Premier League – Spurs Beat Arsenal and Chelsea Move Closer to Title

Tottenham Win The North London Derby

As was the case with their game against Chelsea on New Year’s Day, the early part of Saturday’s North London derby appeared to be a typical Spurs performance – on both occasions I was pleasantly surprised by what followed.

Kane heads in the winner against Arsenal on Saturday
Kane heads in the winner against Arsenal on Saturday

After dominating the early exchanges, Tottenham fell behind after some poor defending to a well-taken Mesut Özil goal and went into half-time 1-0 down on the score sheet, but ahead in manner of performance and time of possession.  It is goals that win games though and, luckily for Mauricio Pochettino, he has a man who has found the knack of getting them. That Harry Kane grew up 15 minutes from White Hart Lane and is a Spurs fan must have made scoring a brace against their biggest rivals – including a fantastically placed header to win the match four minutes from the end – all the more sweeter for the English striker.  To those who remain in the crowd rather than on the pitch, it is great to see a local lad come good for the club.  As the chant goes, Harry Kane, he’s one of of our own.

Any victory over Arsenal will is significant for us Tottenham supporters, but this result had wider implications as well.  It lifted Spurs above the Gunners in the table (albeit probably just for three days, but we will get to that in a minute); moved Pochettino’s men to within a point of the Champions League qualification places; and extended a secretly-not-too-bad home league record against Arsenal in the Premier League era.  Since the rebranding of the top flight in 1992, Spurs have finished below their arch rivals in 20 of the 22 completed seasons.  However, in the 23 North London derbies played at White Hart Lane in that period, Tottenham actually have a positive record, winning eight, drawing ten and losing just five.

Despite all the good feeling that surrounds Spurs right now, there is unlikely to be much time to enjoy it.  On Tuesday, they face a trip to Anfield to face Liverpool, who have thrashed them on each of the last three meetings between the two sides, while the Gunners have a home fixture against bottom club Leicester.  Why could there not have been a break this week, followed by the F.A. Cup this weekend and Tottenham could have basked in the glow of their derby win for a fortnight.  Instead, reality will come crashing back down upon them (us), along with some Daniel Sturridge goals and – somehow – Martin Skrtel will get a brace. Continue reading

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Premier League Preview – North London and Merseyside Derbies

North London Derby

Chadli earned Spurs a point at the Emirates earlier this season
Chadli earned Spurs a point at the Emirates earlier this season

A lot has happened in the last week in the Premier League: the transfer window shut, leaving clubs unable to add to their squads before the end of the season; the man who has managed the third most games in the Premier League resigned; and there was a whole round of fixtures last weekend.  However, all of that already seems like a distant memory as tomorrow will be one of the biggest games of Tottenham’s year – home to Arsenal.

The North London derby represents the last, best chance Spurs have of breaking the hoodoo of not having finished higher than their arch rivals for the last two decades, as a victory would lift them back above the Gunners in the table.   However, the task looks particularly daunting right now, since Arsenal are in their best form of the campaign, have won their last three league matches without conceding a goal, and with Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott both returning from long-term injuries, they have a plethora of attacking talent at their disposal.  In the Guardian this week, they did a selection of combined XIs from the rivalry games that are taking place this weekend (also Liverpool/Everton and Atletico/Real Madrid) and somehow the Spurs/Arsenal team comprised six Tottenham players – a fact that I think will be completely laughable by the end of the lunchtime fixture on Saturday.

To be fair, I feared that Spurs would get embarrassed by Chelsea on New Year’s Day and they ended up winning that match 5-3, but the way they have been playing recently – although improved – does not fill me with any confidence heading into the North London Derby.  Outside of Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane – both of whom have been in excellent form – there are no outfield players who can be replied upon on a weekly basis.  Jan Vertonghen and Federico Fazio have formed a reasonable partnership in the center of defense over the last couple of months, but both are liable to make critical mistakes.  In the center of midfield, Mousa Dembélé has returned to somewhere near the player he was when he first joined the club, but unless he is joined by Benjamin Stambouli – rather than Ryan Mason or Nabil Bentaleb – there is no dominance for Tottenham in the middle of the park.  The return of Nacer Chadli following a three-week absence for a family issue is actually a huge plus, apart from Eriksen and Kane, he is the only player who has anything like a knack of finding the back of the net.

In comparison, the Arsenal squad is full of players who love to get a goal against Spurs: Walcott, Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud.  Throw in Ozil’s ability to completely tear us apart through the midfield and this could be a really messy game for us Tottenham supporters.  I was sitting in the Paxton Road end for the 5-4 defeat back in 2004 – probably the worst game I’ve ever witnessed in person, perhaps combined with the 3-4 F.A. Cup replay loss to Manchester City – my fear is that this time, the Gunners might rack up a similar number, but we will be lucky to score even once.

So why am I looking forward to a fixture in which I think my team will be heavily beaten? Because there is always the hope that maybe we will win and maybe this time things will be different. But as any other fans of The Shawshank Redemption can tell you: hope is good thing, maybe the best of things (Dufresne); or, hope is dangerous, hope can drive a man insane (Red).  Continue reading