Arsenal are on the ropes - so can Spurs land the knockout punch again?
Can Tottenham destroy Arsenal’s title hopes for the second season in a row, and boost their own goal of a top-four finish in tonight’s north London derby?
THE balance of power in north London is no longer as stable as it once was.
For much of Arsene Wenger’s reign at Arsenal, it has been the Gunners who have been the form club, winning league titles and cups, with Tottenham having to settle for occasional League Cup triumphs.
However, this season Spurs outlasted their neighbours in the Champions League as north London’s representatives, and Harry Redknapp’s side have shown their intent to bridge the gap completely by winning the last two league meetings.
The memory of November’s 3-2 defeat will still be painful to Wenger and Gunners fans, who had previously maintained an unbeaten run against Spurs on home soil for 17 years.
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The question now is, will Arsenal be bruised and battered by their recent setbacks when they arrive at the Lane, or will Spurs find themselves facing an angry, wounded animal?
The Gunners’ title aspirations have certainly been dealt a series of blows lately, most recently against Liverpool on Sunday, but Wenger’s side still maintain a faint hope of ending the season with the greatest domestic prize on offer.
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This desire in the face of possible failure has caused division within the club, with many Arsenal fans expressing their disappointment that the potential of the players has not been transferred into the shiny success of silverware.
Not everyone is in agreement with this view, however, and chairman
Peter Hill-Wood has branded disgruntled supporters as “silly”.
The Arsenal hierarchy were quick to gloss over the chairman’s comment and new majority shareholder Stan Kroenke’s pledge to fund a transfer spending spree will allay the concerns of some fans.
And yet, despite the discontent at Arsenal, Spurs still have to be aware of the threat that Wenger’s current crop of starlets pose; and in particular the recently-crowned PFA Young Player of the Year, Jack Wilshere.
The award came as a surprise to the youngster, even though he has risen from an exciting prospect into a fully-fledged England international over the course of the campaign.
“I am a bit surprised,” he said after the presentation on Sunday. “I always knew I could [win the award] but still it was a surprise how early it came.
“I am delighted just to be in the [Arsenal] team to win an award, so I have to keep it up now and hopefully we can win something this year.”
Arsenal will be further buoyed by the return of Wojciech Szczesny and Johan Djourou, as well as Alex Song, who appeared as a substitute against Liverpool following a knee injury.
Manchester United’s failure to beat Newcastle last night also limited the damage of Kuyt’s leveller at the weekend, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side missed the chance to go nine points clear at the top.
However, Wenger’s team will be conscious that time is against them in the title race – just as it was against Liverpool on Sunday, when they conceded a costly penalty 11 minutes into stoppage-time against Liverpool.
Spurs have their own concerns though, and they will be hoping to end their neighbours’ title bid at the Lane for the second season in a row, as they look to achieve their own goal of returning to the Champions League next season.
JournalSport verdict: As with any derby encounter the contest will be keenly fought, with both teams anxious to ensure that their seasons don’t fall short of expectations after promising starts.
But with Spurs brimming with attacking options, and Arsenal surely suffering the psychological effects of Sunday’s late, late heartbreak, the Lilywhites could be too strong for their neighbours’ defence – and rule north London again.
Prediction: Tottenham 1 Arsenal 0