Arsenal’s Biggest Rivals

The third-most successful club in English football, Arsenal blend history with success and identifiable playing style under its iconic coaches. And there are also iconic rivalries if we trace their past and present day. Let’s fire our guns.

 

Tottenham Hotspur

First up we have the North London derby. This has the same storyline as Liverpool v Everton. Arsenal have been dominant for the most part to the extent their fans celebrate the day it’s mathematically confirmed that they will finish ahead of Spurs as St. Totteringham Day. Why are they rivals?

The main reason is that they’re both located in North London. Their proximity is a big fuel for both fans to pick the other as their rivals with a heartbeat.

How did the rivalry start?

Arsenal moving into Highbury in 1913 was the key point in the history of this duel. To begin with, Highbury was only four yards from Tottenham’s ground, White Hart Lane. Both clubs moved to new stadiums in the 21st century, but there have been lots of derby stories in their old homes.

Biggest Games

3 May, 1971

Tottenham 0-1 Arsenal

Ray Kennedy kept Arsenal’s dream of completing the double in the 1970/71 season with a solitary goal in the final match of the league campaign. Tottenham gave it all to avoid seeing their fierce rivals lifting the trophy on their ground. But the win meant Arsenal finished top by just a single point to second-placed Leeds United.

14 April 1991

Tottenham 3-1 Arsenal

There is no trace of a cup final involving these North London clubs. But this one counts more than a final for Tottenham fans. For the first time since 1971, Arsenal had a chance to win the league and cup double.

Tottenham’s challenge came in the semi-final this time around. And they failed to pass it succumbing to Paul Gascoigne’s early free-kick strike. Gary Lineker added a brace as Tottenham salvaged a famous win at Wembley.

The end of the season brought trophies at either end. Arsenal held their own to win the league, while Tottenham lifted their eighth (and the last, to date) FA Cup trophy.

25 April, 2004

Tottenham 2-2 Arsenal

History repeated itself after 33 years as Arsenal confirmed Premier League champions at White Hart Lane. Arsene Wenger’s side needed a draw to seal the title and they were cruising by the 35th minute.

Despite Spurs’ solid second-half that saw them level from two-goal behind, Arsenal just about did enough to jubilantly celebrate their success at full-time. As of now, this is their last league title as well.

13 November, 2004

Tottenham Hotspur 4-5 Arsenal

Back then, Arsenal were the champions as an undefeated team throughout the season. And, that run also went untouched for a bit in the following season. Spurs couldn’t avenge in Arsenal’s next visit to White Hart Lane.

But the two teams played out one of the best games of the Premier League era with Arsenal taking all three points home after a nine-goal thriller, with seven of the strikes netted after the half-time break.

2005/06 Season

The two clubs were on level playing field in the next season. With the chance to secure the final Champions League spot on their hands, a Tottenham team hit by food poisoning lost at West Ham. Arsenal duly accepted the opportunity as their final Highbury game had two more reasons to celebrate – Champions League football and finishing ahead of Spurs … once again.

22 January, 2008

Tottenham 5-1 Arsenal

After losing their last three cup semi-final meetings against Arsenal, Tottenham finally made it to the final of a League Cup in place of their city rivals in 2008. And, just like 1991, they ended up winning the cup.

The semi-final itself was a two-legged affair. After the 1-1 at the Emirates Stadium, Spurs dominated the return leg to dispatch their rivals 6-2 on aggregate.

Played for both

Only eight players played for both clubs in North London derbies. And Jimmy Robertson and Emmanuel Adebayor are just the two names to score in these fixtures for both teams.

Manchester United

The biggest actors in this rivalry aren’t the players or fans. It all should be attributed to the dynasties built by Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger at their respective clubs. As such, this fixture currently doesn’t have the importance it used to weigh in the mid-2000s.

Why are they rivals?

The 1990s had these clubs fight every season for the throne. And that developed a strong rivalry between one another despite no geographical proximity.

How did the rivalry start?

Sir Alex didn’t welcome Wenger with open arms. But he soon finds out as Arsene developed multiple teams that prevented the Premier League from total domination by Manchester United until foreign investment opened more gates.

As they started on the wrong feet, their relationship stayed that way until retirement. And it gave us arguably one of the finest football rivalries for nearly two decades.

