Tottenham yesterday confirmed the signing of Lewis Holtby, who will join the club on a free transfer in the summer.
The attacking midfielder is not the only player to have chosen to join Spurs over Arsenal this season. Jan Vertonghen recently revealed that he could have gone to the Emirates in the summer, but instead preferred to move to White Hart Lane.
So are Tottenham a more attractive prospect than Arsenal these days? Not so long ago, it would be almost impossible imagining a player deciding to join Spurs if they also had the option of joining Arsenal.
Back in 1997 Emmanuel Petit had the chance to move to Tottenham from Monaco. Having held talks with the former Spurs chairman Alan Sugar and their then manager Gerry Francis, the club ordered a taxi for Petit to take him back to his hotel. Instead, Petit asked the driver to take him to a different location and met with Arsene Wenger and David Dein.
The midfielder signed with Arsenal and by the end of the season he had won the Premier League and FA Cup 'double' with the club. If that wasn’t painful enough for Spurs fans, they had to live with the fact that it was Tottenham who had paid Petit’s cab fare to send him into the arms of Arsenal.
For many years Arsenal were simply in a different league than Tottenham, but in recent seasons the Gunners' standing in the Premier League has declined, whilst Tottenham have improved immeasurably. Now there’s not too much to choose between the clubs.
It’s true that Arsenal can offer a player Champions League football, compared to Tottenham’s participation in the Europa League. However, Spurs would be in the Champions League were it not for the exceptional circumstance of Chelsea winning last season’s competition They have finished in the top four in two of the last three seasons and are currently in third place in the Premier League, five points ahead of sixth-placed Arsenal.
Arsenal still pay out more on wages than Tottenham, with their recent accounts showing that the Gunners spend £1m extra on salaries per week than Spurs. There is not much difference though, when it comes to what the clubs are willing to pay their top performers. Tottenham have broken their pay structure to keep Gareth Bale happy and entice Emmanuel Adebayor to the club, while you sense that Arsenal pay too much to some of the more mediocre talents on their squad.
Wages were never going to be the main issue with Holtby anyway. With the player available on a free transfer, both clubs would be able to offer him a hefty salary, safe in the knowledge that they could sell him in two years and at the very least recover their losses, should he not succeed in the Premier League.
Perhaps Holtby chose Spurs over Arsenal because there is a general feeling that Tottenham are going in the right direction, while their rivals are going backwards. Thanks to clever management at the board level, which has seen Spurs adopt a clear policy of buying the best young talent available, the club has been getting stronger and stronger over several seasons.
With the addition of a couple of players, Tottenham look like they could soon challenge for the title. Meanwhile Arsenal have gone from perennial title challengers to a club that is willing to merely settle for finishing in the top four. There are doubts as to the long-term future of their manager Arsene Wenger and the general direction of the club.
Personally, I wouldn’t say that Tottenham are a more attractive proposition for a player these days, but nor would I say that they are less attractive than Arsenal. It’s a pretty even choice and players will base their decision on whatever club they feel suits their needs best.
The fact that such a situation has developed is surely worrying for Arsenal fans. Having enjoyed such a clear advantage over their rivals for so long, it will be difficult for them to accept that there is now parity and within a few seasons Tottenham will have a stadium to match The Emirates. Could we soon see the day when a player like Theo Walcott decides to become a reverse-Sol Campbell and move to White Hart Lane?