The North London derby is the name of the football local derby between two North London based teams – Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. Both Arsenal and Tottenham fans have recognised each other as one of their biggest rivals and the derby is one of the fiercest in English football.
Arsenal play their home games at the Emirates Stadium, while Tottenham Hotspur play their home games at White Hart Lane.
Since the beginning of the Premier League in 1992, Arsenal have generally dominated this fixture, winning 18 matches out of the 44 played and losing only 8 times. Arsenal also lead in the wider context of the Premier League, having won the competition three times to Tottenham’s none and by finishing above their rivals in the table 19 times in 21 seasons. This fixture is also notable for being the highest-scoring one in the Premier League, with 126 goals scored in 44 meetings
The first meeting between the two teams was a friendly on 19 November 1887, when Arsenal were located in Plumstead (then part of Kent but now in Greater London), and known as Royal Arsenal. The match was abandoned 15 minutes before it was due to end “owing to darkness” with Spurs leading 2–1. The first League match between the clubs was in the First Division, on 4 December 1909; Arsenal won 1–0.
However, a proper rivalry between the two teams did not begin until 1913, when Arsenal moved from the Manor Ground, Plumstead to Arsenal Stadium, Highbury, just four miles from Tottenham’s White Hart Lane; by doing so, they became Tottenham’s nearest neighbours and thus began a natural local rivalry. The two teams first faced each other as “north London” in a War Relief Fund friendly on 22 August 1914 at White Hart Lane. Although Arsenal were in the Second Division and Tottenham in the First, Arsenal won 5–1. They would go on to meet regularly during World War I in the London Combination, the regional wartime competition of the time.
The rivalry escalated in 1919 when, after World War I, the First Division was to be expanded by two teams, and the League held a meeting of the clubs to decide the two clubs by means of a vote. 19th-placed Chelsea, who would otherwise have been relegated, were allowed to stay and thus they took the first of the two spots. The second spot could have been awarded to 20th-placed Tottenham, or Barnsley, who had finished 3rd in the Second Division, but Arsenal (along with four other clubs) also bid for the place, despite their only finishing 6th in Division Two – although an error in the calculation of goal average meant Arsenal had actually finished fifth, an error which was corrected by the Football League in 1980.
After an endorsement by League President and chairman of Liverpool John McKenna on account of their longer membership of the League, Arsenal won the vote by eighteen votes to Spurs’ eight (Barnsley got five, Wolves four, Nottingham Forest three, Birmingham two and Hull City one) and were thus elected to the First Division. It has been frequently alleged that Arsenal chairman Sir Henry Norris used underhand dealings in order to bring this about, although nothing has been proven. The decision infuriated Tottenham and their supporters, although eleven years previously, Tottenham themselves had been elected to join the Football League Second Division despite only finishing 7th in the 1907–08 Southern League, at the expense of Southern League champions Queen’s Park Rangers, who had also applied and had resigned from the Southern League in expectation of promotion.
Despite the setback, Tottenham were soon promoted back into the top flight after taking the 1919–20 Second Division title, and the derby was once again regularly contested. The first fully competitive derby match after Arsenal’s 1913 move to North London was a First Division match that finished 2–1 to Tottenham, on 15 January 1921 at White Hart Lane. The early matches between the two were noted for their bitterness – a particularly vicious match in September 1922 led to both clubs being censured by the Football Association and threatened with being forced to play behind closed doors.
Tottenham played in the Second Division between 1928 and 1933, and 1935 and 1950, which naturally led to a drop in the number of matches between the two clubs in this period and a cooling of passions. Relations between the two clubs improved somewhat after the Second World War, after Tottenham allowed Arsenal to play their home matches at White Hart Lane while Highbury was requisitioned as an ARP station and subsequently bombed. The two sides met in the FA Cup for the first time in the 1948–49 season, when Arsenal won a third round tie 3–0.
Since 1950 there has only been one season (1977–78) where Spurs and Arsenal have not been in the same division, meaning fixtures between the two are regular and this has maintained the rivalry to the present day; there have been many notable matches where the course of a title or the journey to a cup final has relied on the outcome of a derby match. As with any major football rivalry, gloating and banter between the two sets of fans, many of whom work and even live together, is commonplace. Players who transfer between the two teams receive a bad reception from their former fans; an example was defender Sol Campbell, who was nicknamed “Judas” by Spurs fans after he crossed the divide in 2001.
Arsenal fans have a celebration day related to the North London rivalry. Arsenal fans celebrate St. Totteringham’s day which is the day in the season when Tottenham cannot mathematically finish above Arsenal on the league table. Spurs fans have declared 14 April to be St. Hotspur day in honour of Spurs’ 3–1 win over Arsenal in the 1991 FA Cup semi final. St. Hotspur Day was also celebrated on 14 April 2010, when Spurs beat Arsenal 2–1.
On 20 November 2010, Tottenham registered their first win at Arsenal in 17 years when they came from 2–0 down at half-time to win 3–2. The win also broke a 68 game run of winless results away from home against the ‘big four’ clubs. Tottenham later defeated Arsenal 2–1 in 2011, with Arsenal’s only goal being provided by Aaron Ramsey, while Tottenham scored with Rafael van der Vaart and right back Kyle Walker. In the second meeting of the season on 26 February 2012, Louis Saha and former Arsenal player Emmanuel Adebayor brought Spurs 2–0 up in the first 40 minutes of the game, but goals coming from Bacary Sagna, Robin van Persie, Tomáš Rosický and a brace from Theo Walcott helped Arsenal surge to a 5–2 win.
On 17 November 2012, Arsenal managed another 5–2 victory over Tottenham, their second in 2012. Tottenham had taken a 10th minute lead courtesy of former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor, however in the 18th minute he received a straight red card for a poor tackle on Santi Cazorla. Arsenal with the one man advantage managed to equalize in the 24th minute when Per Mertesacker headed his first goal for the club and Arsenal raced into a 3–1 half time lead with goals from Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. Cazorla put the Gunners further ahead after 60 minutes, finishing a first time effort from Podolski’s cross to make it 4–1. After 71 minutes Gareth Bale scored to make it 4–2 and give Tottenham a glimmer of hope before Theo Walcott killed it off with a fifth goal in added time, ending the contest at 5–2.
On 1 September 2013, Arsenal beat Tottenham 1-0 in match given extra edge by Spurs big spending in the transfer period compared to Arsenal’s lack of activity. Arsenal took the lead in the 23rd minute through Olivier Giroud with the assist from Theo Walcott via a low cross from the right flank. Arsenal managed to hold on to their one-goal advantage in the second half to claim the three points and move ahead of Tottenham in the Premier League. The next day (deadline day) Arsenal signed Mesut Özil from Real Madrid. Arsenal went on to beat Tottenham twice more in the 2013/14 season (2-0 and 1-0). The 2-0 victory was in the FA Cup which was eventually won by Arsenal ending their 9 year wait for a trophy. The 1-0 victory saw Arsenal beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane for the first time in nearly 7 years. Tomas Rosicky scored a superb strike from the right corner of the area in only the second minute which was enough for Arsenal to win that day in a tight game in which Tottenham largely dominated after the 2nd minute goal.
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