Minding the Gap

On the 26th of February, the Gunners found themselves in dark and unfamiliar territory. After two spells of inconsistency coming early on in the season and again at the turn of the year, and with a resilient and heavily strengthened Tottenham Hotspur side doing well just down the road, Arsenal were trailing their North London rivals by 10 points going in to the North London derby at the Emirates Stadium. And much to the Arsenal faithful’s dismay, the deficit once stretched as far as 13 points only a couple of weeks prior.

Van Persie's screamer from the last North London derby

Spurs fans however wasted no time in rubbing salt in to the wounds of their rivals who have dominated the supremacy in North London, finishing in a higher league position that Tottenham for the past successive 16 league seasons.  Harry Redknapp, who took charge of Spurs in October 2008 when they were 19th in the table after a poor spell of management from Juande Ramos, managed to galvanise the squad and club as a whole and turn them into genuine Champions League qualifying contenders.

The scenario before the NLD was a precarious one for the Gunners with their local pride and chance of finishing 3rd hanging in the balance. Lose, and Chelsea were breathing down their necks from 5th place, and who in the seasons gone by before had been ruthless, even finishing as champions in 2010. Win, and the deficit between them and their bitter rivals would be whittled down seven points which Tottenham facing a run of tricky fixtures in the forthcoming weeks.

Such was the confidence of the Tottenham fans going in to the pivotal fixture, three men decided to get these rather witty t-shirts printed with ‘Mind The Gap’ , the slogan used by Spurs fans throughout the season to mock Arsenal supporters over the point difference between the two printed across the front; with a fully refundable receipt one might hope.

The game on the day ended with a 5-2 scoreline in Arsenal’s favour, even with Spurs taking a 2 goal lead early on in the game. The gap had been reduced to seven, and both sets of supporters were both now firmly confident of finishing 3rd and obtaining automatic qualification to next seasons Champions League group stage and more importantly to supporters one could argue, bragging rights and supremacy in North London.

Meanwhile elsewhere, Fabio Capello withdrew from his position as England boss amid controversy of the FA’s handling over the captaincy of the national team. Capello had made it clear that he intended to resign after Euro 2012 and future candidates were already being lined up with Redknapp being the outstanding favourite. Capello’s earlier than expected departure from his position prematurely placed the spotlight on Redknapp’s head and such was the probing from the press on interrogating him on the subject, Tottenham officials had banned any questions on the issue from all press conferences in which he was conducting. However, when the press did manage to sneak a question in about the matter, Redknapp always professed his commitment and concentration totally to Tottenham.

Top of Premier League table, January 31st.

Spurs would continue their push for 3rd placed firstly with a home tie against a Manchester United side who had just swung into their annual title charge gear, which ultimately ended in a 3-1 loss. Games against Everton (a), Bolton (h), Stoke (h) and, Chelsea (h), which ended 1-0, 1-1, 1-1, and 0-0 respectively which meant that since the North London derby loss against Arsenal, Spurs have only managed to take three points from a possible 18, in 6 league games.

Meanwhile, following a slaughtering at the hands of A.C. Milan in the Champions League, a resurgent Arsenal slipped in to overdrive spurred on by their derby win. With their backs to the wall at Anfield, Robin van Persie hammered home an injury time winner to take all three points, and again the scenario was very similar as this time Thomas Vermaelen struck home from close range deep in to stoppage time for a home win against Newcastle. Following the two dramatic last-gasp wins, Arsenal went on to take the scalp of Everton, who had been in scintillating home form since the new year, and then most recently a comfortable 3-0 home win against Aston Villa, making Arsenal’s overall league form seven straight wins in a row.

Top of Premier League table, March 25th.

With eight games left to play and 24 points up for grabs, the pressure is well and truly on. Arsenal have what would be deemed as the more difficult fixtures including home ties versus Man City and Chelsea, but form is well and truly on their side as they enter the final furlong at full throttle. Tottenham on the other hand are without a league win since hammering Newcastle 5-0 at home back in late February, and also Harry Redknapp faces a great challenge to regain form and morale and not only to play catch up with Arsenal, but also to keep safe ground between themselves and Chelsea who have been rejuvenated under new leadership of Roberto Di Mateo as they look to clinch 4th spot ahead of Spurs and secure the last lucrative Champions League spot available.

Follow me on Twitter @Hendo_Gooner


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