In the world of football, perhaps nothing gets the emotions stirring and imaginations going like a derby. A match against your biggest town or city rivals stands apart from the other fixtures of the season. Those are just games, but the derby is something more. It’s like a cup final – a must-win match against a rival who is more than just a little disliked. Yes, the derby is a real attraction on the footballing calendar, so much so that broadcasters and media outlets almost seem to be trying to make anything into a derby these days. We now hear of regional or provincial derbies but make no mistake, the rivalry and matches between two clubs sharing one town or city remains the essence of a true derby experience.
In football, there are many famous derbies. Italy has the Milan derby. In Spain there is the Madrid derby between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid. In England, there is the Merseyside Derby between Liverpool and Everton and the Manchester Derby between United and City. Perhaps one of the fiercest and most hotly contested of the English derbies is the North London Derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.
The two teams first played each other in 1887 but it wasn’t the North London Derby until 1913 when Arsenal moved to Highbury, just four miles from Tottenham’s stadium, White Hart Lane. Since then the rivalry has intensified even though Arsenal have the superior record. In addition to the expected banter and taunting between fans, players who have had the misfortune of being transferred between the clubs are often treated as traitors and receive a torrent of abuse during matches. Further demonstrating the rivalry and importance of this derby, Arsenal supporters celebrate ‘St. Totteringham’s Day’ – the day Tottenham cannot mathematical pass them in the league. Tottenham’s supporters, in turn, celebrate “St. Hotspur Day’ in recognition of the 3-1 FA Cup victory over Arsenal in 1991. Even if you don’t support either side, we’re pretty sure you’ve seen the two opposing fans refer to each other as ‘Ar5ena1’ – in reference to a 5-1 drubbing at White Hart Lane – or the ‘spuds’ – a well-used nickname applied by the Gooner faithful.
The following looks at 15 of the more memorable moments and matches of the North London Derby of the past 15 years. Spectacular goals, amazing scorelines and season-defining moments can all be found here.
15. January 2014 – Walcott Knows the Score
All the drama and energy of the North London Derby isn’t just limited to the league. No, whenever and wherever Arsenal and Tottenham face off you can be sure it’s treated as a cup final. When the two neighbors were drawn against each other in the third round of the FA Cup, history backed the Gunners who had last been defeated in the third round in 1996. The game played out as the odds makers suspected and Arsenal secured a solid 2-0 victory on the way to their FA Cup winning season. What made the headlines, however, was the ‘altercation’ between Spurs supporters and Theo Walcott. As the pacey winger was being stretchered off with an injury, fans pelted him with coins. Cameras caught Walcott smiling sarcastically at the Tottenham fans while flashing a 2-0 sign with his hands. The reactions by the fans and media to the event served as a reminder that the North London Derby remains as fierce as ever.
14. February 2012 – Mind the Gap
The 2011-12 season had started out as a nightmare for Arsenal and much better for Tottenham. Naturally, Spurs fans revelled in Arsenal’s misery and the slogan “Mind the Gap” became a favorite term to direct at their struggling rivals. Heading into the February 2012 North London Derby, Arsenal were outside the Top 4 and a loss to Spurs would make it extremely difficult to secure Champions League football for the next season. A loss in Champions League to AC Milan and a cup exit at the hands of Sunderland made things worse. Spurs took a 2-0 lead and things looked very bad for Arsenal. However, those same fans who jeered and snickered while wearing their “Mind the Gap” shirts were soon left dazed and embarrassed as the Gunners came back to win 5-2 and kick start their drive back into the top 4 at Tottenham’s expense.
13. November 2012 – Lightning Strikes Twice
Not forgetting the fireworks of the February 2012 North London Derby, fans of both teams expected big things when their clubs met again at the Emirates. In a near case of déjà vu, the corresponding fixture witnessed the exact same scoreline. Early on, the match was all about Emmanuel Adebayor. The lanky Togolese striker was (and remains today) a divisive figure for fans of both clubs. His 10th minute goal put Spurs up 1-0. The moment of brilliance was cancelled out by a moment of stupidity when the former Arsenal man went in with a very high challenge on Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla. The red card changed the game’s complexion and Arsenal went for the jugular. By the end, Arsenal had scored 5 and reasserted their dominance in North London.
