Saturday 21 April.
4.30 a.m. PST. Fox Soccer Channel.
As a Georgia football fan, for many years I have explained our
She (and game officials) kicked me in the nuts in
1998 and 1999; in 2000 she didn't need any help
Arsenal-Tottenham is known as the North London Derby because both teams are situated only 4 miles apart in northeast London. In this respect the rivalry is huge, simply because of geography, in the same way that UNC-Duke is huge, because Chapel Hill & Durham are 8 miles apart. In most other aspects the SAT football analogy would be:
Arsenal : Tottenham :: Georgia : Georgia Tech
Since the arrival of Arsene Wenger at in 1997, Arsenal have never finished lower than 2nd in the Premiership (out of 20 teams), while winning the title in 1998, 2002, and 2004, when the "invincibles" went through the entire 38 match season without losing, something that no English football team in any division had ever done. Add to that FA Cup wins in 1998, 2002, 2003, and 2005, and you are talking about one of the 2 best teams of the last decade. Tottenham, nicknamed Spurs (short for Hotspur), or for the hardcore, Sp*rs - not so much. They have been underachieving for years even though financially they are in the same league as Arsenal. In fact, during the Wenger era at Arsenal, Tottenham have spent more money on players but have little to show for it. They have NEVER finished in the top 6 of the Premiership, which began in 1993, and have done little else, except for winning the League Cup once, which is a different Cup competition from the FA Cup that is so meaningless that the big clubs (Arsenal, ManUtd, Liverpool, Chelsea) don't even play their best players in but rather kids to give them some experience. As one might think, Arsenal have dominated Tottenham in the last 10 years in the same way that UGA has owned Ga. Tech (when you throw out the 3 years that Tech
Always illegitimate, ultimately annulled.
Well, this year is a little different. Arsenal have been rebuilding with a new team full of very young players, so their league performances have been inconsistent and they currently find themselves in 5th place in the league. Tottenham on the other hand are enjoying their best season in many, many moons and sit 4th. Of course Arsenal fans are laughing that Spurs fans are so excited about the prospect of maybe finishing 4th for the first time in 15 years while Arsenal have been contesting for and winning titles left and right. Kind of like how Arsenal fans laughed in 2001 when Tottenham's best player Sol Campbell left Tottenham to join Arsenal because he knew he would have a better chance to win trophies at Highbury. The next season Arsenal won "the double" (both Premiership & FA Cup) while Spurs continued to suck. The best part was he left on a free transfer, so Spurs not only lost their best player to their biggest rival, but they were not compensated at all financially for it either.
Yes, Sol, you did.
Or how in 2001 in Arsenal +Sol Campbell's 1st match at White Heart Lane some Spurs supporters attacked the Arsenal bus throwing rocks, breaking windows and the like, only to find out afterwards that when Arsenal play away to Tottenham, Spurs lend Arsenal their team bus, so they actually damaged their own team's bus. Or how in 2004 Arsenal capped their unbeaten season by clinching the premiership title in White Hart Lane, Tottenham's very own stadium - the ultimate humulation.
Taunting: A+ Spelling: C-
Tomorrow is not only the final North London Derby ever at 93 year old Highbury, but it is the most important one in a long, long time and here is why: 4th place in the Premiership qualifies for next year's Champions League, which means 1) prestige 2) millions of pounds sterling from TV rights (25 million by some estimates). Unlike the squirrel from the other night, Spurs have never played in a Champions League match because they don't hand those out for finishing 12th in the league. So 4th is a really big deal for them. Likewise for Arsenal, as they have never failed to qualify for the Champions League since 1998, and failing to qualify this year may very well lead to the departure of their best player, and currently best striker in the world, Thierry Henry.
TH14 celebrates his wonder goal on 2001
in front of the Tottenham supporters
Tottenham: 35 games played, 61 points
Arsenal: 34 games played, 57 points
As it stands today, Arsenal are in 5th, 4 points behind Spurs who are in 4th. Additionally, Arsenal gave a "game in hand", meaning they have four remaining games to Spurs three. So tomorrow's match is huge. If Arsenal win and take 3 points, they will be only 1 point behind but with the game in hand they will control their destiny: Two wins and a draw in their final three matches and Spurs cannot catch them even if they win out after tomorrow.
So there it is. Tomorrow's match is very, very large.
Oh, here's the best bit. Arsenal are only 90 minutes away from reaching the Champions League Final of this year's competition. The rules state that the Champion automatically qualifies for the following year's competition. If the champion does not finish high enough in their league to qualify, then they take the place of the last qualifier in the league. This means that a supreme Nelson from The Simpsons scenario exists: that Tottenham finish 4th and get all excited about qualifying for the Champions League for the first time at their biggest rival's expense, only for Arsenal to win the Champions League this year and knock them out of the competition altogether.
I'd rather not deal with the stress of such a situaton, because if they do make it to the Champions League Final then that will be the biggest match in the history of the club so there will be plenty of pressure & anxiousness already, thank you. I would much rather that the lads do the business tomorrow, get the three points, and remind little sister Spurs who their big brother is.