Arsenal vs Tottenham – North London Derby History
The north London derby is undoubtedly one of the fiercest derbies in English football. Arsenal and Tottenham absolutely despise each other. Their rivalry dates back over 100 years. Arsenal vs Tottenham is the fixture most fans from each club look to first when the fixture list is announced before each season. There is plenty of bad blood between the two clubs, which makes for a very interesting encounter whenever they face each other.
The First Meeting – 1909
The first Arsenal vs Tottenham fixture was in a league game was on December 4, 1909. Woolwich Arsenal won the game 1-0, with Walter Lawrence scoring the only goal. But there was no rivalry between the clubs at this point. Woolwich is in south London, which is where Arsenal were from at the time, explaining their name. It was only four years later when the rivalry began.
Arsenal Move – 1913
Woolwich Arsenal faced a number of difficulties in the early 1900s. The area they played in wasn’t an ideal location, because it was difficult to get to. Their attendances fell, and the club struggled as the munitions workers that owned the club fell into financial difficulty. They were close to bankruptcy in 1910. When businessmen Henry Norris and William Hall became involved in the club, they decided to move the club elsewhere.
In 1913, soon after relegation to the Second Division, the club moved from south London to north London; dropping “Woolwich” from their name and becoming “The Arsenal”. When they moved to Highbury, they were just four miles away from Tottenham’s White Hart Lane. This is when their bitter local rivalry – and the north London derby – began. The first Arsenal vs Tottenham game as the north London derby was on 22nd August 1914 at White Hart Lane. Arsenal won the friendly 5-1.
To this day, even over 100 years later, Tottenham fans are bitter about Arsenal moving into their area.
Promotion Controversy – 1919
In the 1914/15 season, Tottenham finished bottom of the First Division, which would mean relegation. Arsenal finished sixth in the Second Division. In a normal season, the bottom two clubs of the First Division are relegated, while the top two clubs of the Second Division are promoted. After this season, league football took a break because of World War I. But it would return in 1919.
It was decided that the First Division would be expanded by two clubs in 1919, when league football returned after the break. The top two teams from the Second Division would be promoted, as usual. Chelsea, who finished 19th and should have been relegated, were voted as a club to remain in the league. This is because they actually shouldn’t have been relegated after Manchester United and Liverpool fixed a game on the last day of the season; ensuring Manchester United stayed up.
Tottenham argued that they should have retained their place in the First Division, because they were a First Division club. But there ended up being a vote on who should take the extra place. Controversially, Arsenal would win the vote: receiving 18 votes to Tottenham’s eight. Since the Gunners only finished sixth in the Second Division (they should have finished fifth, but a mistake in the calculation of goals meant they finished sixth) there was some confusion as to why they were voted ahead of other clubs.
Some say that Arsenal chairman, Henry Norris, used underhanded tactics, such as bribing other clubs’ officials, to sway the vote in Arsenal’s favour. But these claims are unproven and there is no evidence to suggest this is the case. Arsenal were awarded the place because they were part of the league for so long. They never turned their backs on the league and moved away as some others did, and they were rewarded for this.
Arsenal finished 10th in the First Division that season, while Tottenham won the Second Division and were promoted. This placed the clubs in the same league and meant that in the next season there would be an Arsenal vs Tottenham north London derby in a competitive fixture for the first time.
First Competitive Games – 1921 Onward
The first competitive Arsenal vs Tottenham game as a north London derby was at White Hart Lane on January 15, 1921. Tottenham won the game 2-1. Around this time, games between the clubs were extremely bitter. One, in particular, was vicious. In September 1922, both clubs were warned by the FA for their behaviour, with the governing body even threatening to make them play their games behind closed doors.
After World War II, relations improved between the two clubs. During the war, Arsenal’s Highbury was being used as an Air Raid Precautions Centre. The stadium was bombed, and Arsenal were forced to move into White Hart Lane and share with Tottenham. Arsenal played a total of 133 games at White Hart Lane.
North London Derby since 1950
Since 1950, there has been just one season when both clubs haven’t been in the First Division (or Premier League). This was in 1977/78, when Tottenham played in the Second Division. Because of this, there have been many notable Arsenal vs Tottenham clashes over the years.
