Tottenham fancy themselves as north London’s finest and buy into their media adulation, but finishing above Arsenal once is no power shift.
The two face off in Saturday’s north London derby, with some observers debating if Spurs are now the bigger club.
There is no doubt that Spurs are the better team right now. They are organised, defensively sound, spring fast on the attack and are highly efficient in front of goal. Arsenal are not currently at that level.
But there is no foundation for doubting that Arsenal are the bigger club. That notion only exists for the media and for Tottenham fans getting ahead of themselves.
Tottenham have felt inferior to Arsenal for decades and rightly so. There can be no arguments about the bigger club when it comes to basics, like history, success and respect.
Arsenal finished above Spurs for 21 years in a row before Spurs finally overturned that last season. A one-off is not a power shift. Spurs have 20 more seasons to go on that score.
Arsenal’s 13 league titles to Tottenham’s 2 has exponentially increased Spurs’ inferiority complex over the decades.
Since Spurs last won the league title in 1961 Arsenal have won it 6 times, three times more in itself than Spurs have ever won it.
This includes, excruciatingly for Spurs, Arsenal winning the league twice at White Hart Lane. And, infamously, Tottenham’s former captain Sol Campbell won as many league titles with Arsenal in three seasons as Spurs have ever won.
Spurs are in the Champions League this season but Arsenal aren’t? Arsenal were in it 20-odd campaigns in a row. Spurs have qualified twice.
Spurs haven’t won anything since the 2008 League Cup. Nobody mentions that they have won nothing for 9 years. When Arsenal went through a trophy draught, everyone knew about it.
Arsenal have won three of the last four FA Cups. Since Spurs last won the FA Cup in 1991 Arsenal have won it 8 times, as many as Spurs have ever won.
Nobody outside Tottenham cares if they win anything. Arsenal not winning something became a national debate. Arsenal not challenging for the title becomes a national debate. That is what happens when you are genuinely a big club. Tottenham challenging is a surprise.
In fact, for the media to rate Spurs finishing above Arsenal once as deeply significant undermines Tottenham’s achievement and only validates their historic inferiority.
The mildest moments of parity or superiority are prematurely heralded as if a deep shift has taken place. There is no guarantee that anything profound has happened.
Only Tottenham fans and the media discuss a power shift with Arsenal. Nobody declared a Merseyside power shift when Everton finished above Liverpool, once, in 2005.
Arsenal have finished above Manchester United for the last four seasons. Nobody is calling that a power shift. Largely because nobody cares and it doesn’t matter.
For all of Spurs’ supposed superiority, Saturday’s game will start 0-0 and everything will have to be earned.
There is consternation among Arsenal fans that Mike Dean will referee the game, as they believe he is a Spurs fan and has favoured them in the past.
Dean will need to be sure that Dele Alli has genuinely been fouled on the carefully-crafted occasions that he pirouettes plaintively to the ground, due to the mere presence of an opponent.
Spurs are on the brink of winning something? A lot of teams think that of themselves and come and go while winning nothing. It doesn’t make you big. Prolonged silverware makes you big.
You can’t put ribbons on a brink. You can’t parade a brink on an open-top bus. Tottenham’s biggest success this season will be holding onto their manager, top striker and other quality players when Europe’s finest come hawking next summer.