Expert Opinion: North London Derby special

Fresh off the back of a dramatic late winner at West Ham, Sunday sees us go in to a pivotal North London Derby with Arsenal.

Three in to two won’t go and with Chelsea also vying for a Champions League place, the game has added significance for which London club will miss out next season.

Ahead of the big game, I put a few questions to some of my favourite Spurs bloggers on how they see this edition of the North London Derby going…

Gareth Bale believes Spurs are now a better side than Arsenal, is this really the case or just pre-North London Derby banter?

Ben McAleer of TotheLaneandBack and Pick Tottenham:
Pre-match sledging from Bale. Of course we’re not better than Arsenal, well, not yet anyway. Their consistency of securing regular finishes above Spurs means they remain the dominant north London side. Until Tottenham can place higher than the Gunners on a season-to-season basis, Arsenal will remain the better team. But, the gulf has been closed substantially over reason seasons and this one could be the one that the pendulum swings back in the favour of Spurs.

Sam Antrobus of The Hotspur Way:
I think there’s definitely a bit of mind games going on there, but at the same time it’s definitely not without substance. It feels difficult to argue with Bale’s belief that we possess a superior overall squad and in the man himself, we boast a match winner that few teams in Europe possess, let alone the gentlemen down the road. Although, for as strong as we are as a collective, and for as well as Bale has played, I still believe that Arsenal playing at their very, very best, are marginally better than ourselves at the same level.

Stephan of TotalTottenham:
I think it’s a bit of both. The current table says we’re better than them. We’re on a better run of form than them. But still, you have to be careful because they are lucky. They always seem to turn it on at the end of the season. The way they pipped us to 3rd last season has probably taught us all a lesson to keep it down while the season is still ongoing.

Kenny Palmer of THFC1882:
One of the things Andre Villas-Boas has added to Spurs is consistency of performance, which is reflected in the fact that the team are unbeaten in the last 11 league games and have developed a winning mentality; in this respect Spurs have the edge over Arsenal. Man for man there is not much between the players.


Does Gareth Bale love the banter?

Arsenal were four points behind going in to this fixture (albeit at the Emirates) last season and ended up finishing a point ahead of us. Given the current four point gap, would a win here ensure us finishing above them this time?

Ben: Absolutely not. It may open a seven point gap between Spurs and Arsenal, but then last season a 13 point cushion had emerged before Redknapp’s continuous flirtation with the England job and, ultimately, the capitulation that saw Spurs miss out on Champions League football, albeit, as a result of Chelsea’s exploits in Bayern. Nevertheless, until it is mathematically impossible for Arsenal to catch Spurs, then nothing is ensured between now and May.

Sam: I’m not so sure it ensures it, as such. Like many other Spurs fans, maybe I’ve just been scorched by the failure of last season, but even if we beat them on Sunday, we face a defining period in April. The trio of games against Everton (H) Chelsea (A) and Manchester City (H) will be vital. Beating them this weekend will be a huge blow to them, but not a fatal one.

Stephan: No, I don’t think it will. I think we have the toughest run-in of all the top 4 contenders. We still have to play Liverpool away, Man City at home, Everton at home and Chelsea away. We need to win at least 2 of those games, both to rack up enough points and also to take points off teams that could still be challenging for Champions League football. Add to that we’re playing 3 possible relegation candidates in the last 4 games of the season. They will definitely put up a fight. The best thing we can hope for is for some of them to pull away from the bottom 3, so they will feel less pressure to get a result whatever it takes.

Kenny: Conversely a win for Arsenal would leave them just a point behind us. It’s that close between Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs that even if we beat them the result will not be decisive. It’s going to go right down to the wire to determine if we finish above them and who finishes in the top four and I would not rule out Everton making a late run.

Even before Emmanuel Adebayor was sent off in the match earlier this season it was an open game, do you see it being the same again?

Ben: Since that game, Spurs have lost once in the Premier League. It was the ultimate kick up the backside the players needed and for the 17 minutes Adebayor was on the pitch, it can be argued that Villas-Boas’ side were the stronger of the two teams. Will it be as open a game? That depends on a number of factors. Will Gareth Bale continue his staggering run of form? Will Scott Parker forget how to perform his defensive duties again? Will Lewis Holtby come good? Tiny iota’s that will have a significant effect, but with it being North London Derby day and all; I can see this one being a frantic, fast paced encounter from start to finish.

Sam: My gut instinct thinks that it might well be, yes. I know we’ve tended to look a little cagier at home this season, but we’ve slowly looked more expansive as the season’s gone on and more than anything, I think both players and management will be desperate to win this one. During the West Ham game, the players looked like a bunch that were starting to believe that we can achieve something special this season and even if I don’t think it’ll be a killer blow in the race for Champions League qualification, beating Arsenal would send out a huge message. I think we’ll be going for it.

