Fifty three weeks ago, and I wouldn’t be an old boy if I didn’t add it seems like yesterday, I previewed the North London derby thus.
‘At a time when the natives are getting more vociferously restless to a lesser or greater degree, the Arsenal face a make or break test of that oft-mooted ‘mental strength’. It is perhaps fate that has thrown together the North London neighbours so soon after we have suffered poor losses in Champions League and FA Cup.’
Fast forward nine months and we were preparing for THE London derby again.
‘..lower-key it most definitely is not for the respective managers, both of whom know uncomfortable days lie ahead for the loser.’
So here we are again. Once more the fixture has added significance. For the second season running our friends and neighbours have the opportunity to put a potentially decisive distance between them and us in the pursuit of Champions League football next season. The big difference this time is that we have to travel to the dark end of the Seven Sisters Road, and that may have some bearing.
We have lost two and drawn two in Premiership visits to the Lane since last securing all three points there in September 2007 thanks in part to two goals from Emmanuel Adebayor. It is heartening to see him this season just twenty-seven goals short of the thirty he scored in that one good campaign for him. If reports of Jermain Defoe’s return from a mysterious injury are true then I would not be surprised to see him preferred up front for the hosts.
We can skirt around the issue all we like, but we have to accept that Gareth Bale is going through a purple patch and it is no surprise to see the media play up his value ahead of a match that will sell newspapers. The fact that Bale has figured in the last two matches, both won 5-2 by us, seems to have escaped the attention of some. Arsene rather wisely has played down the threat, although I have no doubt he has been preparing his side for the much less rigid role that Bale now has.
Carl Jenkinson should deputise for the injured Bacary Sagna again, but it is likely that Mikel Arteta will see more of Tottenham’s much hyped main threat in his role as protector of the central defenders. Bale’s willingness to get shots away from the edge of the box must be matched by a determination to get bodies in the way should danger loom.
Let’s also hope that the Spurs players share Scott Parker’s view of Arsenal being deflated by their narrow and late triumph against the same West Ham we stuck eight goals past this season. That’s only two goals less than we have scored against the neighbours in the last two meetings, and therein lies the extent of the task facing them. If Arsenal do get going then we have shown we have the firepower to seriously hurt them. Even Per Mertesacker hit the target in November!
The ‘holic pound cannot ignore the fact that this game tends to throw up goals, and lots of them. 39 in the last 8 meetings to be precise since a 0-0 at the Lane in February 2009. I cannot help but be attracted by the seriously tasty prices on offer for a 2-3 away win, and I am on it. I’m also tempted by a bet on us just to win, available anywhere at better than twos. The bookies really don’t fancy us, and they are rarely wrong, but I reckon they may just have misjudged this one. Click on the Gunners Gaming link above to back us at 7/3 (while that price holds!).
So there we are. If you have a ticket for the game keep your wits about you. For those watching elsewhere try to keep a sense of perspective throughout. In every derby game there are spells when the other lot are on top. The trick will be converting the opportunities that will occur, and recent history suggests we are better than them in that regard. They may have one huge threat, but we have half a dozen.
Let’s go prove it.
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