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July 2021

Tottenham and Arsenal have travelled very different roads this summer. Who will prevail?

By Tony Attwood

You don’t need me to remind you where Tottenham and Arsenal finished in the league last season, but to be fair and reasonable, I’ll print it anyway:

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Chelsea 38 30 3 5 85 33 52 93
2 Tottenham Hotspur 38 26 8 4 86 26 60 86
3 Manchester City 38 23 9 6 80 39 41 78
4 Liverpool 38 22 10 6 78 42 36 76
5 Arsenal 38 23 6 9 77 44 33 75
6 Manchester United 38 18 15 5 54 29 25 69
7 Everton 38 17 10 11 62 44 18 61

They outdid us on points (we were 11 behind) on attack (scoring nine more than we did, and thus being top scorer in the league) and with the best defence in the league too.  Pretty impressive.  They are in the Champions League this season and we aren’t.

But then we’d had a good run since 1994/5 – the previous time Tottenham finished above us.  They were 7th and we were 12th.  Wimbledon finished above us too that season.  Along with Blackbun, Forest, Leeds and QPR – all teams no longer in the top tier.

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Blackburn Rovers 42 27 8 7 80 39 41 89
2 Manchester United 42 26 10 6 77 28 49 88
3 Nottingham Forest 42 22 11 9 72 43 29 77
4 Liverpool 42 21 11 10 65 37 28 74
5 Leeds United 42 20 13 9 59 38 21 73
6 Newcastle United 42 20 12 10 67 47 20 72
7 Tottenham Hotspur 42 16 14 12 66 58 8 62
8 Queens Park Rangers 42 17 9 16 61 59 2 60
9 Wimbledon 42 15 11 16 48 65 -17 56
10 Southampton 42 12 18 12 61 63 -2 54
11 Chelsea 42 13 15 14 50 55 -5 54
12 Arsenal 42 13 12 17 52 49 3 51

And just in case you want some excuses – there aren’t any.  George Graham left the club in February, with us in pretty much the same position, so it wasn’t the management change what did it.  Our first team line up was Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Davis, Linighan, Adams, Campbell, Wright, Smith, Merson.  You may recall one or two of them.  You can’t really say we had a bad team.

Since then we’ve done quite well, winning the league three times, the FA Cup (not a trophy) seven times, the Community Shield (also not a trophy) seven times, and had so many years in the Champions League before this season I seem to have lost count.  Tottenham have not done so well, winning the League Cup in 2007/8.

But what now?  Following last season’s reversal of positions, and our removal from the Champs League, is that it?  Are we going into decline?  Are Tottenham on the up?

Tottenham and Arsenal have gone in different directions this summer as the clubs have so often in the past.  Arsenal have continued their regular slow drip attainment of new players in the transfer market, and Tottenham have not.  Tottenham have however been doing some selling: Nabil Bentaleb for £16.8m, Kyle Walker for £50m, Federico Fazio for £2.8m, Clinton N’Jie for £6.1m.

We’ve lost Wojciech Szczesny for £10m and Kaylen Hinds for £2m.  So, its another approach for Tottenham that is different from Arsenal, and indeed from most other clubs.

On this basis either Tottenham have a stunning array of players already, or some excellent youngsters coming through (I think we’d argue that about Arsenal, starting with Nelson just one of several whom we expect to see this year), or they will be in the market at the last minute.  We’ll see.

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But the other factor is Wembley.  We’ve all noted how tough Wembley was for us we when played Euro matches there for two seasons.  As Mr Wenger said last year, “It was a nightmare. In hindsight, it was the wrong decision…  The pitch was bigger, the ground was different and for the English players it was something completely unusual.”

Tottenham have gone anyway, and they have just beaten Juventus 2-0 in a pre-season friendly there.  The crowd was  estimated to be just over 20,000.