Stephan: The North London Derby has been a very open and high-scoring affair in recent seasons. I can’t see a dull 1-0 or 0-1 playing out. Arsenal can’t defend if their lives depended on it, so the only thing they can hope for is to outscore us.

Kenny: Absolutely! Historically this game has provided lots of goals where current form tends to go out of the window. Despite Wenger receiving lots of stick Arsenal actually are on a good run of form in the league winning their last three games.


Another open North London Derby from AVB?

Who is the one Arsenal player we should be wary of?

Ben: Jack Wilshere. Yeah, Spurs fans hate him with his continuous goading of the club, but he’s a player of immense quality and if he’s on form, he will punish us. Looking back to Parker, and his insistency of perplexingly pushing forward, ‘Captain Combover’ needs to learn to sit back and shield the back four and leave the attacking duties to Mousa Dembele. If he has a similar game to that of West Ham, Wilshere will capitalise on the space between the midfield and defence.

Sam: It’s the standard choice, but it’s difficult to look past Theo Walcott, isn’t it? I can’t help but think that our back four is still a little susceptible to pace and with the sort of architects they’ve got in the likes of Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla, that high defensive line is going to have to be watertight to stop him going through. Walcott loves a goal against us and if we make a cock-up akin to the one that sent Matt Taylor through against West Ham, the former Southampton man isn’t going to be quite so forgiving.

Stephan: I was thinking about Santi Cazorla cause he dives for penalties and gets players booked. But on the other hand he’s gone missing in the big games on multiple occasions this season. Wilshere will probably act like a prat again, asking for cards and trying to cause a bust-up, but he will also most likely be the centre of all their attacking play. If we manage to close him down and cut off the space for him to run into, that could prove to be very important.

Kenny: Just as Gareth Bale is our talisman, Jack Wilshere fulfils a similar role for Arsenal. Since coming back from a lengthy injury he has undoubtedly been Arsenal’s best player and is the leader and creative heartbeat of the team.

Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Younes Kaboul and Aaron Lennon have all scored massive or winning goals in recent North London Derbies, do you see something special coming from an unlikely source this time?

Ben: What I wouldn’t give for a hobbling Ledley King to leap like a salmon to head past Wojciech Szczesny to hand Spurs all three points in the 93rd. But in the realm of reality, I honestly couldn’t care if the goal is special, comes from an unlikely source or bounces in off a players arse to hand Spurs a 1-0 or 5-4 win; three points is all that matters. But, fans have been waiting for Holtby to really showcase his capabilities and with Mikel Arteta struggling in his defensive duties, I can sense a winner coming from the German.

Sam: I’m not sure if he counts as an unlikely one, but I’ve had several premonitions of Jan Vertonghen putting a pea-roller past Szczesny. You heard it here first.

Stephan: Adebayor is an unlikely source of goals as anyone in the team right now, so it might be nice if he could pull a couple out of the bag. I wouldn’t rule out Lewis Holtby opening his Spurs account during the derby.

Kenny: With Jermain Defoe and Clint Dempsey likely to be sidelined Gareth Bale is the team’s only genuine goal threat in the starting eleven. The sitter missed by Emmanuel Adebayor against West Ham – another from a long list this season – highlights the folly of not strengthening in this area in January. Gylfi Sigurdsson’s excellent cameo performance on Monday night, where he affected the game when he came on suggests he could be a potential match winner when introduced from the bench.


An unlikely North London Derby scorer?

Could you be so bold enough to give us a prediction?

Ben: I’ve gone for a Spurs win in the past, having predicted the last 12 games of the season, and after tipping a victory for Villas-Boas’ side over West Ham, I’m hoping I can make it two in two. 2-1 last season was the final score in the White Hart Lane North London Derby and that’s what I’ll go for again. Bale and Holtby for the hosts, Theo Walcott for Arsenal, because he loves a goal against Spurs, doesn’t he?

Sam: 2-2

Stephan: I’m not really superstitious about giving pre-match predictions but for this time I’ll keep them to myself. I don’t want to jinx what could prove to be the most important North London Derby in decades.

Kenny: Spurs have been on the end of 5-2 hammerings in the last two North London derbies and will be looking for revenge in front of the White Hart Lane faithful. It will be another open game between two teams who have won their last three league games. Inspired by the man of the moment Gareth Bale, I see Spurs winning this 3-1!

You can follow Ben (@Ben_McAleer1 ), Sam (@Samuel_Antrobus), Stephan (@TotalTottenham) and Kenny (@KennyPalmer) on Twitter.

What’s your North London Derby prediction Spursland?

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