Arsenal Win the League at White Hart Lane – 1971
On 3rd May 1971, Tottenham hosted Arsenal at White Hart Lane. It was the final day of the season, with Arsenal involved in a title race with Leeds United. Arsenal won the game 1-0, thanks to a goal from Ray Kennedy. The Gunners finished one point ahead of Leeds and won the league at White Hart Lane for the first time. Arsenal won the double that year, as they beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final. Winning the league at White Hart Lane in a north London derby was an amazing achievement for Arsenal.
Tottenham vs Arsenal: League Cup Semi-final – 1987
White Hart Lane was the venue for Tottenham vs Arsenal in the League Cup semi-final replay on 4th March 1987. Tottenham took the lead through Clive Allen, but Ian Allinson equalised for Arsenal. David Rocastle scored the winner for Arsenal, who went on to win the cup. It was their first trophy since 1979, when they won the FA Cup.
Tottenham vs Arsenal: FA Cup Semi-final – 1991
On 14th April 1991 there was a north London derby in the semi-final of the FA Cup as Tottenham beat Arsenal 3-1 at Wembley. Paul Gascoigne opened the scoring after just five minutes with a thunderbolt of a free kick from 30 yards. Gary Lineker scored to make it 2-0 before Alan Smith pulled one back for Arsenal before half time. Lineker scored another in the second half to send Tottenham to the final, where they won the cup after beating Nottingham Forest 2-1.
The date is known as “St. Hotspur Day” to the Tottenham fans. They were particularly happy with their win because it ensured Arsenal wouldn’t win the double that year, as the Gunners went on to win the league.
FA Cup Semi-final – 1993
Two years later, on 4th April 1993, it was Arsenal vs Tottenham at Wembley again, as another north London derby took place in the FA Cup semi-final. Arsenal won the game 1-0, with Tony Adams scoring the only goal of the game. Arsenal went on to win the cup. The Gunners won a cup double that year, as they also won the League Cup.
FA Cup Semi-final – 2001
There was yet another north London derby FA Cup semi-final in 2001. Arsenal vs Tottenham ended 2-1 to Arsenal at Old Trafford. Gary Doherty put Spurs into the lead, but goals from Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires sent Arsenal through to the final. Ultimately, the Gunners were beaten by Liverpool in the final.
Arsenal Win the League at White Hart Lane (Again) – 2004
On 25th April 2004, Arsenal travelled to White Hart Lane for a fixture vs Tottenham with the chance to win the league. They went into the game top of the league and it was only a matter of time before they were crowned Premier League champions. Arsene Wenger’s side were yet to be beaten at this stage, and it seemed very unlikely that Tottenham would stop them winning the league at their ground, especially as Arsenal only needed a draw to be crowned champions in their biggest rivals’ stadium.
Vieira and Pires scored to send Arsenal into a 2-0 lead. Jamie Redknapp scored and got Spurs back in the game, before Robbie Keane scored a 90th minute penalty to draw the scores level. The game finished 2-2, and Arsenal won the league.
The Tottenham fans celebrated the draw, which was strange. If they had stopped Arsenal from winning the league, it would be understandable, but that wasn’t the case. Thierry Henry claimed that Arsenal’s players were asked before the game not to celebrate their title win as it would cause chaos. Henry said they were going to go along with that, until Tottenham celebrated their point after the game. Arsenal’s players went on to celebrate their title with their fans after the game.
2004 was the second time Arsenal won the league in the north London derby at White Hart Lane. They don’t hesitate to remind Spurs about this either.
Arsenal vs Tottenham: League Cup Semi-final – 2007
There was another north London derby cup semi-final in 2007. After the sides drew 2-2 at White Hart Lane, they met at the Emirates Stadium. Emmanuel Adebayor opened the scoring for Arsenal, before Mido equalised for Tottenham. Arsenal progressed to the final after a Jeremie Aliadiere strike and a Pascal Chimbonda own-goal gave them a 5-3 aggregate win. Arsenal lost the League Cup Final to Chelsea.
