Why Arsenal's advantage is also their curse


In the sweaty, irregular-heartbeat inducing lead-up to Wednesday's opportunity, and inevitable disappointment, at plucky Norwich, Woycheck Shezny would not leave me alone.

Not in a sense of teenage infatuation - if it was Sarah Michelle Gellar I would spell her correctly - but for his insight into the great North London divide. The goon goaltender had penetrated my psyche with this textbook troll line in a Guardian interview Tuesday. "I read an article saying we were never going to finish above Tottenham and come the end of the season I see them playing Europa League again."

It's not the first time Shezny, a curious mix of talent and overconfident buffonery teetering just the right side of the Bendtner line, had seen fit to pronounce judgement on our beloved. "Getting above Tottenham is the main target", he said in December. "They will slip up eventually".

He was right. And I have no doubt that had it been Liverpool or Chelsea in third, the Nomads' sprint to the line would not have been half so fruitful. Because they despise us in a way that we cannot begin to reciprocate, and we are the only remaining yardstick by which they can be termed successful.

I'm going to assume that US-based readers and contributors will occasionally have their vision smeared with an Arsenal fan, but I live five minutes from the Emirates and cannot have a social life without engaging with them. Whether it is a party on a rooftop or a bask in the park, quite normal, intelligent adults are reduced to corrosive hissing when discussing Spurs.

For most of my, and their, conscious existence, superiority has been assumed beyond all doubt. We were the fat kid with glasses they could laugh at on the way to a hot date with a Spanish giant. But since the green shoots of Martin Jol, and the unravelling of Wenger's masterplan, the field has levelled incrementally, to the point that for years now, the consensus view is that Spurs have a better team.

That is unthinkable in N1 - on a par with getting eaten by a rabbit. The food chain doesn't work that way. Each year, the same bloody minded refusal to acknowledge that the clubs' trajectories are passing each other in opposite directions drags the best from Arsenal. Last season's 5-2 was among the most determined performances I have ever seen from a team, that on the day carried a pathological need to win.

The flip side is that Spurs, who for as long as I can remember, would lose if the other team really, really wanted to win, were inhibited. Like Andy Murray before he nailed a Grand Slam, the weight of history grows each year, the disadvantage adding to the opposition advantage. When we beat Arsenal for the first time since 1999, we won a few more soon after. Ditto Chelsea, and before that heinous bogey XI Aston Villa. When we finish above Arsenal it will happen again.

To defend local superiority is ambition revised down further even than the (again previously assumed) Champions League qualification. And what does life teach all but the Bill Gateses? Aim low and you finish lower. You can't hang an airport, an outlandish banking system and a sort of football club on spite, and certainly not well.

Pleasure has long since gone out of football for most red fans, most of whom could bitch their way through a brick wall and could teach Marxists about infighting. All that remains is to avoid embarrassment.

If AVB is that fresh, untainted perspective, if Holtby is more German than English, and Kaboul returns fresh and too stupid for nerves, the pressure is theirs, the opportunity ours. If Spurs' unbeaten run holds up a little longer, the volume of taunts will increase from the Arsenal dressing room and the Islington Halal butchers. Their fate is in our hands.

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