The North London Derby, the only game that matters to me this week.
I always fear the away leg less as a Spurs fan. It’s like a free shot to be a hero. Always expected to lose, Always happy to draw, and almost always failing to win. At White Hart Lane in recent years Spurs have more than caught up.
Since Redknapp took over in mid 2008 there have been 7 North London Derbies in the League, Spurs have won 4 and drawn 2 of those encounters.
In the same period at the Emirates in the League there have been 7 meetings, Arsenal have won 4 and drawn 2 of those encounters.
So what’s my point? Identical League records over 7 years that might surprise some people, but explains Arsenals clear dominance in the fixture is over. A thing of what is now the past. But the bigger point of note is one that should be expected, when there’s not an awful lot between 2 sides home advantage is a huge factor. That is something Tottenham will need to overcome tactically and not just a reliance on passion and endeavour.
Amongst Arsenals 4 home wins are 3 by 3 goal margins, all other winning margins in the fixture over this period are by a solitary goal. This is a stat that highlights the biggest difference between the two sides for me. Arsenal have a ruthless streak and an ability when on top to put teams to the sword, kill teams off. Last week at Swansea they killed their opponents off in a ten minute spell of an otherwise even game. This is what Tottenham will need to be wary of on Sunday during long spells of Arsenal possession. Indeed in each of Arsenal’s victories over Tottenham by 3 goal margins just mentioned, Spurs conceded two goals within 3 minutes of each other or less. Game on to game over just like that. If Spurs ever are to “bridge the gap” between themselves and their rivals over the course of a season, and the best chance to do so may have passed for the next few years, it is this area that needs to be addressed. Ruthlessness and mental toughness.
But for now, it’s all about Sunday, so how can Spurs win this?
No one can deny Arsenal have an exceptional team. On an individual basis they are all marginally overrated, with the obvious exception of Sanchez and I’d include Laurent Koscielny, but as a team on their day they all contribute to being very difficult to contain. This is far more important than being good individuals.
If Ozil ever puts in a 10 out of 10 display Arsenal will award him 12 if you catch my drift, but he is finally starting to play better this season and Spurs’s young central midfield will have to work hard to restrict his space. Walcott being absent is a massive benefit to Spurs this week, not because he is Diego Maradona, but because the pace he is blessed
with leaves defending teams a dilemma. The speed he possesses means it is doubtful we would have the courage to defend with a high line, dropping back concedes possession and territory which is something you don’t want to be doing at the Emirates unless you are solely intending to counter attack, I think Spurs need to do more than just sit back and try to hit on the break and hopefully will take advantage of Walcott missing and try to keep Arsenal 20 yards further from goal.
Whilst not the same as Ozil in terms of name and glamour on the pitch Eriksen has influenced far more big games than his counterpart and keeping him to the free role is key to Spurs competing in the final 3rd. If Spurs opt to play higher up the pitch expect him to see a lot more of the ball, also dragging the arsenal midfield wide similarly to how he did with Nemanja Matic on New Years Day, leaving Alli and Dembele in particular space to drive forward into to support the attack.
If Koscielny doesn’t make it then that will be a boost, teams always struggle without their best centre half and I’d expect Kane to have some extra joy against the Arsenal back line without him.
The big problem then is Sanchez, he is the one who can drive Tottenham back and stop the full back joining in Spurs attacks making it more difficult to retain possession in effective areas. Dier, Alli, and Dembele are going to have to put in big shifts to support Walker and Davies, (Rose likely to miss out is a big blow) when Sanchez and Cazorla lead the attacks if they are going to get a result on Sunday.
Sanchez is the difference between these two teams right now make no mistake about that, Spurs can just about match Arsenal player for player all over the park and even better them in one or two cases, except for the little Chilean. He is THAT player, the one that Tottenham just don’t have right now.
The Sanchez factor and home advantage combined mean I still have to predict an Arsenal win if my life depended on it, also consider Spurs’s only away wins this season have come at Sunderland and Bournemouth, hardly fortresses. But if Spurs get their tactics right all over the park and can find away to keep the Arsenal superstar quiet they CAN win this game. Arsenal would be naive to think otherwise and so would the Tottenham team, and as I write this I start to believe more and more. By kick off on Sunday I’ll 100% convinced we can win there. That’s what away derbies are about for Tottenham, realism overtaken by hope that builds and builds to a point where why shouldn’t a win be possible? This is exactly what the players need to feel when wearing the shirt on Sunday.
Spurs have to believe it, and they have to want to win, not draw and hope for a bonus. They can use the advantage of defending higher up the pitch to dictate the pace more than usual in this fixture and it could still be an unlikely Derby day to remember at the toughest of hunting grounds. Maybe less unlikely than before though, Spurs’s progress in this fixture is there for all to see.
This is not the Spurs of yesteryear, it certainly isn’t the Arsenal either.
COME ON SPURS. TO DARE IS TO DO