are,” Mabbutt said. “We can go into this game to play our football, play the game how we want to. The pressure is on Arsenal. They have to get something and that could leave gaps to be exploited. It’s a massive game for both teams. If you look at games between the sides, probably the last time there was a game as big as this was the 1990-91 season when we played Arsenal in the first-ever FA Cup semifinal to be played at Wembley.

“Arsenal were going for the double and we were having a mediocre season but that’s the thing about any game between Tottenham and Arsenal. Whatever the form going into that game, wherever you are in the league table, it all goes out of the window. This is a game you just have to win. It is one of the biggest games of the season for you. Everyone says, ‘Yeah, but it’s the same three points as beating Swansea last week,’ and of course it is. But I think the psychological benefits of beating your biggest rivals and a team of Arsenal or Tottenham’s stature, whichever side you’re on, that has a major benefit.”

Mabbutt, 54, has played in more NLD’s than any Spurs player in history and knows this particular meeting will have a huge say in the title race.

He played for Tottenham for over 16 years, is the second-longest serving player in club history and won the Europa League in 1984 plus captained them to FA Cup glory in 1991. The last time Spurs finished in the top three was in 1989-90. They also finished third in the 1986-87 campaign.

The former England international was at the heart of those Tottenham teams to finish in the top three of the top-flight, and he sees plenty of similarities in this current Spurs team.

“We’ve got a very solid back six really. That allows everyone in front of them, whether that be Mousa Dembele, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, Nabil Bentaleb, Harry Kane, Son (Heung-min) — whoever it is, it allows them to be the opponents on the back foot and use their creativity to cause them problems,” Mabbutt said. “If we lose the ball, we have a solid base behind us to build from. In the 1987 season when we came third, we had a five-man midfield of Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles, Chrissy Waddle, Paul Allen and Steve Hodge.

“We had Clive Allen up front on his own and that season he scored 49 goals which is still a (Spurs) record in the top-flight, and at the moment, we of course we have a lone ranger in Kane up front on his own. So there are a lot of similarities. I do hope the similarities finish there … because we were the ‘almost’ team! We came third in the league, reached the semifinal of the League Cup, lost the final of the FA Cup and at the end of the season, we didn’t win anything.”

Mabbutt believes the team-first mentality is key among the current squad. Arsenal may have more star names and better individuals, but Spurs’ collective unit is trumping that.

“I believe this team has grown in maturity and grown in stature over the season. Every game I watch I’m seeing a team that is a growing as a team together,” Mabbutt beamed. “The most important factor and characteristic that this team has is we are seeing a team that wants to win together, as a team. Not as individuals. You can see there are some strong characters out there. There is passion out there and they all want to be in this team and want to be winning this together. That, for me, is a vital component of any successful side.”

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Twenty years of Arsenal dominance ending?

Arsenal have been incredibly successful over the past two decades, and don’t Tottenham’s fans know it. In every debate in the office, café or pub, they’re reminded of Arsenal’s dominance.

St. Totteringham’s Day is a curse word among Spurs fans and it has become a yearly tradition for nearly two decades.

What is it? It’s the day where Spurs can mathematically no longer finish above Arsenal and Gooners rejoice and collect their bet money from Spurs-supporting buddies who’d bet them back in August that “this will be the year we finish above you, this is it… .” But it wasn’t, and it hasn’t been since 1995 when Tottenham finished in seventh place and Arsenal slumped to 12th place the season before Arsene Wenger arrived. Then it all changed.

Like taxes and death, the only other certainty of life in north London over the past 20 years has been that Arsenal will finish above Tottenham in the league. Now, though, all that could change.

With Tottenham and Arsenal going head-to-head for the title, going in to work on a Monday morning and sitting alongside an Arsenal fan could be quite an enjoyable experience for Spurs fans. Their neighbors in red are squirming a bit in their office chairs.

The generational certainty could be disrupted.

Over the past week, I’ve caught up with fans of both clubs. Speaking to Arsenal fans outside Old Trafford last week before a loss to an injury-riddled Manchester United that might have damaged their title hopes, “Gooners” were positive Spurs would’ve finish above them and weren’t worried about their ascendance.

