Layth Yousif’s All Guns Blazing Arsenal column: Spurs have to win a trophy before claiming a shift in the balance of power in North London
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Sports journalist Layth Yousif who has been to the vast majority of matches between Arsenal and Spurs over the last 35 years examines whether there has been a shift in the balance of power between the two bitter rivals at either ends of the Seven Sisters Road in his latest All Guns Blazing column. Read on for his hard-hitting piece.
I’ve been watching the North London derby for 35 years.
From the terraces to the press box, from years of avoiding scrapes in the vicious aftermath of exiting the Park Lane at the old White Hart Lane, to the splendour of the Wembley media centre – and absolutely everything in between.
Apart from a two and a half year spell when I travelled the world a very long time ago I have been to practically every game, home and away, during those three and a half decades.
So I know what a decent Arsenal team looks like in one of the biggest matches in world football.
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Equally, I know what constitutes a good Tottenham Hotspur side.
And believe me this current Spurs side is a good one. But I cannot accept the premise of those who proclaim there has been a shift in the balance of power in North London.
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Because Mauricio Pochettino’s side have to win a trophy before that happens.
For me Spurs 1984-85 side that threatened to challenge Everton for the title until the ides of March was an excellent group.
As a football-mad young kid I remember going to White Hart Lane with a Spurs-supporting schoolmate to watch the Lillywhites eviscerate a Southampton side 5-1 in March 1985 against a team that had finished runners-up the season before.
Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles, Tony Galvin, Steve Perryman, Ray Clemence, Danny Thomas to name but a few also featured a few weeks later in the derby under the lights in N17.
Paul Mariner and Tommy Caton, god rest his soul, featured for the Gunners.
Spurs had lifted the UEFA Cup a year previously on the back of two FA Cup wins in the early 1980s.
Tottenham were very much in the ascendancy and that match was going to prove it once again.
Yet Mark Falco thudded a late penalty against the bar in front of thousands of travelling Gooners packed onto the Paxton Road end terrace, Brian Talbot went up the other end and slotted home to clinch the match 2-0 after an early Charlie Nicholas goal.
Three years later Arsenal triumphed at the Lane after a trio of gruelling Littlewoods Cup semi-final replays to win through to Wembley.
Where gorgeous George Graham – and Charlie/Charlie of course – outfoxed the mighty Liverpool, Ian Rush and all to lift silverware for the first time in eight long years.
That match on March 4, 1987 marked the moment Arsenal became the No1 team in North London remaining so until this very day.
Of course there have been superb players for Spurs – and performances in the time since then.
No Arsenal fan who was ever at Wembley for the 1991 FA Cup semi-final will ever forget Paul Gascoigne’s performance that afternoon, as Terry Venables pumped up side beat a shellshocked Arsenal team 3-1 to reach the showpiece final.
Yet it was Arsenal that won the league title a month later (with only one defeat all year), while poor Gazza suffered an injury that ruined his career, sparking his sad and unfortunate spiral into addiction.
As for the rest of the 90s, Spurs fans would hang the flags out if they achieved so much as a draw against Graham’s, Bruce Rioch’s, and Arsene Wenger’s sides.
Cue the doubles of 1997-98 and 2001-02 and of course the immortal Invincibles season. I was at White Hart Lane that afternoon in April 2004.
I still recall home fans leaping around in ecstasy after Robbie Keane’s late strike, screaming: ‘We’ve done it/We’ve done it’ after pulling back a two goal deficit to snatch a 2-2 draw.
I wrote about it extensively in my first Arsenal book.
Mauricio Taricco, bless him, even pulled his hamstring celebrating their late equaliser. An act which prompted Thierry Henry to ignore police advice and take his side to celebrate winning the title in front of delirious Gooners packed in the away end.
It may have been hairy outside the Lane afterwards - but every single person of the red and white persuasion who was there would say it was worth it.
The Lillywhites last picked up a trophy, the League Cup in 2007-08, 11 long years ago.
If you don’t believe me there’s even a website solely dedicated to recording every second that goes by.
Just as there are Twitter feeds asking the plaintive question: ‘Is Spurs new stadium ready?’ To which the mocking answer on a daily basis is simply ‘No’. But I digress.
My point is that whenever Spurs have threatened to overturn the ‘balance of power’ in North London Arsenal have turned up and won a trophy of their own.
Or simply beaten their bitter rivals from the other end of the Seven Sisters Road resoundingly.
Who remembers the pair of 5-2s in 2012? Or the 2-0 victory last term when Wenger’s side rose to the occasion and quietened down the ‘balance of power merchants’?
Likewise. the tremendous 4-2 triumph this term in early December - which once again put a few back in their box.
Talking of Wenger, whatever you thought of him towards the end of his tenure while he was receiving flak for failing to land serious silverware – the fact was he still won three FA Cups between 2014 and 2017 - while Mauricio Pochettino was being hailed for ‘putting the pressure on’.
Yes, of course the former Southampton man deserves plaudits for the squad he has assembled – any fool can see that.
But he’s been at one of the biggest clubs in the land for five years now and has yet to win anything.
He’s recently hinted it may take another ten years for the club to win the league – to go with the 58 and counting we’re up to already.
And while Harry Kane et al may well beat Arsenal on Saturday at Wembley - while their new home still remains unfinished – you cannot claim Spurs are the No1 team in North London, despite their impressive rise – until they win a trophy.
So no more praise for ‘putting the pressure on.’
No more hailing the assembling of a very good squad, as talented as they are.
Nor for reaching the latter stages of the Champions League, as laudable as that is.
Or for being one place above an Arsenal side in clear transition.
Or for (eventually) having a - no-doubt hugely impressive - new stadium that will be approximately 12 seats bigger than the Emirates - albeit at three times the cost.
Or praised for being a prudently run club as much as that fact is desirable at any time let alone in these financially straightened times – because I’m not sure I heard the same level of praise when Arsenal moved from Highbury to the Emirates on a shoestring.
The only way the balance of power in North London can said to have truly shifted is if and when this highly talented Spurs side finally win that first trophy and Arsenal remain empty handed.
Until that happens North London will remain red – whatever happens on Saturday at the national stadium.
A shift in the balance of power in North London football? Do me a favour...