Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur
This weekend will see some massive games played out in the Premiership. Mind games litter the headlines, as players fight for fitness, battle against injury and struggle against fatigue. The latter augmented by midweek internationals. Probably the biggest game of the weekend sees one of the fiercest rivalries in England come to a head. Here I attempt to preview and even predict one of the most unpredictable games of the Premiership season.
The two clubs are closer now than they have been since Arsene Wenger revolutionised the red half of north London. He brought a change in philosophy and a change in fortune, culminating in the famous ‘Invincibles’ team of 2003/2004. They are, however, a long way from that now, with some fans even starting to believe the time of the French manager is coming to an end.
On the other side of London this has been a painful period, watching bitter rivals pick up trophies isn’t pleasant at the best of times, but seeing them do it while you fade into mid table obscurity only intensifies the pain. Recently however the gap has been closed massively, thanks mainly to the laid back man management style of Harry Redknapp. His approach pleased the Spurs faithful not only for the immediate impact on results, but for the attractive football the team played getting them. Time has since changed things at White Hart Lane too, with Chairman Daniel Levy deciding to change the direction of the club by replacing the Londoner with Andre Villas Boas, to the bemusement of many Spurs fans.
Last season Tottenham held a massive lead over Arsenal that seemed impossible to lose, but as they faltered, their rivals showed the quality that has seen them finish above Spurs time and time again. Some say this late collapse was the reason that Redknapp was sacked, some say it was the uncertainty surrounding the manager involving the England job. Personally, I think it was a bit of both.
This season has seen both teams struggling for consistency, and the once gaping chasm between the two clubs seems well and truly closed, a point constantly reiterated by Spurs staff and fans. Arsenal seem rather more silent on the matter, a point which some see as an admission of this fact. Personally I think Arsenal prefer to do their talking on the pitch.
Arsenal welcome back Wojciech Szczesny back from a two month ankle injury and Jack Wilshere is available after suspension. The main concerns for Wenger are Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Bacary Sagna and Mikel Arteta, but don’t be surprised even if all of them are available for the game.
Tottenham midfielder Mousa Dembele has been ruled out with the hip problem that has seen him sit out the last month, but Jermaine Defoe, Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker are all expected to shake off minor injuries.
Last season Tottenham won 2-1 at White Hart Lane, and Arsenal won 5-2 at The Emirates. The result seemed to be the beginning of the end for Spurs, as they never seemed to recover and surrendered their 3rd place to Arsenal.
Tottenham have lost their last three games, but more alarmingly can’t really argue any of the results. The highlight of their season was a win at Old Trafford, which just shows the quality Tottenham possess. The low point on the other hand is a little less clear cut. Although losing 4-2 at home to Chelsea would not have pleased too many fans, the performance at home to Wigan at the beginning of the month will have rendered most Spurs fans seeking psychiatric help.
Arsenal have only won one of their last four league games, but the worst result of the four would have to be the 3-3 draw at home to Fulham. To go 2-0 up at home and not win will not have many fans feeling massively confident going in to the derby game, although Spurs’ form may produce a little more optimism.
As most people know, form doesn’t hold the key to this game; it often seems that neither does having the better team. If form was to have a bearing on this game it would suggest a draw, equally so if you try to work out who has the better team.
I think this game really comes down to the teams that show up. We all know how good both teams can be, at best they can both leave onlookers gasping for breath. Two of the most attractive, fast flowing footballing sides in Europe. Most neutrals would just be happy to watch both teams play each other at their very best, whatever the outcome. This is not a sentiment held by either set of fans though; who would chose a lucky win over beautiful draw.
A really tough one this, but if I was forced to bet on a result, I think I’d have to go for…
Arsenal 3-2 Tottenham