“I’m not worried,” said Ronald Bruce, a local government official originally from north London. “They are better this season than they have been for a long time. But I think they have a couple of excellent players. Harry Kane and Dele Alli are playing well. Those are their two standout players. They obviously have a decent goalkeeper because their defense is better than it has been for years. They’ve always been known as being weak defensively. They are a bit more solid nowadays. Worried? No. We’ve got a better squad than them. We’ve got experience and knowhow. That doesn’t mean they can’t learn …”

You will notice, there’s a trend among Arsenal fans I spoke to. First, they totally dismiss Tottenham’s chances of dueling with them for trophies but by the end of their answer, they’re praising their rivals in a backhanded manner and the conviction in their voice dissipates.

For Tottenham fans, even though they are above Arsenal heading into the final 10 games of the season there is, understandably, an air of cautious optimism among them.

“I work with a lot of Arsenal fans and the banter definitely picks up from the Monday until game day, it is all the time,” Robb Ovel said. “You’re making bets and saying, ‘If we win, you have to do this,’ and stuff like that. It is intense but at the same time it’s good to have that kind of battle. It would just be nice to win some money back … because every year, I keep saying we will finish above them, and we never do. So I’ve got 20 years of money coming back. I hope.”

 

The build up: power and passion

“Is the power shifting? At the moment it could still go either way,” Mabbutt said. “But just looking at the way we are playing as a team. We’ve had the most shots on target of any team this season. That shows we are playing good attacking football. That shows our attacking flair going forward. On the other side of it, we’ve conceded fewer goals than anybody by some margin. That shows how solid we are. If you start putting those things together, and it is a team that is growing in stature together and a team that are wanting to win together, you are starting to put in some of the major points you have to have to be a successful side.”

A power shift is slowly happening in north London and with a hungry young squad and a talented young manager, Tottenham aim to catapult themselves ahead of Arsenal and become the No. 1 team in London.

That will take some doing  — considering Chelsea will also redevelop Stamford Bridge to 60,000 and have the riches of Roman Abramovich, plus West Ham’s move to the Olympic Stadium — but huge investment in the future of the club is on the horizon and one thing will mesh this all together: a new White Hart Lane.

Rising from the rumble which currently sits outside Spurs’ cozy yet cramped home will be a 61,000 capacity stadium fit for an exciting new era.

“They won’t fill it. They’ve got no chance,” Bruce laughs. “They are talking about having a stadium similar in size to ours. Their current ground, although they fill it very regularly at the moment, is actually quite a small ground. They’re going to have to up the interest in the club quite a lot, bearing in mind they don’t have the history of Arsenal or Manchester United who everyone knows. Spurs are not so well known. Where they will get fans is the tourist fans, who can’t really afford to go to Arsenal’s ground or other big clubs in the Premier League. It might be slightly cheaper and easier to get tickets for, so they might get a lot of people from abroad who will go there. I can’t see them filling it.”

With the plans for the Northumberland Development Project rubber-stamped by Mayor of London Boris Johnson last week, it’s all systems go for the state-of-the-art stadium which will become the jewel in Daniel Levy’s reign as Spurs chairman.

Coincidentally, and somewhat amusingly, it will be very similar to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.

The artist renderings look extremely similar to the Emirates but crucially it has squeezed in a few more seats to make sure Spurs will have more fans than Arsenal at every home game. Small victories. It will also be home to at least two NFL games per season from 2018, as the National Football League has already signed a 10-year agreement with Tottenham. Talk is rife of having London’s NFL franchise, if it ever gets one, based at the new White Hart Lane. Big things are happening in an area of north London that can be described as rundown and robust, yet resurgent.

The future is looking bright. Levy, despite his critics, must be applauded for that.

“Whenever things go wrong, it is always the chairman’s fault. If things go right there is never credit being given. But I think Daniel Levy has always had the best interests of the club at heart,” Mabbutt said. “Mistakes have been made. Everyone makes mistakes in life and along the way things haven’t gone swimmingly at times, but the way it has all been put together at the moment, Tottenham Hotspur is in the best position both on and off the field I can ever remember.”

Tottenham’s hopes of muscling in to become a perennial title challenger hinges on this stadium. The extra revenue it will generate will allow them not only to keep their best players – Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and others have been sold in the past – but buy top players and qualify for the Champions League. Spurs fans are wary that with Harry Kane and Dele Alli attracting the biggest clubs on the planet, the club may decide to cash in. If they win the title, that’s hugely unlikely to happen.

In the short term, plowing money into a new stadium was meant to hurt them.

