Published On: Fri, Feb 9th, 2018

Why this north London derby means more to Tottenham than Arsenal

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In a vacuum, the north London derby is a massive matchup that has equal bearing for both Tottenham and its local foe Arsenal. Decades of dominance by the Gunners gave the fixture context, as has Spurs’ recent reinvention and subsequent climb up the Premier League table.

In broader terms, this clash is of greater importance to temporary Wembley Stadium tenants Tottenham, and not its hated rival a few miles south of its usual digs on Seven Sisters Road.

The two sides enter Saturday’s match separated by four points on the outside of the Champions League window looking in, and while an uncharacteristically busy winter window for Arsenal hinted at a much-needed regime change and a paradigm shift that favours the long term, Tottenham has never needed to win so urgently.

Mind the financial gap

Ahead of Tottenham’s trip to Liverpool in the first week of February, Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino was asked about Virgil van Dijk‘s £75-million move to Anfield. “A few weeks ago they signed the most expensive centre-back in the world,” the Argentine offered. “For me, it is not fair to compare Tottenham with Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, United, and City.”

Pochettino’s remarks highlight the financial disparity between the two north London lots, a notion that Deloitte’s Football Money League ranking confirms. According to the annual list, Arsenal had Europe’s sixth-highest revenue for 2016-17 – a club-record £419 million – despite dropping down to the less-lucrative Europa League. Spurs sit 11th on £305.6 million, a total that takes into account qualification for the Champions League and a staggering £77.8-million share of broadcast revenues.

As costs for the second incarnation of White Hart Lane continue to skyrocket, that gap could widen. In December, the Daily Mail approximated that the 61,000-capacity stadium pegged for use next season has seen its costs rise from £400 million to £1 billion. It is expected that the new venue could see matchday revenues rise to £28 million, but for the time being, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is exercising caution.

Arsenal is doing anything but. After splashing a club-record £46.5-million on striker Alexandre Lacazette last summer, the Gunners raised the bar with a £56-million move for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, dropping £100 million and change on two players at the same position. Whether or not the decision to lure a 28-year-old Aubameyang to the Emirates proves worthwhile, that signing, and the sale or loan of 35 others in the last two windows, highlights a change at the club that has stripped Arsene Wenger of his stranglehold on backroom matters.

Holes in the midfield and at the back remain, but with the arrivals of Sven Mislintat from Borussia Dortmund, Raul Sanllehi from Barcelona, and former Team Sky contract guru Huss Fahmy, Arsenal’s strides towards a return to domestic prominence are as clear as an elephant’s tracks.

Squad for sale?

While Arsenal’s squad has trimmed its fat and vestigial appendages and added two arguably world-class players in Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, Pochettino’s charges are a symbol of uniformity and growth.

Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, and Heung-min Son have formed a tidy attacking core under Pochettino’s tutelage, while the likes of Mousa Dembele, Victor Wanyama, and Belgian centre-back duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld have played the best football of their respective careers under the Argentine’s watch. That development has rightly merited the plaudits of pundits and fans alike, but without a trophy in a decade, disbanding the squad shifts from a fear to a near-certain reality.

For fear of raining on Tottenham’s non-existent title parade, such is the plight of a club that doesn’t win things; a club whose wages pale in comparison to England’s other massive clubs. That combination of factors is set to threaten Tottenham’s run and its squad continuity. Hugo Lloris and Kane are the club’s highest-paid players on a reported £140,000 a week, and Alderweireld’s contract situation is at an impasse as the Belgian considers greener pastures. That departure could trigger an exodus. As could a common conversation between Kane and fellow England internationals Kyle Walker, John Stones, and Raheem Sterling once they arrive in Russia. (“You’re on how much a week, Kyle? To play full-back?”)

As much as Kane and Co. have said all the right things in pledging a love for the club, if the Real Madrids and Manchester Uniteds of the world come calling for the Golden Boot winner and his mates a la Gareth Bale or Luka Modric, Daniel Levy may be forced to concede. This is why Spurs have to win now. They have to finish in the top-four and secure a coveted Champions League spot, and they have to challenge for domestic cups.

Perhaps former Spurs midfielder Jamie Redknapp said it best following Tottenham’s League Cup loss to West Ham. “With the players he has got, it won’t be long until he’s judged on what he’s won,” Redknapp said about Pochettino. “If you don’t win things with the players you’ve got it won’t be long until you come in for criticism.”

Criticism could be the least of Tottenham’s problems if a failure to win now sees the departures of an emerging core, and that’s why Saturday’s date with hated rival Arsenal means so much more to Spurs.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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