The north London derby: thrills, spills, aggravation and the BFFP

<span>Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

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Once upon a time, we could call Spurs v Arsenal “Spurs v Arsenal” or, at a push, the “north London derby”. Well, not any more. Now, it’s the “NLD, shown live on your TV, in super UHD, costing bare GBP” … at which point the Tinie Tempah tribute has to stop, because we’ve not yet invented a catchy acronym for “battle for fourth place that’s like winning a trophy”. Soon, friends, soon.

But in the meantime, here we are. This game was, of course, originally scheduled for January, but then one of Arsenal’s ballboy’s hamsters got Covid and Omar Rekik went to Afcon, meaning Mikel Arteta’s brave young heroes weren’t allowed out to play. So Sky cogitated and deliberated for four long months, eventually alighting on tonight as the only conceivable day between then and now capable of staging so momentous a contest. In so doing, they may also have manipulated the fixture list at a crucial stage of the season for their own avaricious ends, but that’s a total coincidence and, on the plus side, at least they haven’t compromised the integrity of the competition, having helped divest it of that many years ago. Swings and roundabouts, as they say.

Related: Conte ready to show Arsenal how far Spurs have come since September

The thing is, if we exclude those petty concerns, they were absolutely right to do what they’ve done, because the NLD has, over the years, established itself as the Premier League’s most reliably exciting fixture, full of goals, excitement, and all the things that “NO ONE” – apart from EVERYONE – “wants to see”. Or, in other words, football’s biggest problem is that it’s too expletive good.

However, much as we’re all looking forward to enjoying the thrills, spills and aggravation, as connoisseurs of the beautiful game, we’re just as excited by the managerial battle of wits. Will Antonio Conte’s ersatz, remorseless, counterattacking style have the measure of Arteta’s sharper and more natural inclination? Or will the Arsenal man’s grooved uniformity hold sway over the Italian’s wild and emotional fluctuations?

But enough about their hair. In just a few hours’ time, a football match will take place and both men are desperate for glory, their toil and sacrifice taking these grand old teams right back to where they belong: sometimes competing for fourth. Or, as we now call it, “the BFFP that’s like WAT”.


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