Pochettino recently said that “tough times lie ahead” as budget cuts will mean less spending on the squad and more on the stadium project, which also includes a new school, shops, bars, hotels and housing. That is why having a young core group coming through at the same time is so encouraging for Tottenham. If they can keep Kane, Alli, Dier, Eriksen and Co. for the next five years, then they won’t need to spend big and then they’ll have a sparkling new stadium at the end of it.

Keeping Pochetino is key to all of this.

The Argentine coach is incredibly ambitious, and if one of Europe’s “super clubs” come calling, then Spurs could lose him. To see the value of managerial continuity, Spurs need only look at the impact Arsene Wenger continues to have on the club down the road. Spurs haven’t had that in over two decades, but with Wenger approaching his late 60s, a faint whiff of transition is seeping through the air in North London.

None more so than this week as only one thing is on the mind of fans of the two capital clubs. Often, the nerves and excitement gets to the players and can either provide a cagey affair or one that produces goals, red cards and box-office drama.

“Every family is divided. Workplaces are divided. Schools are divided. It’s a game that, no matter what you’ve done that season, if you beat your biggest rivals, your fans will forgive you,” Mabbutt chuckled. “It always had a special feel about it. It is a special game because it has the bragging rights in North London. The rivalry has been there for a long, long time and is something that will always be there. Some games have the same buildup and the same intensity but this particular game has an extra added edge.”

Ledley King, the Tottenham lifer, agreed and revealed what it’s like in the build up to the game.

“I expect [the atmosphere] to be electric. I played in many of these games and it’s not just the atmosphere on the day, it’s the buildup throughout the week. You pick up the papers and people are talking about this game. There are times when a player has made a comment which gets everyone up for the game a little bit more,” King laughs. “Then, driving into the stadium, there is just a different atmosphere around the game.

“I think that is why there have been some really high-scoring hugely entertaining games between the two teams, because of the atmosphere that is generated. Players just kind of go for it. Sometimes that can help and sometimes it doesn’t help because you can get caught up in the emotion. Whoever handles the emotion better on the day will probably get the result they are looking for.”

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Wenger out … then what?

The big reason Arsenal’s fans are looking over their shoulders more nervously than at any point since 1995 is that they know change is coming.

They know Arsene Wenger won’t last forever and in the next few years, the French manager will likely retire. Wenger, 66, has led Arsenal to 20 consecutive finishes above Spurs, has been in charge during their most successful spell as a club and will go down in history as one of the greatest managers in English club history.

But just like we have seen, and are still seeing, at Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson retired, transitioning away from these managerial behemoths isn’t easy. It’s highly likely Arsenal will suffer a blip in the short term and at the same time their stability and continuity takes a hit, the opposite could be said of their neighbors down the road.

It turns a recent trend on its head. The term “That’s so Spursy” has become a well-known vernacular of the English language in recent years. In short, it means to deliver so much hope but then fall flat at the vital moment. So many times, Spurs have crumbled when pushing for the top four but with Pochettino in charge, the same continuity which has served Arsenal so well for so long could be key to Spurs surging to dominance in their neck of the woods.

“The stability that Arsenal have had with Arsene Wenger over the last 20 years is important,” King explained. “I think Tottenham have not had that over that period of time. We’ve had a lot of different managers but we’ve always been searching for the right man we felt could take the club forward. I’d like to think we’ve got this young, hungry manager who will spend a long, long time here and develop the young players we have in the side at the moment. He is a manager who looks at the youth players and give them a chance if he thinks they’re good enough. He’s a great man for this club. Tottenham have always had players coming through the youth team which have been important for the first team and now we have a manger who is looking at things that way as well.”

Like Arsenal’s fans applauding Spurs with grimaces plastered across their faces, Mabbutt also cannot fail to reflect on Wenger’s remarkable achievements.

“Some of my best friends are Arsenal supporters and I have to say that they are far more worried about the game on Saturday than I am,” Mabbutt said, just to add some more banter. “I’ve spent some time with Arsene Wenger and I think he is the most incredible manager, obviously after Sir Alex Ferguson there is no one who can touch what he has achieved in the Premier League. He is a gentleman. The way he wants the game to be played, he should have been the Tottenham manager! Every time you talk to him about football he has this passion about the way the game has been played and making players use their abilities. Obviously I got on very well with Wenger.”