That was quite a reversal from the other results Tottenham have had at the New Wembley…

  • Beat Chelsea, 2008 League Cup final
  • Loss vs Man Utd, 2009 League Cup final
  • Loss vs Portsmouth, 2010 FA Cup semi final
  • Loss vs Chelsea, 2012 FA Cup semi final
  • Loss vs Chelsea, 2015 League Cup final
  • Loss vs Monaco, 2016 Champions League
  • Loss vs Bayer Leverkusen, 2016 Champions League
  • Beat CKSA Moscow, 2016 Champions League
  • Draw vs Gent, 2017 Europa League
  • Loss vs Chelsea, 2017, FA Cup Semi-Final
Now this is strange, because these days, Arsenal look quite at home at Wembley.
  • Beat Wigan, 2014, FA Cup Semi-final
  • Beat Manchester City, 2014, FA Cup Final
  • Beat Manchester City, 2014, Community Shield
  • Beat Reading, 2015, FA Cup Semi final
  • Beat Aston Villa, 2015, FA Cup Final
  • Beat Chelsea, 2015, Community Shield
  • Beat Manchester City, 2017, FA Cup Semi-Final
  • Beat Chelsea, 2017, FA Cup Final
  • Beat Chelsea, 2017, Community Shield
So why are Arsenal doing ok at Wembley and Tottenham, thus far, have struggled?

The factors that people often talk about are the size of the Wembley pitch; measuring 105 by 69 metres, or 7,245 square metres,  the same size as the second biggest pitch in the Premier League. Tottenham’s pitch is the second smallest, at 6,700 square metres.

Of course clubs play half their matches away, and so adjust to other teams’ pitches – and clubs don’t come second in the league as Tottenham did last season and Arsenal did the season before, without winning away games.  

But there is a psychological difference that the best teams exploit – playing to the strengths that their pitch gives and to the detriment of the visitors.    But to some degree Tottenham’s approach of pushing hard into attack up the pitch when they have the ball, is harder to play on the Wembley pitch – it is, I am told, something to do with the way the grass is laid, and the underlay beneath the grass.  As well as getting used to the space.

Arsenal however, since the move to the Ems, have a much bigger pitch than before, and also totally modern and spacious changing rooms and access areas, compared to the cramped area at Highbury.  Thus we have been able to adjust more easily.

Tottenham certainly ought to be able to adjust as they get used to the stadium, not least when they play against some of the teams from the bottom half of the table, who will have players for whom playing at Wembley is a once in a life-time experience.   But that could raise the visitor’s game – or leave them gawping like statues.

And that reminds us again of just how psychological the issue can be.  A really good win at Newcastle on opening match, followed by a thumping of Chelsea at Wembley in the first home game will set Tottenham up well.   But Chelsea have just played at Wembley and will fancy their chances.

As for Arsenal, we’ve won eight and drawn four of the last 12 games against Leicester, and we’ve long since lost anyone who ever played at Highbury.  This season, surely, unlike several recent years, the opening game should be safe.

Shouldn’t it?

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13 comments to Tottenham and Arsenal have travelled very different roads this summer. Who will prevail?

  • colario

    The records show that that spuds have a habit of loosing at Wembley that can not be denied.
    However this season it is different.
    Wembely is now their home pitch and so have had time to train on the pitch and the players familiarise themselves with it. Both its size and grass surface.
    They proved last season they have a good squad of players.

    So far they haven’t added to their squad.

    It is possible the thinking is let’s stay as we are in this ‘one off’ season and next season introduce new players to the new pitch.

    I will not be surprised if Tottenham prove as strong or close to as strong as they were last season.

    The players I think will think they have something to prove and therefore be determined to prove themselves the best.

    As happened to us the opponents will be determined to raise their game at Wembley.
    We could be in for some exciting games.

    I think our record against them at Wembley is won 1, lost 1.

    Only 20000 their for the Juventus game but it will be a ‘full house’ when we turn up.

  • Andy Mack

    I’m sure some visitor will disagree with this, but I’ll type it anyway…

    Pretty much every top team has a blip. Maybe it’s only drawing games against teams that they should beat, rather than losing games, but most teams have one every season.
    Breaking that blip is more likely to be done at home than in an away match.
    It’ll take their players some time to get used to their new home routines which affect the preparation for a match.
    If they have their blip early then they could have problems…

    There’s no doubt the Tinys have a very decent 1st eleven but they lack some depth, and whilst it’s easy to get caught up with having talented youth in the team, the reality is that they still need to be managed very carefully from both a physical and psychological perspective.
    MOST (not all!) young players suffer with serious inconsistency. I gather Ali is in the same group as Bellerin as they both made the step-up with remarkable consistency, but they are very much the minority. So managers like to blood them into winning teams and sub them on when the team is winning easily. It’s the first taste of that winning attitude every manager is looking for at senior level. So a lot of both our and their youngsters can’t be relied upon too often, which makes it difficult when injuries arrive.

