Goal spoke to former Tottenham forward Paul Walsh and ex-Spurs and Arsenal boss George Graham ahead of Sunday’s vital clash between the two north London rivals…
Tottenham host Arsenal in another huge north London derby in the Premier League this Sunday, with only six points separating both sides heading into the clash.
Arsene Wenger’s men find themselves in third place and will be desperate to bounce back from their Champions League exit at the hands of European champions Bayern Munich.
But Spurs, too, will be itching for confidence-boosting result after suffering a 4-0 defeat to Chelsea and, even more recently, a 3-1 home defeat to Benfica in the Europa League.
Ahead of the game, Goal spoke to former Tottenham forward Paul Walsh, as well as ex-Spurs and Arsenal boss George Graham.
Who needs to win the north London derby more?
PW: “If Spurs don’t win, they can forget the Champions League for another season. If they take the points on Sunday then they have a chance and they could win, although I think it is too close to call.
“The problem is that Arsenal are a tougher outfit this season even with injuries and I don’t think their form will dry up enough to allow Spurs to overhaul them.”
GG: “It is the biggest North London derby for a while because here we are in March and Arsenal are serious title challengers and Spurs can still make the top four.
“Neither side can afford to lose it and even a draw will not really suit them. The fixture list was kind to Arsenal at the start of the season and they built up a decent lead but this was always going to be a tough month or so with Chelsea and Manchester City still to come.”
How much will this game mean to Tim Sherwood and Arsene Wenger?
PW: “Sherwood’s doing a good job and isn’t being given as much credit as he deserves. Former coach Andre Villas-Boas spent all the £80 million of the Gareth Bale transfer in the summer and that was a great opportunity for Spurs to put down a marker.
“But the money was not spent well and they’ve really got nowhere with it. Tim’s problem is that he’s in the middle of the blame game that is going on. It doesn’t do the team any favours because the uncertainly destablises what Tim is trying to achieve.
“A couple of defeats and the speculation mounts and that just piles pressure on pressure. Don’t forget he is working with someone else’s players but he has done some good things. He’s got the best out of Emmanuel Adebayor, which AVB failed to do and he’s slowly introducing exciting young talent, such as midfielder Nabil Bentaleb.”
GG: “We should be concentrating on what will happen in the next couple of months or so. This is certainly his [Wenger’s] best chance of winning something since 2005 because Arsenal cannot be ruled out of the league and are big favourites in the FA Cup.
“But he has been disappointed so many times before and will not be taking anything for granted. Arsenal need to believe in themselves and perhaps get a bit of luck going their way that they’ve not had in the recent past.”
Will injuries to key players, such as Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere, affect the rest of Arsenal’s season?
GG: “These are big players but in order to answer that you need to know what your best team is and I don’t know Arsene’s best team and I’m not sure even Arsene knows his best team.
“Arsenal have a squad that is overloaded with talent and you cannot say that the replacements will weaken it. For instance, I’m not sure Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would have got the chance he did against Bayern to showcase his talents if everyone had been available. He’s an exciting talent and the stage is set for him or someone else to become an Arsenal legend.”
Back to Sherwood… was he wrong to attack the players with such comments as not being prepared to ‘babysit’ them?
PW: “There is something wrong with today’s players if what Tim said can be regarded as a personal attack.
I come from the same playing era as Tim and it is clear that new generations of players are treated slightly differently to ours.
“In our day, managers often ripped into us and you accepted it and got on with putting things right. Of course there is a danger that if players think they are being unfairly treated, they will turn on the manager and that is a big danger, though I’m sure Tim has weighed up the situation and knows how far he can push it. In my opinion he’s told them a few home truths and his passion for the club has shown through.”
GG: “Make no mistake, if Arsenal win, they can win the league, and Gunners fans have to put their doubts about that aside and believe in Arsene and the team.
“This is a real topsy-turvy league this season and you cannot predict anything with any degree of confidence.
“Manchester City probably should win it but they’ve had some unexpected setbacks, Liverpool have stayed the course and could mount a late surge, while Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea are for me the real surprise package because they were so unfancied at the start of the season.”
And what of Sherwood’s future?
PW: “Well, who is to blame for the mess [at Tottenham]? Is it AVB or technical director Franco Baldini’s fault? In my opinion it’s a bit of both. AVB didn’t get the best out of the players Baldini signed and Baldini signed the wrong players to suit the balance of the side.
“Whatever, Tim is left to pick up the pieces and this summer’s transfer pot will be a fraction of last year’s one whether he is trusted to spend it or not. He’s on an 18-month contract and so far half-a-season isn’t long enough to judge him. My worry is that he is just keeping the seat warm for someone else and Levy is biding his time to see who becomes available.”