Tottenham vs Arsenal League Cup Semi-final – 2008
The next season, the clubs met yet again for a north London derby in the League Cup. The first leg finished 1-1 at the Emirates. Tottenham ran riot in the second leg at White Hart Lane vs Arsenal, as goals from Jermaine Jenas, Robbie Keane, Aaron Lennon, Steed Malbranque and a Nicklas Bendtner own-goal gave them a huge 5-1 win. Adebayor got one for Arsenal. The win ended Tottenham’s long wait for a win in the north London derby. It was their first win against their bitter rivals since a 2-1 win in November 1999. This ended a run of 21 games without a win.
Tottenham ended up winning the League Cup, as they beat Chelsea 2-1 in the final.
Race for Champions League Qualification – 2022
There was a huge north London derby in May 2022, with Tottenham vs Arsenal taking place at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Arsenal had had a promising season and sat in fourth place in the Premier League, four points ahead of Tottenham, who were fifth. There were just three games of the season remaining. An Arsenal win would ensure they qualified for the Champions League for the first time since the 2016/17 season.
Tottenham went on to beat 10-man Arsenal, who had Rob Holding sent off, 3-0 to cut the deficit to just one point and boost their Champions League bid. Champions League qualification was still in Arsenal’s hands with two games to go: they just needed to win both. Tottenham leapfrogged Arsenal three days later with a 1-0 win over Burnley, while Arsenal fell to another defeat the following day, losing 2-0 to Newcastle at St. James’ Park. Tottenham confirmed their Champions League qualification at Arsenal’s expense on the final day of the season with a 5-0 demolition of Norwich.
Watch the game on YouTube here.
Other Memorable Arsenal vs Tottenham Games
There have been plenty of other memorable north London derby games contested between the sides.
In November 2004, there was an absolute goal-fest at White Hart Lane as Arsenal won 5-4.
When the sides met at the Emirates in October 2008, there was a Tottenham comeback as they drew 4-4. Arsenal led 4-2 going into the final minutes of the game. (Game Here)
In April 2011, Tottenham vs Arsenal ended in a 3-3 draw, which severely dented an Arsenal title challenge.
In February 2012, Tottenham took an early 2-0 lead at the Emirates in the north London derby. But there was an Arsenal fightback, as they won 5-2. (Game Here)
Just a few months later, in the following season, the scoreline repeated itself. It was November 2012 when Tottenham went 1-0 up through ex-Arsenal man Adebayor, who was sent off just a few minutes later. The red card for a very poor challenge swayed the game in favour of Arsenal, who made another comeback and hammered their rivals. (Game Here)
St. Totteringham’s Day
St. Totteringham’s Day is the day Arsenal fans celebrate when it is mathematically impossible for Tottenham to catch them in the league. Arsenal celebrated this day for 22 years in a row, until 2017. Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-0 in the last ever north London derby at White Hart Lane to end the Gunners’ run of finishing ahead of their biggest rivals. Tottenham went on to finish above Arsenal six years in succession, until Arsenal finished second, and Spurs eighth, in 2022/23.
Players To Play For Both Clubs
There have been some players that have pulled on both the red of Arsenal and the white of Tottenham in the past. These players receive an extreme level of abuse for pulling on their rivals’ shirt and playing in the north London derby for the opposite team.
Some notable players to have played for Tottenham before moving onto Arsenal include: George Hunt, who played 198 games for Tottenham and 21 for Arsenal in the 1930s; Freddie Cox, who played 105 games for Tottenham and 94 for Arsenal between the late 1930s and early 1950s; Jimmy Robertson, who played 181 games for Tottenham and 59 for Arsenal in the 1960s; and Pat Jennings, who played 590 games for Tottenham and 327 games for Arsenal between the 1960s and 1980s.
Some notable players to have played for Arsenal before moving onto Tottenham include: Jimmy Brain, who played 232 games for Arsenal and 34 for Tottenham in the 1920s and 1930s; Laurie Brown, who played 109 games for Arsenal and 65 for Tottenham in the 1960s; William Gallas, who played 101 games for Arsenal and 61 games for Tottenham between 2006 and 2013 (Gallas is the first player to ever play for Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham); and Emmanuel Adebayor, who played 143 games for Arsenal and 106 games for Tottenham between 2006 and 2015.
