‘Do not judge me.’
How many times have you heard that line being said? And how many of those instances have you been the recipient of the above? Infinite times. That’s probably everyone’s reply – and in truth, it is a very popular line. But you know what, it’s May and we are right at the time when the football season is at its smouldering end. We are going to go against the plea, and get all judge-y.
Being a first born has been one of the little pleasures of my life but even that is fraught with storms of its own. Simply put, I’m not seen through the same lens as my siblings. I’m judged different, and so are many others with the same chronological predicament. It has meant that there are stuff the younger ones have gotten away with, but I haven’t. Sometimes I’ve felt that it is unfair, but always, I believe it is ok. We are not the same, after all.
As an Arsenal fan in Kenya, like 4,000 miles away from the club’s home in North London, it has always been tempting to want to be seen like any other Gunner from England – you know, to belong and stuff. I’ve tried to view the club from the eyes of a North Londoner, but the reality is that it is difficult. We are just different. They, the real Arsenal fans, as they never fail to remind us in our online exchanges, have their number one enemy as the cross-town rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. I for one has never really cared for Tottenham. Spurs, for me, has been and is just another of the 19 clubs that we have to face every season in the Premier League. I became a Gooner because I chose them ahead of Manchester United. So yes, my biggest opponent in England is United, the club of the great Sir Alex Ferguson.
That said, I respect those Arsenal fans whose main fixture of the season is the home and away encounter with Tottenham, a fixture otherwise known as the North London Derby (NLD). We may all support Arsenal, but we became fans and remain so for different reasons.
The league season has just ended and for the first time since I started my education (I’ve long graduated), Spurs have finished higher than Arsenal on the league table. And they have thoroughly and absolutely merited it. The only asterisk on their brilliant story of 2016-17 has been the fact that they’ve been beaten to the league title by a wilier, more experienced and ultimately more efficient Chelsea side. By now you’ve probably come across the tweet that’s gone viral, showcasing Tottenham’s brilliant but ultimately fruitless season; they scored the most number of goals (86), conceded the least (26) and produced the top goal scorer in Harry Kane (29 goals). So the line that’s being thrown at them is that ‘imagine doing all that and winning nothing’.
You cannot judge Arsenal and Tottenham the same way. Spurs is a club that for a long time has been mired in upper mid table mediocrity at best (at least since the Premier League came into existence in 1992) whereas Arsenal has always challenged for titles (at least till 2006) and finished in the lucrative Champions League places since then. Moreover, for the last decade Arsenal has had a vastly superior stadium and has always been in the top 10 of football money league, rubbing shoulders in that regard with the financially high and mighty of European football. The effect is that Spurs has always had to operate on a significantly smaller budget than Arsenal. Those are just facts, pardon me for letting out my inner Rafael Benitez. There is such a thing as perspective, which I believe should be applied when comparing teams. If then perspective is considered, there’s no way the two North London clubs can be judged the same way – at least not yet.
In the last two seasons we have seen these two clubs’ trajectories take interesting turns, and usually not in the same direction. Last season when Arsenal should have been running away with the league (due to favourable external circumstances) it was Leicester City doing the unthinkable, being chased for most of the duration by Spurs, before they cracked. That capitulation was more of good fortune for Arsenal, who somehow pipped the Lilly Whites to second spot. Even then, even at the close of the league season last year, the signs were there that it was Spurs that were on the upward trajectory, and not Arsenal. Of course we still celebrated a St. Totteringham’s Day (when Spurs can’t finish above Arsenal) but we all knew that was all too close for comfort.
This season has seen Tottenham move from strength to strength while Arsenal has remained the bland, frustrating, uninspiring side of the recent past, clinging on to the last vestiges of an elite club even as that rug is being pulled from under their feet. Chelsea has been the best team in England this term, but Spurs have played the best football and even the most ardent of Blues faithful will admit that it is Spurs who’ve given them their toughest assignments in their clashes. And of course you have to factor in the budgets and spending of Spurs which in all fairness pales in comparison to those of Chelsea, Manchester City, United and Arsenal.
Tottenham Hotspur two weeks ago bade farewell to their White Hart Lane Stadium and will be playing their home games next season at the bogey ground, Wembley, as they finish construction of their new home. It therefore isn’t all too far-fetched to imagine that 2017-18 might well be their hardest season yet and so the story of their progress might well change. Then again, it seems that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger isn’t going away any soon so the change might not so much be about Arsenal moving forward as it could be about Spurs taking a few steps back. Make no mistake though, Tottenham have had the better season (regardless of how Arsenal fare in the FA Cup final against Chelsea) and are rightfully currently North London’s finest.
Probably Arsenal have had similar seasons of near misses in the recent past which were viewed as failures, but perspective tells you that Arsenal was always going to be subjected to a different measure to Spurs. I just, we just can’t judge them the same – but the fact that many are calling for Spurs to be put through the same measurement is an indictment on its own on Arsenal’s progress. Speaking of Arsenal’s progress, all indications point to Wenger renewing his contract, so probably what’s in store is just more of the same. In the end, from those to whom much has been given, much will be required.