Usually around this time of year Arsenal supporters begin examining the fixture list to determine when they might celebrate a tradition that has become known as St Totteringham's Day. That is the point in the football calendar where it becomes arithmetically impossible for their local foes to finish above them in the league. Whatever they may be thinking as they head for the Emirates this weekend, however much foreboding fills the air, with unease about Arsène Wenger's thinking and Stan Kroenke's style of ownership back on the agenda, it is lost on nobody that St Totteringham's Day may be cancelled for the first time in Wenger's 16-year reign.
The last time Tottenham ended a Premiership campaign with the upper hand in north London, Arsenal endured a season when their manager, a proven winner who had turned the club around, fell dramatically from grace. It was 1995 and George Graham was sacked as a result of the bung scandal. Arsenal finished in mid-table. Spurs did a little better, ending up seventh but still way behind Leeds, Nottingham Forest and the champions that season, Blackburn Rovers. A newborn baby then could have grown up to the age of consent and become a parent in the time since Tottenham last looked down on Arsenal.
Will anybody explain the significance of this development to Mr Kroenke on Sunday as he pays a rare visit to the home of his long-distance franchise? The visiting supporters have waited long enough for such a twist in neighbourly relations that they will be raring to mention it. Over the other side of the aisle in the directors' box, the Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy can survey the scene with a sense of serenity he has seldom enjoyed since he began a painstaking, and often painful, game of catch-up.
Among the group who have represented England in the Champions League in recent seasons Tottenham's business model, with a home-grown, hands-on chairman who works closely with his manager and is involved in his club's affairs 365 days a year, is an anomaly. It is a throwback. Tottenham are backed by the finance of Enic, the company controlled by the billionaire Joe Lewis, but in the running of the club, overseen by Levy, Tottenham remain based on a traditional operation. It is interesting that they are enjoying their most productive spell at a time when Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, under foreign ownership, are no longer set up to function in the same way.
Levy's stock has not always been so high. The experiment with a director of football concept was problematic. The constant changing of management (seven in his first seven years as chairman), with a few clangers such as Jacques Santini and Juande Ramos in the mix, did not give the best impression. But a series of excellent decisions more recently, starting with the moment he hired Harry Redknapp, has had a transformative effect.
Last summer he played the transfer window with a hard business nose and the dividends have been paying out on the pitch for Tottenham all season.
In playing hardball to keep Chelsea's hands off Luka Modric, arranging the loan for Emmanuel Adabayor, securing shrewd deals for players such as Brad Friedel and Scott Parker, Levy has backed his manager wholeheartedly.
In many ways it is reminiscent of the model Wenger enjoyed when Arsenal flourished. He had strong football men behind him who were as steeped in the English game as they were in business. David Dein and the late Danny Fiszman did not always see eye to eye but they worked tirelessly to provide Wenger with the support needed off the pitch. The board were close-knit and, in their own ways, as obsessed by it all as Wenger. They viewed financial matters as important only to serve sporting aspirations.
They were visible in the stands every time Arsenal played, be it the main show, the reserves or the youths. They were the team behind the team.
When Kroenke dropped into Arsenal's AGM in October, at the end of a five-minute speech he joked: "You had better get used to seeing us. Because we will be around." His is a distinctive interpretation of "around". The last game he attended was almost four months ago.
In the American's absence Ivan Gazidis is the face of the current Arsenal board. The chief executive appears to have a difficult job in mediating between the business side and the sporting side and Wenger does not always seem in tune with his messages. While Gazidis has announced some good news with a price freeze for season-ticket holders, Wenger expressed sympathy for the costs loaded on to supporters in an environment where Arsenal struggle to keep up with the wealthiest. "We are far behind the top teams wages-wise but what is true is that our fans pay the price for it," he said. During the week stories emerged of a transfer war chest for the summer but Wenger knocked such stuff back as "not true".
Tottenham offer stability and unity behind the scenes at a time when Arsenal have issues in that area. With Alisher Usmanov hoovering up a few stray shares last week, the "cold war", as some fans have dubbed it, between the American and Uzbeki shareholders is an ongoing struggle. Until such time as it is resolved it is difficult to see Arsenal selling a clear vision for the future.
With former players queueing up to urge Wenger to revamp the team, Lee Dixon has described this as the "most important derby" his old manager has faced. More important than semi-finals? More important than winning the title at White Hart Lane? More important than his first derby match, which came when he had a mere five Premier League matches under his belt and needed to win over a sceptical public – and team – having arrived from Japan? Incidentally, consider how many of the team who won Wenger's first derby back in 1996, before he had really got hold of the team, would walk into the current side: Lukic, Dixon, Bould, Keown, Adams, Winterburn, Vieira, Platt, Merson, Bergkamp, Wright.
The current squad needs more surgery than did the one Wenger inherited. The marketplace makes that difficult. But at the very least the importance of a good summer has been amply demonstrated at both Spurs and Arsenal. Somehow Wenger and his board have to come t ogether and make a better fist of it next time.