12. April 2006 – The Last NLD at Highbury
Heading into the final series of matches in the 2005-06 season, the battle for the final Champions League position was anything but resolved. Arsenal were doing well in the European competition (a campaign which saw them go all the way to the final) but were struggling to tie down a Top 4 spot. Their primary rivals for the coveted Champions League spot? You guessed it, Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs travelled to Highbury for the final ever North London Derby to be played at the historic stadium. A win for Spurs and they’d have control of their destiny. They almost did it. Leading 1-0, only a moment of brilliance from Thierry Henry denied them of all three points. It turned out to be crucial as on the final day of the campaign, Spurs, needing a win, got food poisoning from some dodgy lasagna and missed out on Champions League.
11. April 2011 – Same Old Arsenal
Even when Arsenal have a lead, their fans are never relaxed. That’s because they blow multi-goal leads on a seemingly constant basis. Having played 32 games, Arsenal sat just six points back of league leaders Manchester United. A win and they’d be within touching distance of the title. After 40 minutes at White Hart Lane in April 2011, things looked good with the visitors leading 3-1. Even after Tom Huddlestone scored before half, Arsenal still had a one goal lead to ‘protect.’ To add further promise for the Arsenal faithful, Gareth Bale, Tottenham’s Welsh Wizard, was subbed off after getting obliterated by Arsenal’s Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny while chasing down a ball. Nonetheless, it was not to be and a 70th minute Spurs penalty squared things up and split the points.
10. September 2007 – “Dynamite, Absolute Dynamite”
Arsenal won this game and the score was 3-1. That really isn’t the talking point here. What was of note in this game were three fantastic strikes on net which had the commentators buzzing in the first North London Derby of the post-Thierry Henry era. First, in the 15th minute, Gareth Bale curled in a beautiful free-kick to give the home team the lead. After levelling the game in the 65th minute, Arsenal pushed forward with Cesc Fabregas scoring an absolute stunner from 30 yards out. Not to be outdone, Emmanuel Adebayor extended Arsenal’s lead late in the game after flicking a pass into the air and volleying past Paul Robinson from just outside the box – a very Henry-esque goal as many fans pointed out.
9. January 2008 – First Win Since ‘99
And what a win it was. Tottenham supporters had long dreaded the North London Derby as it usually meant dropped points in one way or another. Heading into the second leg of the Carling Cup final, the tie was poised at 1-1. In a pre-match interview with Gus Poyet, reporters asked what he had instructed his team to do during the match – his response: “win.” They must have listened. The Spurs put in a complete performance scoring in the 3rd minute and not stopping until the final whistle. The icing on the cake for Tottenham supporters was the meltdown which occurred between some of the Arsenal players who began fighting with each other as the pressure of the night took its toll. Spurs won the match 5-1 and went on to win the League cup against Chelsea.
8. September 2010 – Arsenal’s League Cup Revenge
Arsenal fans were more than a little anxious when they faced off against their North London neighbors in the League Cup in September of 2010 – after all, the sting of the 5-1 beating just a couple seasons previous had barely worn off. To the Gooner faithful, the game didn’t play out like the 5-1 drubbing and required extra time with the score locked 1-1. Two Samir Nasri penalties and an Andrey Arshavin goal all but sealed a win. It was a victory that had Arsenal supporters taunting their rival fans with chants of “Shall we make a DVD” and “Is there a firedrill” – all while White Hart Lane emptied out.
7. April 2010 – Hello Danny Rose!
If you’ve watched more than a few Arsenal matches you know that a few laws hold true. First, former players always score against them. Second, they are the only side who aren’t a sure winner when holding a three goal lead. Finally, anyone making their debut or looking to open their scoring account will likely accomplish it against Arsenal. This was the case in April 2010 when Arsenal travelled to White Hart Lane. The Gunners were chasing top spot and a win at the Lane would have put them just three points back of leaders Chelsea with four games remaining. In the Spurs side that night was debutant defender Danny Rose. Ten minutes in, off a Spurs corner, Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia punched the ball out of the box. In the blink of an eye Rose charged in and volleyed an astonishing 30 yard shot into the net. Spurs went on to win the game 2-1, thanks to a once in a lifetime goal.
