Has The Power Shifted in North London?

No, is the short answer to ‘has the power shifted in North London’ but the theory that this is ‘only one season’ is a quite common Arsenal rhetoric this week. It’s not one season, the ‘shift’ has commenced a while ago and really came to light last season when a title challenge was sustained by one side and not the other. It’s not uncommon for Arsenal to accept trouble when it’s too late (Monsieur Wenger) almost a natural denial mechanism.

So the long answer to ‘has the power shifted’ follows now. No one can say what Power shift means for sure but the answer to me should still be, no, not yet.

Power in modern football consists of various new things, and whilst I don’t think you’ll see a dominant era between the two clubs either way again like the one that has just ended on Sunday in terms of league position, There will unlikely ever be an opportunity for one to capitalise on the financial incentives of success to the extent that they can pull that far clear of the other that Arsenal benefitted from in the late 90s, the lie of the land is certainly changing

On the pitch, there is no gap anymore, I don’t think there has been for 3-4 seasons but if finishing above the rival at the end of the season was what was needed then that box has now been ticked. Indeed since redknapp joined Tottenham in 2008, Spurs have a marginally better head to head record against their neighbours in the league. That’s over a 9 season period. So not a flash in the pan.

A good period as a comparator as Spurs once went 9 years without even beating Arsenal once in the league. The dominance has ended quite clearly and arguably shifted slightly in Spurs’ favour when you consider that Arsenal haven’t beaten Spurs in the league for 3 seasons, and also a couple of the performances Spurs have put in away from home in drawing have been pretty dominant (one in particular), and the 2 home victories have again been more dominant displays than the eventual score lines reflected.

So are Spurs now ‘North London’s premier club’?

Well no, not yet. There are other factors that need to considered and other gaps to be closed.

A big impressive landmark stadium is a factor and an area that Arsenal could point to as a mark of their supremacy as a football club, in a similar way a mansion indicates wealth more than a terraced house, but Spurs are addressing that too and will have the advantage of over a decade of further innovations when the doors open in 2018, equal in size to their rivals too, possibly even deliberately 1000 seats extra capacity. Petty. But I’m sure a statement of intent.

Incoming revenue is another modern factor of power, and between stadium naming rights and shirt sponsorship, Arsenal benefit from £30m a year of income, when compared to AIA contributions to Tottenham of just £14m. Again though, that criteria is being addressed. Nike have signed a kit deal with Spurs for £25m-a-year. The benefit of he shirt being manufactured by the largest sports brand in the world will have huge secondary benefits. Whether it stretches as far to help with signing bigger players, I don’t know, but a player sponsored by Nike in a big stadium wearing a Nike kit is a lot more likely in 2 years time than it is now.

The naming rights to the new stadium will supplement the shirt deal and I haven’t seen the financial structure of the relationship with the NFL but I can only imagine it’s a handsome deal. Lucrative enough to warrant investing in the design and installation of a sliding pitch to be used just twice a season.

Champions League football has always been a measure of a clubs power, and Arsenal’s proud record of qualifying for 20 consecutive seasons will firmly have them in the driving seat and considered more of major club thanks to this exposure. Spurs have now secured successive campaigns for the first time and whilst they will need to at least progress beyond the group stages to start to warrant being considered part of the club, the gap to bridge to their rivals in terms of tournament progression is not a huge one to bridge.

However whilst Arsenal have continually featured for two decades its fair to say that they will rightly be perceived North London’s premier club across the continent, and of course they still haven’t missed out on qualifying this year just yet. That needs to happen once or twice for a shift in this category to be considered, or of course Spurs progress further than expected. I’d say currently though the situation is that the teams are more likely to meet in the middle than Spurs overtake, and the co-efficient supremacy Arsenal hold over their neighbours I’d expect to remain intact for the foreseeable future.

Champions League qualification has been wrongly in my view considered a trophy in recent years and the two North London clubs perhaps the biggest culprits of supporting this ideology, but in the quest for achieving this Arsenal have managed to pick up a couple of FA Cup wins and Spurs haven’t added a trophy to their cabinet since Pochettino took the reins or indeed since February 2008, the run is now as long as Arsene Wenger’s infamous trophy drought. The team need a trophy to consolidate their era of excellence, both in terms of style, financial sustainability and of course points on the pitch, over the last two seasons Spurs have amassed at least FIFTEEN POINTS more than any other side.

