They say form counts for nothing in derbies and rarely has that felt truer than in the north London edition.
The fixture has established a curious habit of confounding predictions and Sunday’s episode felt like the latest example.
If there was a clear narrative ahead of Arsenal’s first visit to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it was of another gradual power-shift back towards the red half of north London.
The Gunners seemed to be looking to the future with a progressive young manager and squad, while Spurs appeared stuck in the past under Jose Mourinho after stupefying displays against Everton and Bournemouth.
But the old master narrowly got the better of young pretender Mikel Arteta, as Spurs earned a hard-fought 2-1 win which could go a long way towards redeeming their difficult season. The victory moved Mourinho’s side above Arsenal into eighth, three points behind sixth-placed Wolves but still outside the Europa League places after Manchester City’s two-year European ban was overturned.
The Europa League divides opinion among fans at either ends of the Seven Sisters Road but both clubs are desperate to reach Uefa’s secondary club competition next season.
Hamstrung by huge stadiums debts in one of the most expensive cities in the world and currently unable to capitalise on the revenue they generate, the rivals are in similar positions.
Even before the pandemic, missing out on Champions League football would have made it considerably harder for both clubs to continue competing with their top-six rivals and no European football altogether would be another hammer-blow financially.
The Europa League is far less lucrative than the European Cup but last season Arsenal earned £40million for reaching the final.
The club recorded a loss last year and were forced to restructure their debt last week in the wake of the pandemic. Arsenal’s director Josh Kroenke admitted last summer the club has a “Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget” and, even having agreed wage cuts with their squad, the prospect of missing out on Europe could force Arsenal into some difficult decisions this summer.
“This club has to play in Europe and this club has to play in the Champions League,” Arteta said recently. “If we don’t have the choice to do that then obviously it is better to play in Europe than not to play. That is my opinion.”
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has already warned that Mourinho’s transfer budget would be hit by failure to reach the Champions League and that was before the pandemic blew a £200million hole in the club’s finances.
Spurs have steadied the ship with a £175m Bank of England loan but have promised it will not be spent on transfers.