What do Arsenal’s fans really think about Wenger? Robb Ovel believes they are close to breaking point, not for the first time in the 20 years the Frenchman has been in charge.

“I sense they are quite deflated. The people I speak to they are bored of the excuses Arsene Wenger just throws out all the time. They have got to the point now where if they don’t win anything this year I think they want him to go. I think he will go when he wants to go.”

If Wenger goes, will that lead to a new era of dominance over Arsenal for Spurs?

“Why can’t that start now?” smiles Ovel as I leave the two brothers and Tottenham’s other fans outside Upton Park to discuss the team news filtering through and, no doubt, chatting about how great it would be if they could finally finish above Arsenal to get one over their friends.

 

Strong English core adds extra spice

Despite all of the bitterness, some friendliness, strangely, runs through the heart of this rivalry.

One of the cool things about this rivalry is that multiple players now in the first team have played against each other for many years coming through the ranks. They know each other from the England setup and they are from the area.

They get it.

Tottenham’s Harry Kane, Ryan Mason, Dele Alli and Eric Dier have all made their full England debuts in the past 12 months. Arsenal have England internationals in Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs, Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere.

With both teams possessing so many players from in and around London, they understand this rivalry better than most.

“Playing in these games in the youth team, you feel the same way about them. You want to win because you know certain guys in that team. I grew up and I was playing against Ashley Cole, who came through the youth team,” King explained. “I’m sure the guys in the first team now would’ve been playing against some of these Arsenal players like Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs in the youth teams. They are well aware of the importance and the bragging rights, I think that adds that extra spice. Especially going away with England, going away with these boys … you want to be on the winning side.”

For most of his career, King struggled against Arsenal. He made his debut for Spurs in 1999 but didn’t taste victory against their ancient rivals until 2010 when current Spurs left back Danny Rose scored a screamer to seal a 2-1 win.

“It took me a while to actually beat Arsenal,” King laughs. “They were such a strong side, especially for the first half of my career. [Thierry] Henry. [Dennis] Bergkamp. [Robert] Pires. [Patrick] Vieria. It was a difficult task and took a while to get a victory over them but the thing that really sticks out in my mind is when we did beat them and Danny Rose scored that incredible goal. Once we got that feeling of beating them, it was something that happened on a more regular basis. I remember beating them 5-1 in a cup competition. There is nothing better than getting one over your rivals.”

Another local lad, Harry Kane, has crossed the divide.

Kane was Spurs’ leading goalscorer last season with 31 and he leads the way this year with 19 in all competitions. He was also at Arsenal’s academy as a youngster before being released. A photo of him wearing an Arsenal shirt as a youngster went viral last year. Kane’s a north Londoner who knows better than most exactly what it means to the fans. Last season he scored a late header to hand a Tottenham 2-1 win over Arsenal at White Hart Lane. In his first-ever start in the NLD he was the hero. Nursing a broken nose ahead of this weekend’s clash, expect the man with the mask to be the main man for Tottenham.

The strong connection King talked about between players of both these clubs sometimes boils over.

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere, 24, was handed a hefty fine for the FA after his antics during their FA Cup victory parade last season. A slightly (debatable) inebriated Wilshere grabbed the microphone outside the Emirates and asked the gathered Arsenal fans,“What do we think of Tottenham?” to which they replied, “Shit!” and then he asked “What do we think of shit?” to which the reply was “Tottenham!”

There’s no love lost in this rivalry and extra policing measures will be on hand on Saturday (question: why do you think the game is at 12:45 p.m. local time?) to ensure the passion of local rivals clashing doesn’t extend to fans inside and outside the stadium. In Arsenal’s 2-1 League Cup victory at Tottenham earlier this season some away fans caused damaged at the Lane, ripping off advertising boards and generally being a nuisance.

Everything is set up for an epic encounter.

But off the pitch, both sets of players often mix amicably. Mabbutt reveals many outsiders my find that strange, but it’s inevitable.

“Once the game is finished, what a lot of people find it difficult to understand and I explain it to them, in that particular game when we were playing the Arsenal, whatever we have to do to win that game you do it. You have to win that game. Those are your biggest rivals and each player on that other side is your biggest rival,” Mabbutt said. “As soon as the game is finished, on certain occasions, let’s say we played Arsenal on a Saturday afternoon. If it’s an international week then that Saturday night you then drive from the game to the hotel where the England team meet up and then I am meeting up with Ian Wright, David Seaman, Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, all the England players are meeting up. Then on the following Wednesday we are teammates playing in the same team together.