    Despite the doom-mongers, the window is still open and some selling clubs will have to become more realistic in their pricing of their player, which is what I believe Tinys waiting for.
    Add to this the outside possibility that someone does put in a good offer for a player (say Ali to Barca) and although Levy will play hard ball price-wise, every player in their squad is for sale if the money is right. They may not be looking to sell but they can’t ignore a deal at the right price.
    They can’t afford to change that until they’re set up in their new stadium and they’ve broken the back of their mortgage…

    They may stay in the top 4 but I think they’ll finish 5-10 in the league.
    I suspect the club themselves would consider anything above the bottom 3 as bearable but wouldn’t be unhappy with mid-table whilst they build their new empire.
    If they do end up mid-table then my few Tiny supporting friend wouldn’t have a problem with that (they wouldn’t be happy but wouldn’t be suicidal like some of ours would be!), as they know it’s about building the foundations for them to become a ‘big’ team and they couldn’t do that at their old stadium (something far too many of our own still don’t understand Highbury/Emirate-wise).

    As for us, it’s too early to be more confident than ‘top 4’ but if things fall right for us them this could be our year… Injuries and PGMO allowing…

  • Markyb

    Someone said Dean has been appointed Ref for Friday

  • Chris

    It’s interesting that now that Arsenal have not made top 4 for the first time in 19 years, it suddendly becomes the main aim of each PL team.
    Quite clearly remember the sarcastic negative comments : 4th place is not a trophy…

  • Andy Mack

    Chris, never a truer sentence written!

  • Mike Collins


    As always I like your analytical way of explanations. However, I think Spurs management have approached the funding of their new stadium by looking at the experience of Arsenal.
    Playing at a temporary home and having to suspend large transfer fees to fund the stadium. They also went very young so as to keep a nucleus of players while finances are tight. They also were very fortunate in so much as this batch of young players turned out to be pretty good. And taking $50 million for a common or garden full back was a gift. It looks like they are trying to manage the stadium construction by looking at those who have struggled before unlike those teams with a rich ‘sugar daddy’

  • their stadium is set to cost twice that of the emirates. it will suck the life out of the spuds

  • Andrew Crawshaw


    Sadly you are right – from the official premier league we site

    7.45pm Arsenal v Leicester City (Sky Sports)
    Referee: Mike Dean
    Assistants: S Long, D Cann
    Fourth official: L Mason

    I’m away this week and won’t be able to do a full referee review this week. If anyone fancies writing a report, I’m sure that Tony will be glad to receive one. The emai address to send it to is on the homepage.

  • Markyb

    Blimey that is some set of bogeymen there. Unlikely to be no controversy.

  • Andy Mack

    Mike Dean can make the game controversial so the first game of the new season generates a little extra drama/interest to try to get the viewing figure up.
    Another case of the PGMO being the ringmasters for the PL marketing dept.

  • Gord

    One thought about having Mike Dean being referee, is that the PGMO want some Arsenal players to spend time in the hospital.

    But this is Leicester, not Stoke and Shawcross. Of course, we have:

    With Robert Huth out with an ankle injury, the back four picks itself, with Christian Fuchs and Danny Simpson starting at full-back and new £17 million signing Harry Maguire partnering captain Wes Morgan at the heart of the defence.

    Searching for Leicester and injuries doesn’t bring up much, especially with Huth out of the equation (temporarily). but Harry Maguire is new (from Hull, and Steve Bruce probably inflicted his share of pain over the years):

    A tough, no-nonsense centre back who has caught the eye throughout his first full season in the top-flight. Despite Hull’s lowly position, the 24-year-old has been one of their standout stars, leading to a number of top teams monitoring his progress.

    If you search for a player’s name and injury, what you typically find is injuries suffered by that player. Not injuries caused by that player. Oh, that’s right. None of them are that kind of boy.

    I’ve no idea how Christian Fuchs, Danny Simpson and Wes Morgan are on the possibility of causing injuries, but perhaps new boy Maguire will be encouraged to stick it up them, and have Mike Dean ignore anything that happens?

    Maybe some others on Untold can fill in the blanks on the other likely three Leicester defense. Or are others also likely to inflict pain? Mahrez is seemingly not likely to play.

  • Menace

    I can sum up my hopes in simple terms -Christian Fuchs Dean.

    What a result that would be!!

    Friday night is the absolute pits to play a game of football & certainly not good to get back home from after 10.30 pm. with all the crowds, delays etc. It is not a game for children any more. What a pathetic abuse of the family game. What is the point of family areas in stadia when games are played so late!

    The FA are corrupt beyond belief. They have allowed money to rule and abuse the beautiful family game.