6. November 2004 – White Hart Lane Shootout
In November 2004, Spurs hosted Arsenal at White Hart Lane under the leadership of new manager Martin Jol. In the Dutchman’s first game in charge of Tottenham, any questions Jol had about the drama of the North London Derby must surely have been laid to rest come the final whistle. In spectacular fashion, each side seemingly gave up on defense and went at each other like a couple of punch-drunk boxers. Spurs’ early lead was cancelled out by a Thierry Henry goal. Arsenal then took a two goal lead, after which the teams proceeded to trade goals until the final whistle. The final score was 5-4 for Arsenal in a match which left everyone trying to catch their breath.
5. October 2009 – The 11 Second Derby
Any game can be turned on its head or put to bed in the blink of an eye. When Tottenham travelled to the Emirates in October 2009, many prepared themselves for a real battle as both sides were even on points and trying to lay claim to a Top Four position. For most of the first half, not a lot happened as the two sides felt each other out. Then, in the 42nd minute, Robin Van Persie directed a cross into the Spurs’ net to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. While television broadcasters replayed the goal from every possible angle viewers could hear something was happening on the pitch. Television cameras switched back to the pitch just in time to see Cesc Fabregas split the Spurs team and score the second goal just seconds after the restart. In a little over one minute, Arsenal had stunned the visitors and went on to win 3-0.
4. October 2008 – A Spectacular Draw
It’s very rare to call a draw ‘spectacular’ but in the case of the October 2008 North London derby, it was. Just 13 minutes in, David Bentley (does anyone remember him?) scored with an astonishing 40 yard volley. Arsenal struck back quickly and the teams headed into half time tied. The second half witnessed a six-goal assault that had Arsenal winning 4-2 until the 89th minute. In what has now become classic Arsenal fashion, the Gunners watched as their lead vanished thanks to a clever Jermain Jenas curling shot and a rebound off the post which was put home by Aaron Lennon.
3. November 2010 – A Big Away Win
Heading into the November 2010 derby at the Emirates, the odds were unsurprisingly not good for anything but an Arsenal win or, at the minimum, a draw. With a win, Arsenal were set to jump into first place in the league – with Spurs stuck mid-table. After the first 45 minutes everything seemed to be going to script as the Gunners held a 2-0 lead. Then the second half happened. Gareth Bale gave the visitors hope with a goal just five minutes into the half – it sparked the rest of the team. A penalty levelled the game and, as 90 minutes closed in, Younes Kaboul sent Spurs ahead with a fine header. In front of a stunned Emirates, Tottenham held on to record their first away win against Arsenal in 17 years.
2. November 2002 – Henry’s Slide
There are more than a few famous images that have come out of the North London Derby. Perhaps one of the most iconic is that of Thierry Henry sliding on his knees in front of the travelling Spurs fans at Highbury in November 2002. The game itself was one-sided with Arsenal easily beating their neighbors 3-0. What Henry produced was a moment of individual brilliance as he collected the ball deep in Arsenal’s half, walked through the entire Spurs team and slotted home. The Gunners’ talisman then proceeded to run the length of the pitch, sliding in front of the away fans. Since then, that type of celebration has been punished by the FA but the moment is forever captured in a bronze statue of the Arsenal striker found outside the Emirates stadium.
1. April 2004 – The Biggest Draw
It’s not often that draws come in at #1 on any list about football. However, after going through the previous derby moments you’ll understand that a draw is anything but boring when these two teams meet. This was the case in April 2004 when Arsenal travelled to White Hart Lane needing just a point to secure the Premier League title. Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires gave the Gunners a 2-0 lead. Heading towards injury time with the score at 2-1, Robbie Keane scored a penalty. The Spurs faithful erupted in celebration and the players followed Keane to the corner flag as his did his trademark cartwheel and roll. It was, however, Arsenal who got the last laugh with the final whistle. Needing only a point, Thierry Henry and co. headed out onto the pitch to celebrate and rub in the fact they had just won the league at the home ground of their derby rivals.
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