No teams deserve trophies, but their play, style and endeavour over the last two years would certainly make them worthy of one. Not a necessity in terms of a power shift as the opponent could well slip backwards, and having mounted a challenge to the league leader twice in two years when the more likely club to do so were their North London neighbours is another pointer to the swing that has clearly occurred.

Because of that form and the uncertainty around Arsenal’s managerial position, bookmakers have Tottenham down as more likely to win the Premier League Title next season than the gunners, and if that doesn’t change between now and August then that would certainly be the first time the gambling industry has felt that way since I was old enough to place a bet. That’s significant. The people / companies who could lose money would prefer to take a bet on Arsenal than Tottenham. How many seasons of that would constitute a complete power shift in that field?

The last area that has been overlooked largely in the media is the pulling power of buying / keeping players. Both clubs recent record of keeping key players has been pretty poor, and with Arsenal’s most expensive assets still to sign new deals, 5 of Spurs’ six most significant players have penned new deals in the last year tying them to the club until into the next decade. More power and control over the destiny of their players, or their next destinations should they demand to move on.

Significant to note also, is the spread of talent, in past eras Arsenal have had several talented players whilst Spurs have been devastated by the loss of their one star man. That scenario has flipped and you wonder what Arsenal would do if they couldn’t adequately replace Sanchez whereas Tottenham would certainly miss one or two players but the supporting talent feels a lot more equipped to manage if one should leave, indeed the title challenge has been sustained despite spells on the sideline for almost every player at some point over the season, and there’s also the feeling that the coach could improve a lesser player to help fill a gap.

All that said, just 2 years ago Arsenal were able to lure one of the World Cups stars to the club, after just one champions league group stage elimination is that situation likely to have flipped in Tottenham’s favour? Doubtful.

MOTD covered the topic on Sunday night at whilst the studio reluctantly agreed that Spurs would be the choice destination of a prime 24 year old, I’d still like to see some evidence of that before declaring that part of the shift complete. A young English player absolutely no doubt, maybe even an established player leaving a Premier league club, a top player from another European Club will still remain to be seen.

Spurs may say their philosophy doesn’t lead them down that path, but in reality it’s more of a case that club haven’t been able to attract the top players ahead of other clubs, and the second rate players that the club have signed have invariably been flops. 7 out of the top 10 most expensive transfers into Tottenham Hotspur have been complete disasters or at least failed to warrant the money spent. Sissoko, Soldado, Lamela, Bent, Janssen, Bentley & Paulinho have all on that top 10 fees paid list that have delivered less than their transfer fees warranted. Interestingly though Xhaka and Mustafi indicate to me the first signs that Arsenal are slipping into that pattern of having to pay big but for the types of players who are not top level. There record transfer of Ozil Failure to win a champions league knockout tie for 7 years will now be taking its toll. Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Leicester City and, you guessed it, Tottenham have all won a knockout game more recently.

As mentioned, Spurs need to repeat that achievement in the next couple of season and maybe beat a big European name on the way. This transfer window will be a good indicator of if things have changed at Spurs, and if Arsenal do miss out on that champions league spot how will they be affected in terms of what they can bring in. Not much has come through the academy in recent years, a far cry of a decade ago where the production line at Arsenal was seemingly well oiled and functioning well. Iwobi is a demonstration that it is still producing players capable of joining a first team. Spurs had only really promoted Ledley King throughout the first decade of the century, but in the last few years a glut of players have featured in the first team and the ones not quite title chasing standard have been sold on for substantial transfer fees, good enough to play for other premier league clubs. An academy has snuck up at Tottenham and is taking effect in a hugely positive way.

So back to the question of power shift. Whatever you think, depending on what side of the fence you sit or what the term means to you as a neutral. Has your mind changed at all after all of that? Is a shift further along or less so that what you first thought? How many of the boxes need to be ticked for you to declare it complete. A few more probably for it to become undisputed.

Whatever your answer it shouldn’t stop Spurs from celebrating another fantastic season of progress, rubber stamped with the league position above Arsenal that so many demanded. And whatever your answer it doesn’t alter the fact that the shift is at the very least well underway, and although I expect Tottenham to suffer setbacks in coming seasons that may not halt it  unless Arsenal can do something to stem the indecision and uncertainty that has overcome the football club. Becoming a premier club can be as much about teams falling than teams improving, the two simultaneously will speed up the process.

For now though, shift or no shift? Does it even matter?

For this season after 21 years, North London is undoubtedly white. And it’s been more than one year in the making.

De Luca



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