Premier League preview: Arsenal v Tottenham
London has been subjected to days of news about how the Royal wedding will take place somewhere in the capital next year, but at the weekend Prince William and Kate Middleton will have to share the city spotlight with a couple who don’t get on so well. Its Arsenal v Spurs, and there is no chance of matrimonial bliss here.
This one has mattered ever since Arsenal moved from Plumstead to Highbury in 1913, becoming Tottenham’s nearest neighbours in the process.
In the following years, that rivalry has only got more intense, to the point where any player who dare move between the clubs can expect a rough ride upon their first return to the ground they once called home. Just ask Sol Campbell and, after Saturday, William Gallas. Perhaps.
“I’m not angry at him because he signed for our rivals,” said Gunners right back Bacary Sagna of his fellow Frenchman, with whom he made up half of the Arsenal back four for three years until Gallas – so often a controversial figure – moved to Tottenham on a free transfer in the summer.
“He was always very professional and he always gave everything during his time here.
“Football is football, I’m not furious against him. He needed to leave to play football and that is what he loves.
“I’ve kept in touch with him. On the pitch there is a war but off the pitch we are all friends. He deserves a good reception because during the time he played for Arsenal he always did well.”
Whether that is enough for the Arsenal supporters to lay off their former captain during the “war” at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday remains to be seen, but what is clear is the importance of this game to both sides.
Sagna’s Arsenal could go top of the league for a matter of hours should they win – maybe for even longer seeing as a stuttering Chelsea face a tricky test at Birmingham – but if there is one club who would love to prevent that from happening then it’s the men from down the Seven Sisters Road. Fresh from beating Blackburn Rovers 4-2 at White Hart Lane last weekend, they’re a confident bunch too.
“It was important to get a win before Arsenal to get the winning feeling back and boost the confidence, said Gareth Bale, who scored twice against Rovers, got the winner the last time Spurs faced Arsenal and is still the talk of most of Europe after demolishing European champions Inter Milan in the Champions League.
“We'll go into the game full of confidence and hopefully we'll get the win for us and the fans.
“We need to try and win every game and I believe we're good enough to beat anyone, we've shown that.
“It will be a massive test at the Emirates but we'll be ready for it and as I said, hopefully we'll get the win there.”
They haven’t done that at Arsenal since 1993, but Bale’s White Hart Lane winner in April has raised the confidence levels when it comes to facing their great rivals.
Throw in the return of Jermain Defoe to the squad – he’s likely to start on the bench – and Spurs would seem to have cause for optimism ahead of the 147th league north London derby, until you see that they’ll be missing midfield anchor Tom Huddlestone, defenders Ledley King and Michael Dawson and possibly even winger Aaron Lennon.
All of which creates problems, and with Arsenal now able to call upon almost all of their attacking talents – although the back injury that ruled Jack Wilshere out of England’s game with France makes him a doubt – then home advantage could well prove decisive.
Arsène Wenger’s side have been better away from the Emirates this season, but the added incentive of derby day bragging rights will ensure that his side aren’t as sloppy as they were in home defeats to West Brom and Newcastle earlier in the campaign.
A narrow home win then, and finally a capital talking point that doesn’t involve Princes and wedding plans.
Although whoever scores the winner will be treated like a King in north London.
Prediction: Arsenal 2 Tottenham 1