Predicting the date upon which St Totteringham’s Day would all become something of an annual pursuit for Arsenal fans. Usually falling in March, April or May, this was the name given to the day on which Tottenham Hotspur’s inability to catch the Gunners in the Premier League table was confirmed. It was a yearly event with Arsenal finishing above their North London rivals for 22 seasons straight.
Indeed, the power balance between Arsenal and Spurs was, for years weighted very heavily on one side. Arsene Wenger built a dynasty on the red side of North London while the white side looked on enviously. Even in the post ‘Invincibles’ era for the Gunners, when trophies became a little harder to come by, Spurs were second best almost to the point of self-parody.
Of course, a lot has happened since then. The appointment of Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs coupled with the decline and eventual demise of Wenger at Arsenal has seen the pendulum swing. Now, it’s Tottenham who appear to hold the power in the North London football stakes with the Gunners aiming to catch them, finishing outside the top four for three straight seasons.
St Totteringham’s Day now has a new meaning – the day on which Arsenal’s inability to catch Spurs is marked.
This summer has only served to underline the dramatic shift that has taken place in recent years. Before this month, Spurs had gone 18 months without signing a single player, but their capture of Tanguy Ndombele for a club record fee of around £60 million (including add-ons) has set a new precedent. On top of this, Spurs are also expected to sign one, two or all three of Giovani Lo Celso, Dani Ceballos and Ryan Sessegnon. Four transfers of that stature, including the already concluded Ndombele deal, would see Tottenham rank among the Premier League’s top spenders this summer.
Years ago, it’s likely that Ndombele would have been an Arsenal player instead. The Gunners made a habit of raiding Ligue 1 for its best homegrown talent, with Highbury and subsequently the Emirates Stadium becoming something of a French outpost. Even in the final throes of Wenger’s tenure, Ndombele might have been an Arsenal player. Wenger was, after all, bought Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette for a combined £100 million in his final season.
Arsenal have yet to spend a single penny in this summer transfer window, though. Their budget, it has been reported, stands at a measly £45 million, leaving them scraping around the bargain bucket for players ahead of the new season.
For more than one reason, it’s Spurs now attracting the brightest and best of European soccer to North London, not Arsenal as was the case for the best part of two decades.
It’s entirely feasible that Pochettino could have left Spurs last season. The Argentine more than once confessed his frustration at the restrictions placed on him by the club and had Ole Gunnar Solskjaer not hit the ground running at Manchester United, eventually earning himself the job permanently, it’s possible Pochettino would have been open to an approach from the Old Trafford outfit.
With these restrictions now lifted following the conclusion of the club’s stadium construction project and money finally being spent on big-name targets, it feels like Pochettino and Spurs are entering a new phase in their history together. Now, Pochettino will have the freedom to build the team he’s always wanted to.
Comparisons have long been drawn between Pochettino and Wenger. There is something in that. The Argentine has transformed Spurs in much the same way Wenger did Arsenal in the late 1990s. In time, though, Wenger was shackled, limited in what he could achieve. Pochettino has just had his shackles removed and this summer proves further that Arsenal and Spurs have swapped places.