Vital derby in north London
3 March ~ I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s knowing two things about the north London derby. One, Spurs and Arsenal were implacable rivals and two, after slugging it out for all those years, the combatants had identical records in terms of wins, draws and defeats. Times change. Our neighbours pulled away into the far distance while Spurs experienced interminable decades of false dawns. However, there is an inescapable feeling that the balance of power is about to shift and this one game could be the tipping point.
A win sees Spurs in third, seven points ahead. Failure to qualify for the Champions League could have dire consequences for both teams but for Spurs, finishing above our rivals for the first time since 1995 carries meaning and significance far greater than the parochialism of a derby victory.
A relatively young Tottenham team is one for the future, packed with skilful players desperate to better themselves and loyal to manager André Villas-Boas. Contrast this with Arsène Wenger, a decent man unfairly criticised by sections of the media and his own fans but whose ideas appear jaded, his hitherto masterful judgement in the transfer market having finally failed to bring in enough players of sufficient quality.
Gareth Bale could win this or any game on his own. In 50 years I’ve never seen any player with Bale's combination of power, size, pace and touch. Key man, however, could be Hugo Lloris. The French keeper dominates his box and his willingness to come off his line allows the back four to push up, which in turn compresses the space available to the opposition and makes it easier for the midfield to create space when we have the ball.
Aaron Lennon, quiet recently but another having his best-ever season, Moussa Dembélé and the bustling Lewis Holtby must stay busy to press in all areas, create space for Bale to work his magic and stifle the supply of through-balls from Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta to Theo Walcott. This finely balanced match could turn on how Spurs’ high defensive line handles his runs.
Think how good we would be if we had a striker. Spurs have to get at Arsenal’s dodgy backline but our one fit striker has scored two goals all season. Emmanuel Adebayor looks out of touch rather than uninterested but the derbies fire him up, to the point where earlier this season at the Emirates he scored then was sent off for a needless tackle.
Anticipation is high, with excitement mixed with fear not just of defeat but that this could be yet another example of promise unfulfilled. Then again, excitement and fear are what derbies are all about. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Alan Fisher Tottenham on my mind