This week in: English Football – The North London Derby

Some Spurs fans are waiting for the fall...

Spurs travel to the Emirates this Sunday for the North London derby and, for the first time in decades, they will be considered favourites in an away game against Arsenal.  To call this a rivalry over the last twenty-five years would be akin to using that term for Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote – it has been completely one-sided and any time Tottenham think they are going to catch up with the Gunners, an Acme Anvil will fall out of the sky onto their heads…or they will eat some dodgy lasagna.  Yet somehow, fellow Spurs supporters seem to have belief that this weekend will be different – that because we have performed better to this point, and sit 10 points above Arsenal in the league table, we should expect to go there and win.  With a home game against Manchester United the following week, other fans have been citing the possibility of Tottenham picking up four points from these two fixtures.  To truly believe that, you would have to discount the previous two decades of results and performances by Spurs – not to mention ignore the fact that last weekend they travelled to Stevenage and were unable to beat the team from League One.

I am not so optimistic about Tottenham’s chances, neither for this weekend or the following week’s match against United.  For too long, Spurs have looked good and then collapsed – it seems inevitable that it will happen again this year.  With their 10 point advantage over Arsenal, they have a great opportunity to finish above them for the first time since the 1994/5 season, having never done so since Arsene Wenger became the Gunners’ manager.  Tottenham have also not done the double (beat them home and away) over their neighbours since 1992/3 – and even then, the match at Highbury was against a makeshift team, as the home side were looking ahead to the FA Cup final the following week.  

Arsenal have had their problems this year and face a seventh straight trophyless season (unless they can somehow overturn a 4-0 deficit in their Champions League tie with AC Milan) after they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Sunderland last weekend.  Comparing the two teams does, for once, favour Tottenham at the moment: they have the best full-back pairing in the country (Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Walker); a strong midfield – anchored by Scott Parker, with creativity from Modric and the pace of Lennon and Bale to devastate defences; and a strike force that put five past Newcastle in their most recent Premier League game.  However, all the clichés of throwing the form book out of the window for a derby match hold true – and there would be no better way for Arsenal to reignite their season than by getting one over on their old enemy.  Robin Van Persie remains one of the most dangerous strikers in the Premiership; while players such as Walcott, Arshavin and Chamakh will be eager to disprove the criticism they have received this season, by helping their team win the North London Derby.

To neutral observers, Tottenham will be considered favourites for this game – but the hope of that win is what makes me believe that it will all come crashing down on Sunday.  In the movie “Clockwise”, John Cleese exclaims “It’s not the despair, I can take the despair.  It’s the hope that kills me”; and, in The Shawshank Redemption, Red states that “Hope is a dangerous thing.  Hope can drive a man insane.”  I’m sure they were both Spurs fans.

I just hope on Sunday I’m proven wrong and Tottenham win…ahh bollocks, there’s that hope again.

Elsewhere this weekend, Chelsea will be trying to pick up the pieces of their season – having lost 3-1 away to Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday, and facing a tricky replay away at Birmingham in the FA Cup – when they host 19th placed Bolton at Stamford Bridge.  Even a draw would take the Blues back into the top four, albeit temporarily before Arsenal beat Spurs on Sunday (did I mention I think we will lose?).  Newcastle, who currently sit a single point behind Arsenal and Chelsea, are at home against managerless Wolves – who have thus far been unable to recruit a replacement for Mick McCarthy since he was sacked two weeks ago.  Fulham make the short trip across London to take on a QPR side that is only out of the relegation zone on goal difference; West Brom face Sunderland at the Hawthornes; and bottom-of-the-table Wigan will try to gain just their second home league win of the season against 15th placed Aston Villa.  Manchester City should have a routine win at home against Blackburn – and they might have Carlos Tevez back in their lineup within a couple of weeks, after the Argentinian returned to the club and issued an apology to City, ending their five month feud.  On Sunday, Manchester United travel to Norwich; and two teams on 30 points, Stoke and Swansea, meet at the Britannia Stadium.

There are only 9 Premiership fixtures this weekend, as the Merseyside Derby between Liverpool and Everton has been postponed because Kenny Dalglish’s men have a trip to Wembley for the Carling Cup final against Cardiff this Sunday.  Playing against a side from a division below them, it is a great chance for Liverpool to secure their first trophy since winning the FA Cup in 2006 – and they are into the quarter-finals of that competition again this year too.  Cardiff currently sit in the playoff places in the Championship, but have only won once in their five games since they secured their place in this final at the end of January.  They will be considered huge underdogs for the match, but will hope to take advantage of the pressure that will be on Liverpool as heavy favourites for the trophy.

Predictions

Last time, 4-6; Season 95-125

Chelsea vs Bolton – Home win

Newcastle vs Wolves – Home win

QPR vs Fulham – Draw

West Brom vs Sunderland – Away win

Wigan vs Aston Villa – Draw

Manchester City vs Blackburn – Home win

Arsenal vs Tottenham – Home win

Norwich vs Manchester United – Away win

Stoke vs Swansea – Draw

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