VILLARREAL – The North London derby is expected to be a highly-charged affair this Sunday when Tottenham meet arch-rivals Arsenal in what many feel is a must-win game for both sides. It's a critical clash heightened by historic animosity between the two clubs, and comes with a couple dashes of spice.
The first bit of added flair comes from Emmanuel Adebayor, expected to lead the Spurs front line against his old team, a club he left under acrimonious circumstances. When he faced Arsenal for the first time as a Manchester City player, he kicked Robin van Persie in the face and later served a three-game ban for violent conduct. He has been vocal in his disdain for Arsenal's management and their fans. It goes without saying that the Togolese striker's performance will be closely watched on Sunday.
The second ongoing storyline is Arsenal's need to win the game, not only to reverse their alarming dip in form, but to re-establish themselves as the top team in North London. They have historically owned Spurs in this clash, but were dismissed by Harry Redknapp's sleeker, deadlier team last year.
In fact, Spurs were the team to first suggest that Arsenal might just be the proverbial naked emperor when they recovered from 2-0 down at the half to get a 3-2 win on Arsenal's ground, thanks partly to a notorious Cesc Fabregas' handball in the box. In April, Spurs did it again, recovering to draw Arsenal 3-3 in a pivotal April fixture that ended the Gunners' hopes of winning the title.
Arsenal have only won a single game against Spurs in their last six encounters, a dismal track record for a club whose fans assume their club is better than Tottenham. In fact, Spurs have been unusually dominant in their dealing with London clubs of late (there are fourteen in the city, at least four of which Spurs regularly meet) having not lost an inter-city match in over four years (That game was a famous 3-1 loss to Arsenal in 2007).
The two teams have played each other for nearly 125 years, but didn't really become the arch-rivalry it is today until 1914, when Arsenal's new Highbury Stadium opened four and half miles to the south of White Hart Lane. The stadium's location formed a geographic rivalry. What made it bitter were the matches, the political dealings between the clubs, and raw demographics.
The two neighborhoods might be worlds apart: Arsenal is in a posh, upmarket part of the City, while Tottenham has long been a troubled area of town. Home to a large and fluctuating immigrant population, Tottenham's residents have long felt underserved by a city that is one of the wealthiest -- and most expensive -- in the world. This summer, just prior to the Premier League kickoff, riots ripped through the area, damaging White Hart Lane and forcing the first Spurs' fixture to be called off.
Both teams have extraordinarily multi-ethnic fan bases -- Spurs' fans refer to themselves as the "Yid Army," a reference to the historically Jewish makeup of the neighborhood as well as the club's resolutely anti-racist stance -- but Arsenal has always been the team of the wealthy. The Gunners are said to be the Queen's team and have always benefitted from slavish support from the city's high-brow broadsheets.
Most of the ugliness between the two sets of supporters has faded with the upmarket nature of today's sport. In the 1970s, both teams had well-organized firms that regularly clashed in the pubs that line the streets outside both grounds. Today, you're more likely to get in trouble around Tottenham from street crime than football. Yet, there are very few people alive who remember what made the rivalry itself so bitter: back when Arsenal entered the old First Division at Spurs' expense way back in 1919.
But even if the nastiness off the field is gone, it remains heated on it. This remains the most magnetic fixture on both team's calendars, even in an era when games against Chelsea or Manchester United might seem more important.
This time, look for Spurs not just to steal a result, but to make a statement. As painful as that might be for some Gooners to swallow, Tottenham is the best team in North London at the moment.
The game will be broadcast live on FOX Soccer at 11 a.m. EST and then repeated before or after the FOX NFL game in your market. Check your local listings for your day of game kickoff time. You can also follow this game live on our Twitter feed, @ FOXSoccerTrax , and via this very website.