Has there ever been more riding on one North London derby in its illustrious history? When Tottenham and Arsenal rekindle their rivalry at White Hart Lane on Sunday it will be Andre Villas-Boas’ men in the driving seat for Champions League qualification; the prize both teams are desperate to claim. Spurs have been nothing short of excellent in 2013 with Villas-Boas adding to his January Manager of the Month award by winning it again in February. The Portuguese coach fully deserves the accolade having guided the club into the top three on the back of a 15 game unbeaten run following a bumpy start to life as Harry Redknapp’s successor. Incidentally their last defeat came in the reverse of this fixture in November but since then the Lilywhites have gone from strength to strength. Much of that owes to the blistering form of one Gareth Bale (February’s Player of the Month by chance) with the Welshman currently the name on the lips of world football. An incredible 90th minute winner at West Ham on Monday, his 12th goal in as many games, and another match winning performance illustrated just how good he is playing at the moment and his importance to the club. So it wouldn’t be remiss to suggest he will be the difference between victory and defeat on Sunday.
How the Gunners plan to cage the Welsh winger is another question entirely. One that Arsene Wenger admitted he didn’t have an answer to during the week. Just how do you shackle Bale at the moment? Nevertheless the main concern for Wenger will be whether his ramshackle defence can withstand the expected onslaught and their brittle confidence will be tested if they concede the first goal. The history books don’t paint a pretty picture for Arsenal given that they haven’t achieved a victory at White Hart Lane since September 2007 and desperately need to put wins on the board if they are to stay in touch with the top four. Should they return to the Emirates Stadium successful it could animate what has been a lifeless season but, in all truth, its hard to see that happening.
Jermain Defoe has shaken off an ankle injury and could take a place on the substitutes bench but Clint Dempsey (calf) is out.
Arsenal could welcome back Abou Diaby from a calf problem. However, they are without fullbacks Bacary Sagna (knee) and Kieran Gibbs (thigh).
What the managers said…
“We have the best league in the world, in my opinion, and while the best clubs continue to attract the best players, a player can develop to his full potential in this league. We don’t want Gareth to go in any circumstances. Our chairman is very difficult [for other clubs] to deal with, and we will try to hold onto our assets. We believe we have to hold onto our best players in order to achieve our objectives, and our objectives every season go higher. This season we want to finish in the Champions League, and next season you never know what team we can build if we can manage to achieve our objectives for this season.” Andre Villas-Boas says he is desperate to keep Gareth Bale at Tottenham beyond this season (ESPN)
“We don’t plan for anybody. He is not a subject of our worries for the next two or three days. We just want to prepare. We have great players in our team and it would be a complete mistake to focus on any player from Tottenham. There is no special player that you least like to face. All players have different qualities and there is no player that you’d absolutely ask to meet. What is important when you are a manager is that you are focused, you always worry and that hasn’t changed over the last 15 years. You always make sure your team are at their best, prepare well and focuses on playing the football that we love. What is important before a game like that is just to focus on our game and forget all the rest.” Arsene Wenger admits there is no plan to contain Gareth Bale (London Evening Standard)
Pre-Match Statistic: Interestingly the last two North London derbies have ended 5-2 to Arsenal with Tottenham reduced to 10 men in both.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Arsenal