Tottenham v Arsenal, Premier League, April 14, 2010
“We couldn’t have a better game now. If I had to choose a game, I’d choose Arsenal at home for the next one. Sunday was a bad day, but what can you do? Life is full of highs and lows. That was a big low, but we’ve had plenty of highs this season. The mark is how you pick yourselves up.” – Harry Redknapp.
Does Harry Redknapp actually believe the white noise that comes out his claptrap, or is he trying to boost morale as the arch-enemy prepares to visit?
A couple of weeks ago Spurs fans had it all to look forward to as the season entered it’s final stages. Having occupied fourth-spot in the table for much of the season, playing in the Champions League next year was an ambition which many around White Hart Lane still believed attainable. And with financially ravaged Portsmouth awaiting in the FA Cup semi-final, consensus opinion was that the LIlywhites would also have a Wembley final appearance to close out what was shaping up to be a hugely successful season.
Since, a 3-1 defeat at Sunderland was followed up with a 2-nil extra-time defeat to Pompey in the FA Cup. Added to that, Manchester City thumped Birmingham 5-1 which cemented the Citizens top four position. Accordingly, the past two weeks have been a nightmare for Spurs fans as they’ve watched as the wheels of another season have dramatically fallen off. (Spurs are 3.80 to win the ‘without big four’ league.)
In order to stop the rot Tottenham need to beat Arsenal – a feat which they only managed to achieve once throughout the last decade. Lose, with Chelsea (home) and Manchester United (away) their next two matches in succession, and their top four dreams will be all-but over.
Tottenham’s cause has not been helped by the news that Niko Kranjcar is ruled out with a suspected shin fracture and Aaron Lennon’s return is taking longer than expected and he too will miss out on the clash at White Hart Lane. Elsewhere, combative midfielder Wilson Palacios will also be missing after he picked up his 10th booking of the season on Sunday, collecting an automatic two game suspension.
With so many missing in action in Tottenham midfield, the likes of Tom Huddlestone, Younes Kaboul and Jermaine Jenas are vying for nods to start, alongside the more regular midfield starters of Luka Modric and Gareth Bale. David Bentley, the former Arsenal man, is also in contention for a starting berth down the right hand side and, with his dazzling goal in the 4-all draw back in October 2008 still fresh in the memory, he may well believe he could profit again against his previous employers.
Up-top, doubts surround Peter Crouch’s inclusion on Wednesday night. The beanpole striker, who lacked his shooting boots at the weekend, played the full 120 minutes on the awful Wembley turf. In turn, after Jermain Defoe played just an hour on Sunday it is likely that he’ll be joined by Roman Pavlyuchenko in the home attack.
At the back Ledley King could make his customary reappearance for a big game, while youngster Kyle Walker, who was a liability in the defeat to the Black Cats a couple of weeks back, may also be in the starting eleven after Vedran Corluka required an injection during the halftime break at Wembley for an ankle injury.
Arsenal have their own injury problems, though, missing key personnel in both defense and midfield.
At the back William Gallas remains a long term absentee, while Alex Song is also likely to sit out the north London derby having been injured during the Champions League clash with Barcelona last week. Scratching around for a centre-half partner for Thomas Vermaelen, Arsene Wenger may also have doubts over playing Mikael Silvestre after the Frenchman had a shocker against Barcelona. That leaves just one able-bodied alternative – the anti-Christ for Tottenham fans, Sol Campbell.
Campbell famously turned his back on Spurs in 2001 in favour of the red side of north London, a controversial move accentuated by the fact he was a youth team product, club captain and left Tottenham on a free transfer. Such treachery in Spurs fans eyes has made Campbell a life-long Judas at the Lane, and the 35-year-old will undoubtedly be showered with abuse against the team he began life with as a kid.
Looking further around Arsenal’s likely starting eleven, the other two big-named stars who wont be on the team-sheet are captain Cesc Fabregas and playmaker Andrei Arshavin. In brighter news though, Robin van Persie is set to end his long term absence against Spurs. The Dutch forward was in excellent form at the start of the season, scoring eight goals in 15 games before suffering ligament damage on international duty against Italy in November. Van Persie will likely start the match on the bench, with Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott the main attacking focuses at kick-off.
Just as much as Tottenham need the victory to keep belief alive that fourth spot is attainable, Arsenal need to win in order to keep their title dreams alive. (Arsenal are 7.00 to win the Premier League.) Three points on Wednesday would lift the Wenger Boys into second place in the league. And with Wigan, Manchester City, Blackburn and Fulham still to come for championship underdogs Arsenal, arguably this match is the last tough game on the Gunners fixture-list this campaign.
101gg predicts: Tottenham 1 – Arsenal 3 (19.43)