George Graham had a successful stint as Arsenal manager from 1986 – 1995. Graham won two league titles, including the title win at Anfield in 1989, when Arsenal famously beat Liverpool 2-0 on the final day of the season. He also won the Cup WInners’ Cup, the FA Cup and two League Cups. Graham went on to manage Tottenham from 1998 – 2001, where he won the League Cup in 1999. Even though Graham was booed on his return to Arsenal when managing Tottenham, he has been largely forgiven by the Arsenal faithful.
Harry Kane played for Arsenal’s youth team for one season. He was released by the club in 2002 as a nine-year-old as they didn’t think he was good enough to make it. Kane ended up at Tottenham and went on to score 213 goals in 317 Premier League appearances for Tottenham. He has also scored 59 goals in 88 caps for England. This makes him both Tottenham’s and England’s leading goalscorer of all time. Arsenal were clearly inaccurate in their assessment of Kane’s abilities and he went on to prove them wrong. Kane went on to score 14 goals for Tottenham vs Arsenal in the north London derby.
In recent times, Gallas and Adebayor were really hated by Arsenal fans. Gallas, who was Arsenal’s captain at one stage, moved directly from Arsenal to Tottenham. Adebayor, who Arsenal fans hated anyway after he moved from Arsenal to Manchester City, didn’t help matters when he signed for Tottenham. But, even though Arsenal fans truly hate these players, and are disgusted with how they went about their business, there is absolutely no comparison to one man.
That man’s name is Sol Campbell.
Sol Campbell – 2001
Sol Campbell is one of the best English defenders of his generation. He was Tottenham’s best player. Tottenham’s leader. Tottenham’s captain. He made 315 appearances for Tottenham. He lifted the 1999 League Cup for Tottenham. His contract was running out at Tottenham, and for a while it looked like he would stay at the club. Reports said Tottenham were prepared to make him their highest paid player ever with a new contract. When asked about his future in an interview he famously declared “I’m staying”.
But then it became obvious that he was not staying, as there was no news of a new contract. But where would he go? Manchester United? Liverpool? Barcelona? Real Madrid? Any club would be lucky to sign one of the best defenders in the world.
In the end, Campbell signed for Arsenal. The hatred Tottenham fans have for him, even to this day, is incredible. Of course, it hurt them massively seeing their best player leave and sign for their biggest rivals. There is absolutely no way you can blame them for being upset with him. The north London derby was already a huge occasion as both clubs hated each other, but Campbell’s move only added fuel to the fire.
Arsenal vs Tottenham – Campbell’s Return to White Hart Lane
Campbell returned to White Hart Lane with Arsenal, and played his first north London derby wearing red, for the first time in November 2001. The scenes were incredible. Arsenal’s bus was attacked on the way into the ground, with objects being thrown at it. But inside the ground was where the most hatred was. When Campbell made his way onto the pitch, huge boos and chants of “Judas, Judas!” met him. The Tottenham fans had around 4,000 balloons, with “Judas” printed on them, that they released. Any time he got near the ball, huge boos rang around White Hart Lane. Hatred to that level had rarely been seen in England before.
Campbell hardly regrets his decision to move onto Arsenal, as he is regarded as a legend there. He won two Premier League titles and two FA Cups with the Gunners, and was part of their “Invincibles” team that went the entire 2003/04 season unbeaten. He also played in the Champions League final for Arsenal, and scored the opening goal in the 2-1 defeat to Barcelona in Paris in 2006.
But he will never be forgiven by the Spurs faithful. He could have stayed and been a legend at Tottenham, but he chose Arsenal instead.
North London Derby Top Goalscorers
Harry Kane – 14 goals (For Tottenham vs Arsenal)
Emmanuel Adebayor – 10 goals (for both Arsenal and Tottenham)
Robert Pires – 8 goals (for Arsenal vs Tottenham)
Son Heung-min – 6 goals (for Tottenham vs Arsenal)
Thierry Henry (Arsenal), Gareth Bale (Tottenham), Robin van Persie (Arsenal) – 5 goals
The north London derby is certainly one of the fiercest fixtures played in the Premier League and almost guarantees to bring plenty of goals and drama each time the Arsenal vs Tottenham fixture is played. The fixture is steeped in history and the two clubs will undoubtedly add to that history in the years to come as they continue to have more dramatic encounters.