Local derby number crunching: North London Derby reigns supreme as Premier League’s best

Dave Tickner
Tottenham take on Arsenal in the North London Derby

Spurs and Arsenal meet this weekend in the North London Derby, and for once there is a significant gulf between them in the Premier League table thanks to the Gunners embarking on a gloriously improbable title challenge while Spurs shuffle about trying to win every single game from 2-0 down for reasons known only to themselves.

And this got us thinking – always dangerous – because for the last decade Spurs and Arsenal feel like they’ve been virtually inseparable. Certainly far closer matched than the combatants in the Premier League’s other two major local derbies (apologies in advance to fans of other silly little derbies, go right ahead and have your tantrums about not being included here in the comments).

Of the three – Merseyside, Manchester, north London – there really is only one that has spent the last 10 years being about anything more than those admittedly all-important Local Bragging Rights. Only one where there is a meaningful rivalry outside the geographical. So we looked at some numbers and that half-baked initial thought was actually even more true than we thought. God bless Spurs and Arsenal and their ongoing commitment to absurdist banter, frankly.

We looked at this season so far and the last 10 full campaigns before it because 10 is a good solid number isn’t it? And also it conveniently takes us back to 2012/13 which is both the last time United finished above City and the last time Everton finished above Liverpool. We’ve counted this season as half a season for the sums because it’s near enough, innit.

Liverpool and Everton

2022/23: Liverpool (6) lead Everton (18) by 13 points
2021/22: Liverpool (2) beat Everton (16) by 53 points
2020/21: Liverpool (3) beat Everton (10) by 10 points
2019/20: Liverpool (1) beat Everton (12) by 50 points
2018/19: Liverpool (2) beat Everton (8) by 43 points
2017/18: Liverpool (4) beat Everton (8) by 26 points
2016/17: Liverpool (4) beat Everton (7) by 15 points
2015/16: Liverpool (8) beat Everton (11) by 13 points
2014/15: Liverpool (6) beat Everton (11) by 15 points
2013/14: Liverpool (2) beat Everton (5) by 14 points
2012/13: Everton (6) beat Liverpool (7) by 2 points

Head-to-head: 8 Liverpool wins, 1 Everton win, 12 draws
Average points difference: Liverpool by 23.8
Average position difference: Liverpool by 6.4

A few striking things here. One is that even a Liverpool side having a dirty protest of a season is still streaking away from their beleaguered local rivals. Second, the now familiar thought that this might not even be a Premier League rivalry for much longer. Third. that failing to get within 50 points of your local rivals twice in three seasons really must be a pisser. And fourth is a rejoinder to the idea that ‘the formbook goes out the window’ in these matches. On Merseyside, it is simply replaced by a derby-specific formbook in which Liverpool nearly always win the games at Anfield while Everton nearly always battle gamely to a point at Goodison. This season’s goalless draw at Goodison is already in the books, with the formalities of the Anfield win for Liverpool to be rubber-stamped next month.

But perhaps the most absurd thing in the context of these numbers is that the one Everton win was a) at Anfield, b) not even two years ago and c) at that time not really even that much of a surprise. That 2020/21 season truly was a very, very weird one. Everyone likes to asterisk 2019/20 – mainly just to wind up Liverpool fans in fairness – but 2020/21 is the freakish outlier. Klopp’s Liverpool finished behind Solskjaer’s United, for goodness’ sake.

Virgil van Dijk, Divock Origi, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson

Manchester City and Manchester United

2022/23: City (2) lead United (4) by 4 points
2021/22: City (1) beat United (6) by 35 points
2020/21: City (1) beat United (2) by 12 points
2019/20: City (2) beat United (3) by 15 points
2018/19: City (1) beat United (6) by 32 points
2017/18: City (1) beat United (2) by 19 points
2016/17: City (3) beat United (6) by 9 points
2015/16: City (4) beat United (5) on GD
2014/15: City (2) beat United (4) by 9 points
2013/14: City (1) beat United (7) by 22 points
2012/13: United (1) beat City (2) by 11 points

Head-to-head: 11 City wins, 7 United wins, 3 draws
Average points difference: City by 13.9
Average position difference: City by 2.5

The 10-year trend here is for United to appear deceptively close to their noisy neighbours on the table right up until you glance across at the points column where, with the notable exception of 2016 where nobody is looking below ‘1. Leicester’ anyway, a rather different story emerges. That is the only time in the last nine seasons that United have got within nine points of City, last season the gap was a record 35 points and this year appeared to be going the same way when City humiliated United 6-3 at the Etihad. City’s perplexing (relative) struggles and United’s steady improvement under Erik ten Hag are shifting the narrative, though, and there certainly seems to be less of a gulf between the pair right now than has been the case at any other time since Pep Guardiola got his feet under the desk at the Etihad. But those are a lot of stark numbers for United to try and turn around.

Tottenham and Arsenal

2022/23: Arsenal (1) lead Spurs (5) by 11 points
2021/22: Spurs (4) beat Arsenal (5) by 2 points
2020/21: Spurs (7) beat Arsenal (8) by 1 point
2019/20: Spurs (6) beat Arsenal (8) by 3 points
2018/19: Spurs (4) beat Arsenal (5) by 1 point
2017/18: Spurs (3) beat Arsenal (6) by 14 points
2016/17: Spurs (2) beat Arsenal (5) by 11 points
2015/16: Arsenal (2) beat Spurs (3) by 1 point
2014/15: Arsenal (3) beat Spurs (5) by 11 points
2013/14: Arsenal (4) beat Spurs (6) by 10 points
2012/13: Arsenal (4) beat Spurs (5) by 1 point

Head-to-head: 7 Spurs wins, 8 Arsenal wins, 6 draws
Average points difference: Arsenal by 0.2
Average position difference: Spurs by 0.1

Now that’s the stuff, isn’t it? Look at the extreme lengths Arsenal have had to go to this season just to try and buck the trend. A casual glance suggests recent Spurs dominance, but look at the points difference. No more than one game in it for each of the last four seasons, and two of Arsenal’s last four seasons finishing above their rivals were just the same. And look how often these two dafties end up side by side in the final table. Five times in the last 10 seasons they’ve been right next to each other. Not once in that time has the season ended with a gap as big as the current four-place difference between the two.

And look at those head-to-head results. If Spurs continue the recent trend for home teams winning the NLD – and that one is a pretty big if right now, fair enough – there will be absolutely nothing separating the two across 11 years of league results against each other.

Even madder still, right now, across 10-and-a-half seasons of Premier League football – very nearly 400 matches each – the overall points difference between these two silly football clubs is… two. Arsenal have two points more than Spurs in 400 games of football each. These two are so relentlessly neck and neck that even when one streaks clear it only makes things tighter. Spurs could go back above Arsenal on the all-important 11-season table this weekend. Worra trophy that is.