If the season ran from roughly January to May, Arsenal could well have been celebrating a third successive Premiership title at the end of the last campaign.
Alas, the season begins in August and even devastating end-of-term form from Arsenal has not been enough to deny Manchester United the last two major domestic gongs.
It is an arguable point, but worth mentioning - put Arsenal’s best X1 up against United’s and there is not much to choose between the two. If anything, Arsenal had the edge. Whether that edge still exists following the departure of Patrick Vieira’s running mate, Emmanuel Petit, along with Marc Overmars, remains to be seen, although United did return home pointless following a visit to Highbury earlier this season.
The loss of the dynamic duo did not seem to have too much of an adverse effect on N5 fortunes. They began the season strongly despite an opening day hiccup at Sunderland and finally managed to rid themselves of their Champions League opening phase hoodoo.
While Petit and Overmars headed through the exit door with Nigel Winterburn, some six new recruits came through the arrivals lounge. Robert Pires, Sylvain Wiltord, Moritz Volz, Guy Demel, Igor Stepanovs and Tomas Danilevicius winged their way in as Arsene Wenger continued to do his bit for the import-export industry.
None of the most recent imports have yet cemented a regular place in the starting line-up as Wenger has shuffled the pack and come up with a number of variations on last season’s theme. Thierry Henry has mostly been paired with Kanu, while Dennis Bergkamp aquatints himself with sitting on the bench and Wiltord accustoms himself with life in the fast lane.
The great wall of Highbury has lost a couple of bricks since George constructed the formidable barrier in the late eighties. Steve Bould was first to go the previous summer, followed by Winterburn during this close season, while Lee Dixon has often had to make way for Oleg Luzhny in a new-look defence that has looked somewhat porous in recent times.
The early season bubble was deflated in the month of November. Seven games were played in this period, five of which ended in defeat, including a damaging Champions League reverse to Spartak Moscow.
December has bought some much-needed relief with two Premiership wins registered. In-between those two victories however, Arsenal failed to get their Euro-bandwagon back on track, squandering a two-goal lead against Bayern Munich at Highbury. Arsenal will certainly be playing catch-up when they return to the playing fields of Europe early next year.
For now, it’s all hands to the Premiership pump as Arsenal seek to make up ground on Manchester United and Spurs look to protect an enviable home record against their closest rivals and close in on the European places.
In real terms, despite professional protestations to the contrary, this one is all-important, all about pride and all about being able to hold your head up highest until the next time. The encounters are not particularly enjoyable for those present — in fact they are gut-wrenchingly nerve-racking. Derby matches are generally only enjoyable in reflection — and that’s if three points are safely tucked away in the Premiership bank.