Biggest Games

12 May, 1979

Arsenal 3-2 Manchester United

The two clubs met multiple times in the cup – including Arsenal’s fortunate penalty shootout success in the 2005 final – but this one was the precursor.

Arsenal lifted the trophy by beating Manchester United after initially squandering a two-goal lead. Three of the five goals arrived in the final five minutes which gave the occasion a “five-minute final” moniker.

April 14, 1999

Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United

Another memorable FA Cup tie between the giants. This one was all about Ryan Giggs as he single-handedly sent ten-man Manchester United to the final with a solo strike when the two teams were pondering a penalty shootout.

Manchester United went on to win the treble that season with another late drama in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich.

March 14, 1998

Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal

Marc Overmars scored the only goal of the game as Arsenal took a huge step in securing the league and cup double in Wenger’s first full season.

Four years later, Arsenal repeated the feat by once again taking a huge step with a narrow win at Old Trafford, with Sylvian Wiltord scoring the all-important goal to deny Manchester United a fourth successive title. Another domestic double for Wenger’s boys.

21 September, 2003

Manchester United 0-0 Arsenal

A hard-fought game got out of control in the final phases when Ruud van Nistelrooy was verbally and physically abused by Arsenal players after missing a penalty-kick. The story didn’t end there, however.

24 October, 2004

Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal

That was part of Arsenal’s unbeaten league season. But, when it came to an end, Manchester United, and in particular van Nistelrooy, was the culprit. The Dutch striker scored a late penalty-kick this time around as Arsenal missed their chance to extend the unbeaten run to 50 games. The controversy continued after the final whistle with the pizzagate scandal saw Cesc Fabregas slam one at Sir Alex’s direction.

Arsenal struggled in the following seasons with the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford their most humiliating moment of this rivalry. Mikel Arteta was one of the hasty signings to strengthen the midfield in the aftermath of that defeat and that cooperation helped convince the Spaniard to take the reigns in 2019.

Played for both

Arsenal lost two of their best players to Manchester United in the 2010s, with contrasting fates in their fortunes. Robin van Persie played the leading role to help Sir Alex depart with a league title. But Alexis Sanchez, who was as influential as the Dutchman in his Emirates days, failed to find his feet at Old Trafford since the first day.

Chelsea

Another London derby with the Blues hailing from the West side of England’s capital city.

Why are they rivals?

Some FA Cup moments pitted them together, but it has had more attraction since Roman Abramovich acquired Chelsea.

How did the rivalry start?

In “The Obi One Podcast”, Jose Mourinho predicted the title race would be between Manchester City and Liverpool, acting as if Arsenal aren’t around despite topping the standings at the time.

That perfectly put when was the pinnacle of this rivalry. Mourinho had a very intense relationship with Wenger to the point they were involved in a shoving and pushing incident once.

Biggest Games

2003-04 Champions League quarter-finals

Chelsea 3-2 (on aggregate) Arsenal

In the season Arsenal wrote history with the unbeaten league season, they were knocked out of Europe by Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea. The Gunners couldn’t make use of their multiple chances home and away to end up losing with a rare Wayne Bridge goal.

25 February, 2007

Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal

The League Cup final is remembered for all the wrong reasons as three players saw red cards in the sixth minute of injury-time. Didier Drogba was a nightmare for Arsenal in his playing days. The Ivorian scored both goals in this final played at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

29 October, 2011

Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal

Perhaps in the most entertaining game between the two clubs, van Persie’s hattrick stunned Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

22 March, 2014

Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal

Wenger’s 1000th game was completely off the script. Chelsea raced to a three-goal lead inside 15 minutes before the final scoreline equaled the Frenchman’s heaviest defeat at Arsenal.

2017 & 2020 FA Cup finals

Although it wasn’t against Mourinho’s Chelsea, Wenger finally had a consolation prize as he denied the Blues FA Cup glory in 2017. Three years later, Mikel Arteta beat the same opponent in the final with a brace from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Played for both

Ashley Cole, not least with Chelsea initially punished for trying to create direct contact without Arsenal’s knowledge, is the biggest in-house transfer between the clubs. Chelsea also later signed Arsenal’s ex-captain Cesc Fabregas after his spell in his homeland.

In 2023, it was Arsenal’s turn to go for Chelsea’s assets as Jorginho and Kai Havertz joined Arteta’s quest to restore Arsenal’s glory days.