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Arsenal-Tottenham rivalry has new look this season

03/05/2013 1:09 PM ET
By Nicholas True Palmer

Tottenham Hotspur's Michael Dawson, center, is pushed by Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen during an English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham and Arsenal.(AP)
Don't adjust your computer screens or clean the lenses of your glasses. Your eyes aren't playing tricks on you, either. Your vision is trying to tell you the truth, however strange it may be: Tottenham sits above Arsenal on the League Table. And it's March!

Tottenham's 2-1 win over Arsenal in the North London Derby on Sunday at White Hart Lane put them up seven points in the Barclay's English Premier League standings. Arsenal's defense couldn't stand the scoring flurry of Spurs' stars Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon in the 37th and 39th minutes. The German defender, Per Mertesacker, tried to sway the momentum of the match in the Gunner's favor by heading in a goal in the 51st minute. But it wouldn't be enough for Arsenal as the victory went to the home side.

If Arsenal's disappointing season continues in this manner, they could be on the outside of the Champions League looking in. The Gunners currently sit in fifth place, while Spurs are in third, and only the top four teams move on to the promised land that is the Champions League. Even the Arsenal Manager, Arsène Wenger, has his doubts.

"It will be difficult to come in the top four now as we dropped points we couldn't afford to drop," Wenger said.

Many European football clubs sole goal is to make it to the Champions League because of it's financial rewards. Last year, for instance, it was estimated that Chelsea, who won the tournament, earned over £47 million from the Champions League pot. Manchester United, who didn't even qualify to be one of the last 16 teams in the tournament by losing in the group stage, still made a reported £28 million.

Arsenal has made the Champions League in each of Wenger's last 15 seasons, only coming up short in his very first year as manager after losing second place to Newcastle United on goal differential.

Tottenham, however, only qualified once for the Champions League. They made it all the way to the quarterfinals in 2011, before being eliminated by Real Madrid. Qualifying again for the club would be quite the accomplishment and push them in the right direction going forward with their first year Manager, André Villas-Boas.

What isn't being mentioned this week though is that with 28 games played and only ten to go, Arsenal is in danger of finishing lower than Tottenham for the first time since the 1994-95 season. To put that in perspective, that same year Arsenal star midfielder Jack Wilshere was just three.

In terms of the North London Derby this would be absolutely massive news. The Gunners have dominated Spurs in the modern era. Arsenal has won the league 13 times to Tottenham's two. Tottenham hasn't even won the league since 1961. These are two clubs that loathe each other. Their home grounds are separated by just four miles. Friends, family and loved ones can all be divided on match day. It is a vicious rivalry that knows no bounds.

Sol Campell may understand this better than anyone. The former Captain of Tottenham, left to play for Arsenal in the summer of 2001 after stating to the press he would never play for the Spurs' enemy. On his return to White Hart Lane, the Tottenham fans threw bricks at the Arsenal team bus. When striker Emmanuel Adebayor left Arsenal to play for Manchester City, he wasn't well-liked by the Gunners' fans. But later when he played for Spurs, he was detested. In Angola during the 2010 African Cup of Nations, his Togo national team bus was shot at and three people ended up dead in the incident. On Sunday, Gareth Bale was a target of more hatred, but he responded by scoring two goals on the Hammers to lift Spurs to victory.

The North London Derby even has holidays that their fans celebrate throughout the year. Tottenham declared April 14th to be St. Hotspurs Day in honor of their victory over Arsenal in the 1991 FA Cup semifinal. Where as, the Arsenal fans holiday, St. Totteringham's Day, depends on whenever Spurs can't mathematically finish above the Gunners on the league table.

It's not just recent tensions that make it one of the biggest rivalries in the Premiership. It has an historic element, as well. Arsenal moved to Highbury, a neighborhood in North London, in 1913, thus becoming a natural local rival to Tottenham. When they moved they were demoted down to Division Two because of the venue change. However in 1919, the First Division was expanding after World War I from the original 20 teams to 22. Chelsea and Tottenham would've been relegated having finished the previous year in 19th and 20th places but because the league was expanding they thought they might have a chance to stay.

Chelsea was automatically given one of the spots, but Tottenham was placed with other teams to vote on who should be promoted. Arsenal having finished 5th or 6th in the league, depending on a goal error from earlier in the season, shouldn't have been one of the top clubs considered for the promotion. But they put in a bid and were awarded with a spot in the First Division. Tottenham did not win a bid.

It was rumored that Arsenal chairman Sir Henry Norris had done some back room dealings. Apparently, League President and chairman of Liverpool, John McKenna, gave a speech right before the vote on why Arsenal deserved to be in the League. This is one of the main reasons why so much bitterness existed between the two clubs so early on.

The North London Derby may remain one sided, but not to the recent favorites. Arsenal is in danger of not celebrating St. Totteringham's Day for the first time in 18 years. Although Spurs future certainly looks brighter, the North London Derby will continue to be entertaining regardless of where either team is in the table. But there definitely has been a shift in the North. 

Nicholas True Palmer, "NTP," has written for YESNetwork.com since March of 2013. A journalism graduate from New York University, he currently writes for Yankees Magazine. Follow Nick on Twitter: @truepalmer

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