We’ve only just entered March. According to the Met office, astronomical winter doesn’t end for another two weeks. In north London, a late-winter stillness lies in the air, as both Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal reflect upon trophyless seasons.
Spurs’ FA Cup exit to Middlesbrough last night put the nail in the coffin of their trophy ambitions this season, something the Lilywhites have become all too accustomed to in recent times. We will now tick into 15 years since Tottenham won a trophy, the League Cup back in 2008 under Juande Ramos, and domestic cup failure has become second nature to the club.
Arsenal cannot be thrown in the same boat as their neighbours, given they won the FA Cup in 2020 and have had consistent success in that prestigious competition over the past decade, but given they did not have European football to contend with this term - their failure to reach the final of either domestic cup is poor.
And so north London will not taste silverware this season. Instead the two clubs will battle it out for the ‘fourth-placed’ trophy that Arsene Wenger was so derided for. As the Frenchman said: "The first trophy is to finish in the top four" and both clubs would certainly agree that that is the case for the campaign now domestic success is off the cards.
Arsenal’s FA Cup loss to Nottingham Forest was certainly embarrassing, but having gone without European football this campaign, fans are likely to have wanted to prioritise a top four finish over the world’s oldest football competition this time around.
Spurs would take any trophy they could get their hands on at the moment, so their failure is slightly different, but they are still in with a shout of a top four finish. Antonio Conte may have an illustrious record in terms of league titles, but he has now won just one of the 24 knockout competitions he has managed in.
This also signifies the power shift, not only in the capital but across the Premier League. If there still is a ‘big six’, then Arsenal and Tottenham are the weakest members. They currently face being overhauled by the likes of West Ham and Wolves while Newcastle United are surely going to contend for the European spot over the coming years.
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In the capital, Chelsea are now the outright dominant force. As the reigning European and world champions, even the most ardent Gunner would admit that they are some way off the Blues in terms of recent success. The more general power shift in the Premier League towards the north-west makes it difficult to envisage a season in the near-future where either Tottenham or Arsenal contend for the title. Some difference from the 2015/16 season where these two clubs were Leicester’s closest challengers.
It feels as if Mikel Arteta is building something long-term at the Emirates. He currently boasts the youngest squad in the division and if he is able to help those stars reach their potential then they could establish themselves in the Champions League yet again. In comparison to the chaos that unfolds on a weekly basis up the road, as Conte’s complaints continue, it seems relatively plain sailing for the Gunners.
Perhaps this season wasn’t about trophies for these two clubs at all. Arsenal have made progress without the stresses of Europe, while Tottenham have now got a truly elite manager in charge. Success for now, will be defined by a top four finish, and one of them has to miss out.
The rescheduled north London derby could determine who comes out on top in the race for the top four, but a decade on, it turns out Arsene Wenger’s comments weren’t all that ridiculous after all.