This weekend’s Premier League fixture list sees two of the biggest derbies in the country both take place on Saturday, as Liverpool host Everton in the early kick off, then Arsenal take on Tottenham later in the day. Most seasons, any North London derby is a contest I look forward to, even if I have trepidation about how the match will go, especially when it is being played at the Emirates (as this Saturday’s fixture is). However, this year I am contemplating whether or not I should even watch the game, given the fact that Spurs will not only lose the match, but could well be taken apart by an historic margin. The largest ever victory for either side in this matchup is Arsenal’s 6-0 defeat of Tottenham in the 1934/5 season; this year with the combination of Tottenham’s porous back line and the Gunners’ array of attacking talents, they are likely to rack up at least that many.
To clarify, this is not some sort of reverse jinx or the pessimism returning after my brief hazy Tottenham-optimism that reared it’s head in my Premiership season preview, it is rather just a fact, based on how the two teams are currently playing. Against West Brom last week, Spurs put in one of the worst performances I can ever remember watching – and I’ve seen us lose 4-0 at home to Blackburn. The passing was awful, going forward we looked clueless and like the players had never even met each other; the 1-0 scoreline to the Baggies was the least they deserved. When Mauricio Pochettino was appointed as the new Tottenham manager in May, I was really disappointed because I did not think that he was the right man for the job, preferring instead for them to go for Frank de Boer. Nevertheless, I put aside my thoughts on that and realized that maybe I was not the best judge of who should be in charge, given that I was happy when Andre Villas-Boas was appointed and never thought Martin Jol should have been sacked; while I did not ever like Harry Redknapp, who took the club to their highest finish in the Premier League era. My issues with Pochettino were his spotty record in the transfer market and the fact that he did not take the FA Cup seriously while at Southampton, but I did like the style of football he had the Saints playing during his tenure at St. Mary’s. In his first couple in games in charge at White Hart Lane, it appeared as though he had at least got the players to buy into his philosophy – the work rate against both West Ham and QPR was excellent, the pressing high up the field worked and the passing moves looked relatively good.
Since that positive start, the wheels have completely come off and Spurs look as inept as they did under the stewardship of Tim Sherwood – unable to come up with any game plan to combat even the relatively easy task (in Premier League terms) of playing West Brom at home. The attacking midfield trio of Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli should be given a chance to gel as they are all talented and can make the dynamic work if given a chance, but there need to be more options both behind and ahead of them if they are going to be truly effective. Emmanuel Adebayor is having one of his fallow spells, where he is not exactly playing badly, but at no point do you ever think he is going to score, while the options to replace him – Harry Kane and Roberto Soldado – are hardly guaranteed net-busters either. It makes the decision not to strengthen the forward line in the summer an obvious mistake, as teams can focus on the attacking midfielders and know they are not going to be caught out by an in-form striker getting space in behind them. Added to the goal-shy strike force is a wing-back pairing of Eric Dier (who seems like a perfectly good centre back, but is not good enough defensively on the flank) and Danny Rose, who misplaces so many passes and cannot cross a road, let alone the ball into a dangerous area; and holding midfielders who do nothing going forward, in the form of Nabil Bentaleb, Etienne Capoue or Paulinho. The central defensive partnership seemingly changes every game, with Pochettino unsure of whether he wants to play Younes Kaboul and Chiriches, or Vertonghen plus Fazio. With Kaboul having been made the club captain, he is likely to start most league games (Hugo Lloris should have been given the armband as he is our most outstanding player in any position) and while he is good in the air and can have great games, he is far from being a reliable defender.
In all, Spurs are in complete disarray once again and when they come face to face with an Arsenal team who put three past Aston Villa in four minutes last weekend – including a goal and an assist for the rejuvenated Mesut Özil – they are going to be lucky to come away with anything other than a heavy defeat. If there is anything I can hold onto going into the derby, it is at least that Tottenham made it through in the League Cup this week, despite being outplayed by Championship leaders Nottingham Forest, who took the lead before Ryan Mason scored a wonderful first goal for Spurs and Soldado and Kane fired them through to the next round. The Gunners chances of winning another trophy this season were reduced by one competition, as they put out a weakened side and were beaten 2-1 at home by Southampton. By the final whistle on Saturday however, those results will be forgotten about by both sides…and I will be wishing I had decided not to watch the match.