The rivalry between supporters and players at local derby matches often has its roots in the respective histories of the clubs and their communities. The North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur is no exception.

The sides met at the Emirates Stadium on the Saturday before Christmas for the second time this season, and while Spurs were looking to avenge the 3-1 defeat at White Hart Lane in September, Arsenal ran out 2-1 winners after Robbie Keane had missed a penalty that would have put Spurs 2-1 up. 

The first meeting between the teams took place on 11th November 1887, when Arsenal were known as Royal Arsenal and based in Woolwich, south of the River Thames. The 'Weekly Herald' described the encounter:

"Tottenham Hotspur v Royal Arsenal - The 'Spurs at once began to attack, but 10 minutes from the start the Arsenal scored a lucky goal. From this point, the visitors were pressed throughout, and, had it not been for the splendid defence of F. Beardsley, in goal, the score would have been much larger. Through darkness, the game was stopped 15 minutes before time, the 'Spurs winning by 2 goals to 1."

prospective disruption

Occasional friendlies were played out until 4th December 1909 when the clubs met for the first time in the league. An old First Division match at Woolwich Arsenal's Manor Ground in Plumstead ended 1-0 to the home side with Walter Lawrence scoring the only goal.

In its early years the club had moved grounds several times before finally settling on the Manor Ground. However in 1913 Woolwich Arsenal moved from the Manor Ground to Arsenal Stadium, Highbury, in the process dropping the 'Woolwich' from the club name. The move was not without opposition as the local professional teams Tottenham Hotspur - a mere four miles away - and Clapton Orient did not want the competition and the local residents and Islington Borough Council were unhappy about the prospective disruption that would ensue from having another club in their midst.

Relations intensified in 1919 when the First Division was expanded by two teams to 22. Two promoted teams were included and nineteenth placed Chelsea, who otherwise would have been relegated, took one of the new places on offer and it was expected that twentieth-placed Tottenham, or Barnsley, who had finished third in the Second Division, would take the remaining spot. However, Arsenal got the nod despite having only finished fifth in the Second Division. Hence a simmering resentment was born.

The relationship between the two clubs improved when Spurs allowed the Gunners to share White Hart Lane after the Second World War. Highbury was turned into an Air Raid Precautions Centre. It was bombed twice, killing RAF men in charge of a barrage balloon at the Clock End and setting fire to the goalposts at the north end.

comfortable win

Tottenham still occupy White Hart Lane to this day but Arsenal moved to the plush new Emirates Stadium at the beginning of the 2006/07 season. The first North London derby in the stadium ended in a 3-0 win to the Gunners on 2nd December 2006. A goal from Emmanuel Adebayor and two penalties from Gilberto handed Arsenal a comfortable win.

Overall there have been 156 competitive first-class meetings since that first league encounter in 1909. Arsenal have won on 66 occasions, with Spurs claiming 49 victories. The first Premier League match between the two sides took place on 12th December 1992. Paul Allen scored for Tottenham in a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane.

There have been several key protagonists in Premier League encounters since that first one in 1992. Sol Campbell may never have scored a goal in the derby but his performances in central defence were the key to the outcome of more than one fixture between the two sides. In the 1997/98 season he put in a man-of-the-match display as Spurs held Arsenal to a 0-0 draw at Highbury. Arsenal laid siege to the goal, but Campbell helped keep the Gunners at bay with a number of last-ditch tackles and blocks.

Campbell crossed the North London divide in 2001 when he left Spurs to join Arsenal on a free transfer. He enjoyed immediate success with Arsene Wenger's team, winning the Barclaycard Premiership and FA Cup in his first season. Campbell, who was an inspirational figure as Spurs captain, was also part of Wenger's team of 'Invincibles', helping the side to another title while going unbeaten through the 2003/04 season.

That was the season when Arsenal claimed the title at White Hart Lane. Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires, two key performers in derbies down the years, put the Gunners 2-0 up within 35 minutes. However, Spurs hit back through a goal from Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Keane salvaged some pride for the home side with a 90th minute penalty after Jens Lehmann had committed a foul in the box. Though Arsenal had won the title, Spurs ensured the Gunners would not be celebrating their triumph with a victory.

nine bookings

Tottenham's last Premier League victory in the derby was on 7th November 1999 when Steffen Iversen and Tim Sherwood netted in a 2-1 win. There were nine bookings, with Martin Keown and Freddie Ljungberg both sent-off as tempers boiled over.

The Swedish winger scored in one of the most entertaining matches ever played between the rivals. Martin Jol was overseeing only his second match as Spurs' first-team coach on 13th November 2004. He could surely not have predicted that, at the end of the 90 minutes, his side would be on the wrong end of a nine-goal thriller. Indeed, Arsenal won an unbelievable encounter 5-4 thanks to goals from Thierry Henry, Lauren (penalty), Vieira, Ljungberg and Robert Pires. Noureddine Naybet, Jermain Defoe, Ledley King and Freddie Kanoute scored for Tottenham. The latter worked with new Tottenham manager Juande Ramos during their time together at Sevilla.

The match in late December was Ramos' first North London derby after he took over from Jol, who departed in October. The likes of Henry, Ljungberg and Pires were regular scorers in the derby but they have all now moved on. Instead, Ramos' side faced the attacking talents of Tomas Rosicky, Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor.

derby protagonist

Togo international Adebayor has scored four goals in five matches against Spurs, including a superb volley in September's match. Keane has been Tottenham's main derby protagonist in recent times, scoring three goals against the Gunners. He returned from suspension just in time for the December derby but endured an unhappy match hitting the crossbar and missing a penalty.

Wenger went into the match having lost just once against Tottenham since joining the club in 1996. He has overseen 11 victories in his 23 league encounters. Ramos has already visited the Emirates Stadium this season with his former club Sevilla. Arsenal won the match 3-0 back in September. The last time Spurs won at Arsenal was in May 1993 when two goals from John Hendry and another from Teddy Sheringham put the Gunners to the sword on their own turf. 

The atmosphere is always red hot in North London derby matches and Ramos' presence on the Spurs bench added extra spice to an eagerly anticipated fixture. The Spaniard enjoyed some great victories in Sevilla's passionate Andalucian derbies against Real Betis and was clearly aware of just how much the match means to the supporters.

Ultimately, though, despite a spirited second half performance from Spurs, a late goal from substitute Nicklas Bendtner settled matters in the Gunner's favour. So for Spurs the wait for a Premier League win over their closest rivals will go on to the 2008/09 season. 

 For a full match report on Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur in December 2007 click here