Arsene says Liverpool are favourites for the title now- but things change quickly.
One thing won’t change quickly : Tomorrow, Arsenal will still be a better club than Spurs. With a superior team and a bigger stadium.
But, having said that, tonight’s game is unlikely to be a walkover. It will be tight and it might take Arsenal a while to score the winning goal.
Sagna are Toure are fit and I think both will start. Sagna was fantastic last season and has time to get to that level again if he avoids injury. Denilson has recovered from a back strain and looks a better bet than Song, who was appalling in the first half at West Ham on Sunday.
New Spurs boss Harry Redknapp is an incredible survivor. In 1990 he was in intensive care in Italy after a horrific car crash in which Bournemouth managing director Brian Tiler and four other people were killed. The authorities reckon he took bungs but they can’t prove anything
George Graham doesn’t manage any more, Terry Venables doesn’t, Sam Allardyce and Alan Curbishley and many others are out of a job, but happy Harry Redknapp, 61, was given the freedom of Portsmouth yesterday, the day after he walked out to manage Spurs. No wonder he was heckled at the ceremony. “Judas!” they cried, in case he cared. He doesn’t.
Arsenal-Spurs games are intense and real Gooners don’t really like them much, although some fans claim they enjoy these clashes.
We’ve seen good games and bad and a few thrillers over the years. And fans all have their own favourite games, memories and highlights. Many people will remember the games I’m going to mention, but they probably didn’t experience them in the same way as I did, and they’ll remember a lot of things I’ve forgotten.
What can Spurs do at the Emirates tonight?
Not a lot, I fancy. They can run but they can’t win or draw. Arsenal will beat them and I’ll have a bet on that tonight. They need the win and will get the three points,. Arsenal are better than Spurs, who have won only two titles in their history, the last one coming in 1961. Since Alan Sugar took over, they’ve been in mid-table a lot and Daniel Levy has sacked five managers already.
I’ve seen a lot of these games but realised yesterday that I’ve never seen one as a punter. In the early Seventies I went to Arsenal as a fan, and to Spurs as a fan, before I became a football reporter. But I never saw a North London derby.
As a journalist, I hated the Graham-Venables derbies. Perhaps wrongly, I remember most of those games as draws. Tel and George came in smugly to talk to reporters together, and that prevented anything interesting being asked or said. I used to be so annoyed when the two managers did that. It was a double act by close friends who thought they were so clever. They gave you a boring game with no winner, then made sure the press conference was a 0-0 draw as well. They took the piss and I hated that.
Thinking about it, my memorable North London derbies were at White Hart Lane.
For drama, there was the 2-1 semi-final replay that got Arsenal to the 1987 Littlewoods Cup Final. They were level on aggregate after two games. There was a toss for where the decider would be played and George lost and we all went back to White Hart Lane and it was a pulsating game and eventually David Rocastle scored the winner. Steve Williams was suspended and was watching the action from just in front of us, by the dug-out. And he later said, “When I saw him go to hit it with his left foot, I closed my eyes – because I know what Rocky’s left foot is like.”
Rocastle’s shot went in and Steve ran onto the pitch to embrace the teammates who had just got him to a big Wembley final. And he was awesome against Liverpool. I was there and later watched the video several times. Steve Williams was the best player in that final.
The most outstanding Arsenal performance I ever saw in a derby was when Arsene’s double team went to the Lane and beat George Graham’s Spurs 3-1.
Electric atmosphere, exciting football, superfast counter-attacking with skill, power and superb finishing. Petit, Anelka, Anderton free-kick, Sherwood kicked Vieira in the balls when he was on the ground, Kanu came on and flicked it over Luke Young’s head and stuck it past Ian Walker. May 1999. That battle had everything. That game was as good as it gets.
The worst I ever saw was on April 4, 1983. That was Spurs 5 Arsenal 0 when Chrissie Whyte was at centreback and Chris Hughton hit two shots past George Wood. I went back into the press lounge, surprised but not emotional. Then radio co-commentator Frank McLintock came in and he was livid. Absolutely furious. A torrent of swear-words poured out of Frank. No football match I’ve ever seen made me swear as much as Frank did that day. And I swear a lot, always have done, not proud of it.
At Highbury in 1997 there was what I think of as the Dennis Bergkamp-Sol Campbell game. Spurs came to Highbury when Arsenal were flying and very dynamic and Dennis was so hot he almost burst into flames right there on the pitch. Early on, Sol kicked Dennis and got a yellow card and I thought : The way this is going, in a game as fast and physical as this, Sol’s on a knife edge, he’ll get another yellow card, he will mis-time one tackle in the next 75 minutes, and get sent off. But Sol played out of his skin that night and when he beat Dennis to one ball and was breaking clear of him, Dennis just kicked Sol hard on the leg, bringing him down. It was the most surprising foul I ever saw by Bergkamp because it wasn’t retaliation for a foul on him. He was booked for that, which gives you an idea of how well the Spurs captain was playing. He got through the game and kept a clean sheet. The final score was Arsenal 0 Sol Campbell 0. The big man had played the greatest Arsenal team I’ve ever seen virtually on his own and earned a draw.
As it worked out, my last game at Highbury was the penultimate game there : the Arsenal-Spurs clash when Martin Jol and Arsene went eyeball-to-eyeball on the touchline.
So this is a good fixture and could be a good game. There’s a lot of history, a load of stats, a multitude of memories. But none of those mean anything when the whistle goes tonight. Every football match is different.