LONDON — The penultimate game at White Hart Lane produced a fitting farewell.
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Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-0 on Sunday to not only keep their Premier League title hopes alive but also dominate North London for the first time in over two decades.
“North London is ours!” sang Tottenham’s fans as they taunted the small, disconsolate group of Arsenal fans tucked away in the far corner of the Lane. They must’ve wanted the ground to open up and swallow them. The emotions for Tottenham’s fans was entirely differently.
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A sense of relief and pride in the air was palpable as Spurs’ upward trajectory continues and they’ll finish above Arsenal for the first time in 22 years.
After Friday’s announcement that Spurs will be playing at Wembley next season ahead of moving into their new 61,000 capacity home for the 2018-19 campaign, the final edition of the North London derby at White Hart Lane was set.
For everyone connected to Tottenham it was a fairytale ending to the rivalry.
For manager Mauricio Pochettino and his players it was a nice way to provide a memorable moment, but their eyes are on a bigger prize.
“We are in the race for the title, we reduced the gap to Chelsea again and that is, for us, what we need to be focused on now,” Pochettino said. “We have another important game against West Ham on Friday.”
If Tottenham beat West Ham on Friday they momentarily be just one point behind Chelsea who play three days later against Middlesbrough.
Spurs have bigger fish to fry than their neighbors who appearing to be heading in a very different direction.
The ground shook at Spurs’ 118-year home as Harry Kane slammed home a penalty kick to make it 2-0, just 74 seconds after Dele Alli had made it 1-0 in the 55th minute.
Tottenham’s fans, players and manager will miss their atmospheric home but Spurs have bigger plans. They include usurping Arsenal each season but also 18 other teams in the Premier League.
“I am happy because when you play a derby like Tottenham against Arsenal, it is always important to win,” Pochettino said. “But I have a massive respect for him (Wenger). I admire him, for what he has doing in a club like Arsenal. It is a fantastic job. Of course I am so happy but are challenge and our aim is to win. Not only to beat Arsenal. It is to win against 19 other teams that play against us in the Premier League. But of course I am very happy but I am calm because we have four games left. Now it is important to focus and reduce the gap.”
Ironic chants of “Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay!” were belted out by Tottenham’s fans as they made it clear how they felt about the Arsenal boss staying on beyond this season.
Speaking after the game, Arsene Wenger was downbeat as his team would finish below Spurs for the first time in his tenure at the club.
Arsenal sit six points off the top four with five games remaining (they do have a game in hand over their rivals) as the possibility of the Gunners finishing outside the top four for the first time in 21 years is very real. That fact coupled with Spurs’ rise makes it even tougher for Arsenal to accept.
“Look, do I believe or not, the gap is there,” Wenger said. “That is often in the final part of the season, that can go one way or the other without really reflecting the difference between the teams.”
There is an incredible gap developing — 17 points to be exact — which was showcased on Sunday as Petr Cech made four fantastic saves to keep the score down. Yes, Arsenal have won PL titles, FA Cups and qualified regularly for the UEFA Champions League. But that was then. This is now.
Spurs are a club living in the moment and with a clear plan for the future. Arsenal are not.
With Spurs in the ascendancy on the pitch, their young squad improving together each month and their stunning new stadium rising higher each week, the future is bright for Tottenham.
Sunday was about soaking in nostalgia too as Pochettino waited for each and every one of his players to come off the pitch.
“We have to feel proud and happy because the last derby against Arsenal, all that it means for all our fans and everyone that loves Tottenham, it was a fantastic afternoon,” Pochettino said. “Of course we are disappointed that we didn’t reduce the gap to Chelsea but we are so proud of the team. ”
Pride is the key word in Tottenham as they’re finally top dogs in north London. Now they have bigger and better things to achieve as they leave Arsenal in their wake, the Gunners shuddering with fear and wrangled with jealousy.