Absolutely no one will pretend that there isn’t a pretty huge gap in ability between Tottenham Hotspur Women and Arsenal Women ahead of this Saturday’s North London Derby. Spurs will go into tomorrow’s match the same way they do every time they play their north London rivals — as heavy underdogs.
However, what’s also indisputable is that the gap has closed significantly over the past few years. It’s enough to add a bit of buzz ahead of the WSL match tomorrow, which will be played behind closed doors at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Spurs hosted last year’s home NLD at the new ground as well in front of a WSL record crowd of 38,000 fans.
Spurs manager Rehanne Skinner talked up the club’s ambitions in the wake of the massive new WSL television deal that will reward WSL teams with both new money and exposure to fans. In an extensive interview with football.london, Skinner talked about Spurs’ progress (and remaining issues) this season, as well as the club’s ambition to make Tottenham Women one of the best clubs in women’s world football.
“The club is really ambitious, there is so much work going on behind the scenes to ensure that we get these things right that we are able to be one of these top clubs in upcoming years. I think it is a journey and a process that we are working hard towards. That is going to take a little bit of time, we are talking about teams who have been established for a significant amount of time.
“Naturally there is a little bit of a gap at the moment, and that is OK, but ultimately that is the direction of travel we want to go in.”
“A little bit of a gap” is underselling it, despite the massive gains the club has made over the past few years. Arsenal is the most successful club in English women’s football, winners of 15 top flight league titles and nearly 30 domestic cups. A decade ago, Tottenham were playing in the fourth tier of the English pyramid. Spurs have never beaten their rivals, and the reverse fixture in October was a 6-1 Arsenal win. The closest Tottenham have ever come was a penalty shootout loss in the WSL Cup to a rotated Arsenal side back in November.
There’s still a long way to go, but Skinner thinks they’ll get there in time, and this match is an opportunity to try and close the perception of that gap, even slightly.
“It is a new starting point, we are a young club in the whole scheme of things. The intent is to close the gap over a period of time but we have to be realistic in that Arsenal have been established for an awful long time and there is a significant difference in terms of where we are compared to them at this moment in time.
“We are trying to close the gap and it is on our radar for them and other teams in the league.”
Spurs have been going through an identity transformation this season since firing co-head coaches Juan Amoros and Karen Hills and appointing Skinner last November. Under Skinner, Spurs have changed their style to one of a high-pressing side that tries to minimize opposition goals while hitting back fast on the counterattack.
However, one of the biggest issues Spurs Women have had this season is in actually scoring goals. Spurs have scored only 16 goals in 17 league matches, and their games have been characterized by creating chances that their forwards then simply can’t put away. There is a clear difference in style under Skinner that has led to better performances, but not necessarily better results.
Skinner, however, sees the positives of that statistic too, noting that she’s pleased with Tottenham Women’s ability to create opportunities and preaching patience that the goals will come.
“We’re still getting into really good parts of the pitch with good quality possession and we’re just trying to get the ball over the line more frequently to be quite honest. I’d be a lot more concerned if we weren’t creating those chances so in possession, yes I think it’s evident. We’re trying to be as organised and structured as we can and minimise the amount of goals that we’re conceding and definitely that’s something we’ve improved on.”
The North London Derby on Saturday, which will be behind closed doors at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, is being played in the wake of the newly announced WSL television deal that will see heretofore unprecedented TV coverage of WSL clubs on the BBC and Sky Sports. The deal will provide a huge increase in exposure to the league, but also will create a rising financial tide, with all WSL clubs benefitting monetarily from the deal. The idea is that this will lift all boats in the league, and promote a better, more equitable WSL in years to come, and with the goal of creating the best women’s football league in the world.
Skinner, who knows the past challenges of increasing awareness of women’s football through her past role with the England women’s national team, acknowledged that this new deal has the potential to really make a difference for Spurs and for the league.
“The thing about the broadcast deal that is fantastic is that it’s going to increase the visibility of the game and that’s certainly something I’ve been invested in for over 20 years alongside a lot of people. So that we’re getting to that point now is only going to keep developing the game, attracting attention to the game and that in turn will only have an impact on all of us as clubs and the way that the game is going to grow in the future.
“There’s definitely going to be an impact and I’m looking forward to that.”
The Women’s North London Derby kicks off Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. ET, 3:30 p.m. GMT.