“A lot of the things we do in north London, a lot of the community programs, a lot of things we do with charities, Tottenham and Arsenal players are always at the functions. This week there is a big function, the London Football Awards, and there will be lots of past Arsenal and Tottenham players there. Even after our playing days we are all meeting up at events. In that particular game, it’s all about anything you can do to win that game. After that you can be teammates. Sometimes people think ‘crikey, you can actually be like friends with the Arsenal players?’ Yes, of course you can. And they are not only friends but teammates.”

As we’ve seen in rivalries across the Premier League, those between crosstown or extremely close rivals aren’t quite as ferocious due to families and neighbors being divided by the club they support.

Liverpool vs. Everton and Manchester United vs. Manchester City are good examples. Tottenham vs. Arsenal is similar but it has the potential to become one of the biggest, if not the biggest rivalry in the PL. And with both teams battling for the title and their young squads potentially being able to do so for the next two to three years, it could elevate itself towards the top of world soccer’s greatest rivalries.

 

The run-in: Spurs the favorites?

When you look specifically at the final 10 games of this season, it’s go-time for both clubs.

The final push kicks off with their meeting at the Lane and then it’s a nerve-wrangling sprint to the finish.

Sure, both teams have European campaigns to negotiate but with Arsenal’s Champions League bid hanging on by a thread against Barcelona and Spurs likely to prioritize a PL title push over Europa League glory, the full focus will be on bringing a glorious title parade to the streets of north London in May. Arsenal is also pushing for a third-straight FA Cup trophy but would much prefer a first PL title in 10 years.

If you look at the remaining games of both teams, on paper Spurs have it easier. This clash and away trips to Liverpool and resurgent Chelsea are their toughest encounters in the final 10 games. They should win the other seven.

However, predictably, the Arsenal fans I spoke to were skeptical of Spurs’ run-in.

“Historically Spurs have been near the fourth position but they’ve fallen away at the end of the season,” Bruce said. “This season they are higher up but after they lost to Crystal Palace at home in the FA Cup recently, you will find that most Arsenal fans felt that’s the beginning of their end of season collapse. That’s what we’re hoping. They are, however, one of the better Spurs teams I’ve seen for a while.”

Lea was also adamant that Tottenham’s title hopes were soon about to crumble, but even his hollering had a tinge of hopefulness to it.

“It always falls down at the last minute and I am convinced that we are strong enough and have the experience to do the business. I’m not too concerned but they are doing really well,” Lea admitted. “They have a good team and they are better than they have been for years. But I think we are better, it’s as simple as that.

“It’s never happened before [Spurs and Arsenal battling for the PL title] and whether there will be a St. Totteringham’s day this year, I’m not sure yet,” Lea says as other Arsenal fans who gathered around in a group reassure him. “There will be, there will be a St. Totteringham’s Day,” they say, gleefully.

“I’m convinced we are better than them,” Lea continues. “They are very good. Very good indeed… but I think we are better overall. The question is, can they last out for the entire season? They have days where they do really well and good luck to them, but there are other days where they aren’t so good. Over 38 games, we are better.”

The Gunners will certainly get ample opportunities to prove that during their tough run-in after the NLD.

For Arsenal, they face Manchester City away in the penultimate game of the season and face tricky trips to West Ham and Everton. Plenty of points to be dropped there but it further reinforces the importance of this game.

“Really, now, it’s going to be very tight,” Mabbutt said. “Every single point is going to be so precious. I think this game at the weekend, the Arsenal players and fans coming to White Hart Lane are the ones who are completely under pressure and are not looking forward to this game. Tottenham cannot wait for this game to arrive.”

Losing points to direct rivals at this point of the season would be critical to both teams’ title hopes.

In Arsenal’s case, losing points to your rising rivals who are threatening your dominance in north London would be a nightmare.

“[The power shift] has been a gradual thing,” King said. “I think slowly but surely Spurs have climbed onto the back of Arsenal’s heels but are still yet to finish above them in the Premier League and is obviously a big task. It is gradually coming. The team at the moment is a very young team, there’s a young manager and both are ambitious. Obviously the new stadium is in place, everyone is really looking forward to the future with this young squad. It would be a great time to finish above Arsenal, which could mean winning the Premier League. How amazing would that be?”