Arsenal's rivalry with Tottenham intensifies

Arsenal's traditional rivalry with Tottenham is about to get even fiercer.

updated: August 02, 2007 08:13 IST
  • Total Shares


Arsenal's traditional rivalry with Tottenham is about to get even fiercer.

Having finished fifth in the Premier League the past two seasons, Tottenham has spent millions on new players in an attempt to break into the top four and secure a berth in the Champions League.

With Arsenal having sold Thierry Henry to FC Barcelona and relying on a team of youngsters, the Gunners could be fighting with their north London neighbors for fourth place.

"I want to play better football, I want to score more goals and I want to get more points on the board," said Tottenham manager Martin Jol, who has spent almost $60.8 million in the transfer market. "If we do that, we will be in a better position."

And a better position in each of the past two seasons would have put Tottenham ahead of its local rival. Spurs only lost fourth place to Arsenal on the last day of the 2005-06 season and finished just one spot behind again last time.

"I would love to break into the top four," Jol said. "With the talent we've got on board, with young players like (Aaron) Lennon, (Michael) Dawson, (Jermaine) Jenas, if they can develop into the likes of (Dennis) Bergkamp, Thierry Henry or (Steven) Gerrard, I think we have got the qualities."

That is ambitious, but Lennon, Dawson and Jenas are among seven England internationals at the club. Only Manchester United and Liverpool have spent more than Spurs since the end of last season. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who led the Blues to the Premier League title in 2005 and '06, has mentioned Tottenham as a contender for honours this season.

Dimitar Berbatov, Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe scored more than 60 goals among them last season and Jol has bolstered the attack by signing Darren Bent from Charlton for a club record $33.1 million.

Spurs struggled

Spurs struggled last season when captain Ledley King was injured, so Jol paid Auxerre about $16 million for Younes Kaboul to provide cover in central defense.

Tottenham, which opens its season at Sunderland on August 11, also beat Manchester United to the signing of Wales left back Gareth Bale from Southampton.

Still, fifth place was Spurs' best league placing since 1990 and that represents modest success by the standards of an Arsenal side that has won six league titles since Tottenham won its last in 1961.

Whether Arsenal stays ahead may depend on how it copes without Henry.

The France striker scored an Arsenal record 226 goals before joining Barcelona in June, and manager Arsene Wenger has signed unheralded Croatia striker Eduardo Da Silva from Dinamo Zagreb to replace him.

Wenger has his least experienced squad since he took charge of the club in 1996. But the sales of Henry and Fredrik Ljungberg, the club's longest serving player who moved to West Ham, could yet prove to be shrewd.

None of the high profile players Wenger has sold - including Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Sol Campbell - have been as successful elsewhere.

"Thierry is a big miss, but we don't think about him anymore," midfielder Cesc Fabregas said. "You always miss this kind of player, but now he is gone we have to look for ourselves."

Robin van Persie is one of those players Wenger is looking to step up.

The Netherlands striker added to his collection of spectacular goals in a 2-1 preseason win over Italian champion Inter Milan and will be competing with 18-year-old striker Theo Walcott and Togo forward Emmanuel Adebayor for a place up front when the Gunners' season starts at home to Fulham on August 12.

"You always have to plan for everything and that's why we bought good young players," Wenger said. "If you believe Walcott is good enough, as I do, you have to give him the chance."

And Wenger's kids have not let him down before.

Fabregas, who inherited Vieira's No 4 shirt, has played more than 100 Premier League games by age 20, while a second-string team including the likes of defender Armand Traore and midfielder Denilson beat Tottenham's first-choice lineup in last season's League Cup semifinal.

Manchester United showed in the mid 1990s it is possible to win titles with an inexperienced team. But United, Chelsea and Liverpool have built their current teams around the remnants of trophy winning sides.

Arsenal has just three players left from its 2004 title-winning lineup while, off the field, the club appears unsettled by moves by American businessman Stan Kroenke to take over the Gunners.

The board of directors is resisting his attempts to take a controlling share in the club. Vice chairman David Dein quit after having supported Kroenke's efforts.

Dein was responsible for Wenger's arrival at Arsenal and, so far, the manager has refused to commit himself to the club beyond the one year left on his current contract.