Talking Sport With Neil Trainis
PUBLISHED: 14:03 24 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:09 02 July 2010
2008 Getty Images
THE blanket of invincibility that saw Arsenal emerge undefeated in 21 north London derbies before Tuesday night s sound beating at the hands of Tottenham is withering away. The League Cup may well be treated with contempt by those with grander ambitions b
THE blanket of invincibility that saw Arsenal emerge undefeated in 21 north London derbies before Tuesday night's sound beating at the hands of Tottenham is withering away.
The League Cup may well be treated with contempt by those with grander ambitions but the belittling of a tournament many Premier League clubs regard as their third, even fourth, priority should not take away from the significance of events at White Hart Lane.
It may mark a watershed. Aside from a nine-goal thriller at the Lane three seasons ago, what was at one time one of the most engrossing derby clashes in world football has for too long been smothered by anti-climax but one can only hope the fixture has finally been jolted back into life.
If Spurs followers can celebrate their team's crushing win over their bitter rivals as the turning point in their rivalry after an agonising wait for a victory that had lasted more than eight years, then football as a whole can rejoice in the reawakening of one of its traditional showdowns.
All sports thrive on rivalries. Football, like many of its counterparts, is driven by revenue but the supporters, those who pay their money through the turnstiles, are the lifeblood of the game.
Years of underachievement, highlighted by one major trophy in the last decade, has caused disgruntlement in Tottenham ranks but those who used to attend games and subsequently lost interest may have been given a second wind.
This season the club has an average home crowd of 35,878, the 10th highest in the Premier League, and for a stadium that holds 36,240, the figures suggest that interest in the Lilywhites has not waned.
Yet Arsenal, boosted by a £100m sponsorship deal with Emirates Airlines, a state-of-the-art stadium and a clutch of exciting young footballers playing free-flowing football, are second only to Manchester United with an average crowd at Ashburton Grove over 60,000.
Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman, and his board of directors have undoubtedly envisaged a scenario where their football club, having moved into a bigger stadium, regularly pull in attendances on a par with their near neighbours.
Joe Lewis, the British-born billionaire controller of ENIC, the company that owns Tottenham, has hardly made a peep about where he sees the club in five years' time yet, all the way from his base in the Bahamas, he too may have cast envious glances at figures which showed an increase in turnover to £200.8m from Arsenal's first year at the Emirates.
Entertainment and success go hand-in-hand in enticing the masses. If Arsenal fans counter their side's thumping defeat with retorts about the lack of first team regulars in the starting XI at White Hart Lane, Spurs fans can at least glorify, not just in the result, but in the way it was achieved.
In Juande Ramos they have a coach as astute as Arsene Wenger and with the courage of his convictions to play intelligent, attractive, attacking football.
At an unfashionable Seville, whom he led to back-to-back Uefa Cups, a Copa del Rey and third place in La Liga, the Spaniard was renowned for engraining into his players expressive but pragmatic football.
The tactician has not yet transformed Tottenham into a Premier League force but he has got them playing with a confidence absent during the latter part of Martin Jol's tenure.
With Arsenal dead and buried and Tottenham's place in the League Cup final assured, Pascal Chimbonda, the right-back whose discontent at the club's signing of Chris Gunter and interest in Rangers' Alan Hutton has been reported in recent weeks, thundered into a tackle and chased after the ball. Ramos has restored collective hunger.
Notions of them wrestling back some of the spotlight from Arsenal will be scoffed at by Gunners fans brought up on a diet of success, success and more success yet Tuesday night was not unique.
In the two encounters before that Tottenham managed to suppress their opponents' creativity and held their own long enough to play some delightful football and threaten to register the victory they craved.
Had Robbie Keane not choked on his attempt to give Spurs a 2-1 lead at the Emirates Stadium from the penalty spot in a game Arsenal finally won, the long wait for a first away league win since 1992/93 could have ended.
In the first leg of the League Cup semi-final at the same venue, Wenger opted to omit the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor and saw his team comprehensively outplayed and fortunate to escape with a 1-1 draw.
In those three fixtures, Spurs have played with a slickness usually associated with Arsenal and an inferiority complex, which has grown after years of failure against their deadly rivals, is gradually melting away.
Wenger will argue that his priority is to keep his best players fresh for the bigger prizes but his supporters, try as they might, won't be able to quickly shrug aside a crushing defeat to Spurs.
Talk of Manchester City, Everton and Aston Villa being equipped to gatecrash the 'big four' should be quelled. It is Spurs, under their shrewd Spanish coach, who are clambering out of the shadow of the old enemy and making noticeable strides.