Monday, 12 April 2010

You Can Keep Your El Classico: Give Me Spurs v Arsenal and a Reliant Robin Van Persie any old day

YEAH, yeah, yeah. Lionel Messi against Cristiano Ronaldo. Catalan versus Castillian. Barcelona 2, Real Madrid 0. All so predictable.

You want a real derby? Something with a little grunt? Try the North London showdown. Wednesday night. But don't get caught in the wrong pub.

Arsenal desperately need a win to close the gap on Chelsea at the top of the Premier League. Spurs can't afford to slip up or they won't make that fabled fourth place and their first ever crack at the Champions League.

It doesn't get any more urgent, any more passionate. All over the world, exiled Londoners and those who have never been anywhere near Big Ben will be watching... and at workplaces from New Zealand to New York the mickey will be mercilessly taken by those who have followed Gunners or Yids all their lives.

And for those who think the Catalan v Castillian problem gives El Classico extra zip... or Celtic's Catholics versus Rangers' Protestants is the be-all-and-end-all, think again. All kinds of things, religion, class, history, divide Spurs fans from Gooners.

But the split also separates brother from sister, father from son, tears best mates apart, if only for an evening. It's only 6.13 kilometres (3.81 miles) from White Hart Lane to the sparkling new Emirates Stadium. But the two are a world apart.

Spurs, who last saw real glory with the double in 1961, nearly 50 years of penalty envy rankle deep in the soul. They change managers constantly...Gerry Francis, caretaker Chris Hughton, Christian Gross, David Pleat, George Graham, Pleat again, Glenn Hoddle, caretaker Pleat yet again, Jacques Santini, Martin Jol, Juande Ramos and HarryRedknapp have all been in charge since Arsene Wenger joined Arsenal in 1996.

But then we must consider Arsenal's trophy cabinet, desolate for the past five seasons. They finish above Spurs every season despite the bigger spending of their neighbours, but the silverware that characterised the early years of Wenger's reign are notably absent.

That could change this season. A win at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night would put them level with Chelsea at the top with four games left to play - but only if the League leading Blues lose to battling Bolton at Stamford Bridge tomorrow. And that's a hugely unlikely if.

Defeat or even a draw against old rivals Spurs would essentially end Arsenal's title hopes, just as Manchester United's draw at Blackburn on Sunday leaves the champions struggling.

And to add extra spark, Arsenal's Dutch striker Robin van Persie could make his long awaited return. He'd scored eight in 11 games before rupturing his ankle ligaments during the Holland's friendly against Italy last November.

Before Van Persie was crocked, Arsenal were threatening to run riot, scoring 3.26 goals per game. Since then, they've averaged 1.77 with lankly Nicklas Bendtner, broken Eduardo Da Silva and inexperienced Carlos Vela attempting to fill the gap.

Van Persie's return would be hugely significant. Arsenal sold Emmanuel Adebayor to Manchester City and turned down the chance to replace him with Bordeaux's MarouaneChamakh in January. They've been relying on Cesc Fabregas and Andrei Arshavin to score goals from deep - but both are out, injured by the Messi end to their Champions League campaign at the hands of Barca.

Three points would keep Arsenal in realistic contention and see them leapfrog Manchester United into second place. Their run in of Wigan, Manchester City, Blackburn and Fulham has sparked real optimism in the Gooner ranks.

That may encourage Wenger to name Van Persie in his injury-ravaged squad, who play their first match since being knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona last Tuesday.

Also out? William Gallas, Aaron Ramsey, Johan Djourou... and possibly defensivemidfielder Alex Song, perhaps their most improved player of the season.

So will Wenger throw Van Persie in early, when he stands accused of doing just that with Gallas and Fabregas just a fortnight ago against Barcelona?

It looks like it. Rumours emanating from Arsenal's London Colney training ground claim his work with Dutch amateurs AFC Amsterdam has resulted in him "stunning onlookers" with his work-rate.

And we have the canny Wenger, desperate to stay in the title race at the expense of his arch-rivals, insisting: "Robin is in a good shape. Physically and fitness-wise. We have just to get him back to full team fitness."

Whether he has managed that, we will find out on Wednesday. By then they will know if they are three or six points behind Chelsea.

Spurs? They were knocked out of their rhythm by Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday, beaten 2-0 in extra-time by the poorest side in the world. Striker Peter Crouch has taken a pasting from the fans since - especially as Manchester City, their main rivals for fourth place and Champions League qualification, crushed Birmingham 5-1.

But boss Harry Redknapp insisted today:

We couldn't have a better game now," said Harry. "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.

"It wasn't ideal preparation for Wednesday, for sure. The players have to rest now and get ready to go again. It's about how you recover and respond.

"Arsenal is a massive game and we've got to come back and try and win that game - it's all-important for us."


  1. Arse-Spurs is always the least satisfying of any derby, two sets of quiet fans who rate themselves and their clubs too highly, and two underachieving sides aiming to get average bragging rights.

  2. What, like the 4-4 last season? You're joking right? You'd rather watch Spaniards petulantly falling over?