Will the North London Derby expose Arsenal as victims of a power shift?
Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are facing a barrage of criticism from almost all quarters with fans, players and pundits all taking aim at the North London club. The bruising 3-1 defeat to Manchester City did little to dispel the notion that Arsenal are a club in stagnation. A decline that has been evident for a while now and even more painful for Arsenal fans knowing that it has coincided with the almost meteoric rise of bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
The more rational Arsenal fan would point to this recent shift as being just that, recent. Indeed Arsene Wenger has only tasted defeat eight times against Spurs during his twenty-one year tenure, notably finishing below them on just the one occasion. His reign has heralded one of the most successful periods in the clubs history, crowned by the ‘invincibles’ season of 2003/04, arguably the greatest ever Premier League side. Spurs by contrast have lurched from one failed project to another, with only the likes of Martin Jol and Harry Redknapp able to provide any respite to a club dominated by their near rivals in North London.
But there is little place in modern football for such nostalgia, and many Arsenal fans would point to that 2003/04 side as the point where the decline began. Rather than capitalise on and reinvigorate a potentially generation defining side, the board and Wenger set upon a period of parsimony to coincide with the new stadium build. Pragmatic yes, but in an era of unprecedented tv rights deals and constant investment from competitors, the seeds were sown for the gradual decline of the Wenger era.
This is the view shared by some of Wenger’s greatest supporters, such as Emmanuel Petit, who when looking at Arsenal match analysis commented:
“The fault for this lies not just with the manager, but also with the players. They’ve been making simple mistakes and consequently allowing the opposition an easy ride. It has been a long time since I saw Arsenal play well from the first minute to the last — this is surely down to a crisis of confidence among the squad.”
Ex- Arsenal striker Kevin Campbell was also critical of squad composition, borne out of a sub-standard transfer policy that has seen full-backs play as centre halves and midfielders as defenders.
Yet there appears to be no end to the crisis, which despite the vitriol aimed at Wenger appears largely to be founded at boardroom level. A recent club AGM ended in near farce with Sir Chips Keswick refusing to answer even the most basic of questions, leading former manager George Graham to simply state, ‘there is no board at Arsenal’.
Contrast this to Tottenham, who have entered one of the most stable periods in their modern history. Off the field they have recently completed a state of the art training centre at Bulls Cross, with a new multi-purpose stadium at White Hart Lane due to open ahead of next season. On the field, Mauricio Pochettino has led the club to it’s highest Premier finish and points tally as well as that all important finish above Arsenal last season.
This is perhaps what makes the upcoming North London Derby so fascinating and also so important. We may only be in November, with little to split the two teams in terms of points, but such encounters provide ideal opportunities for crucial momentum shifts. On paper this should be Tottenham’s to lose, but as so often is the case these occasions are decided by the finest of margins.
Victory for Arsenal may just be a case of delaying the inevitable, papering over cracks and doing little fundamentally to arrest the decline. But the suffering Arsenal faithful will see Saturday week as the perfect opportunity to remind this fledgling Spurs side just who the historic kings of North London are.
Who will take the spoils in the NLD?