Spurs still have so much to learn, says Arsenal legend
Tottenham have stepped up to the Champions League this season, but they are still a long way behind the Gunners, Paul Merson tells Ham & High Sport
Tottenham’s dramatic rise under Harry Redknapp may have breathed new life into the north London derby – but there will only be one winner on Saturday, according to Gunners legend Paul Merson.
Since Redknapp’s appointment just over two years ago Spurs have enjoyed their highest ever Premier League finish and played in the Champions League for the first time in their history.
All this after the former Bournemouth, West Ham, Portsmouth and Southampton manager took over the reins at White Hart Lane with Spurs rooted in a relegation scrap.
With Arsenal having maintained their title hopes with the workmanlike 2-1 win at Everton last weekend to move into second place behind stuttering league leaders Chelsea, and Spurs coming up on the rails after their 4-2 demolition of Blackburn, Saturday’s lunchtime showdown has been given added spice.
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Merson, for one, is licking his lips in anticipation – even if he can’t see past another home win, which has become the norm for a generation of Arsenal supporters.
“There’s definitely more at stake in the derby than there has been for a long time – I can’t wait for it to start,” Merson, who scored 99 times for Arsenal, tells Ham&High Sport.
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“Let’s be honest, over the past few years it hasn’t really mattered that much, but there is more riding on it now.
“Spurs are doing well and will fancy their chances.”
But before Tottenham fans head down to the bookies – many of whom are giving odds of around 9/2 on an away win – Merson has a word of warning.
“The thing is, we’ve kind of been here before haven’t we? I hear it from Tottenham fans all the time, saying how they are going to overtake Arsenal.
“I think some of them are getting a little too carried away. But let’s just cast our minds back to the corresponding fixture last season when we were in an almost identical situation in the run-up to the game.
“Spurs fans were saying they were going to do this and that – in the end Arsenal battered them and scored twice in about 20 seconds.”
Merson played under Redknapp for Portsmouth in the twilight of his career and knows him only too well from their time together at Fratton Park.
He says while some Spurs fans made need to lower their sights, Redknapp – famously an Arsenal fan in his youth – is a realist.
“Harry is a top man and I’ll tell you this, he ain’t daft. He knows deep down how far Spurs have got to go to get to Arsenal’s level,” adds Merson, who is 42.
“Tottenham have done brilliantly under Harry, he is the best thing that has happened to that club in ages, but they are still getting used to the Champions League – it’s stick or bust with them – whereas Arsenal have been in it ever year since 1999 and are used to the added pressure and the extra games.
“So looking ahead to Saturday? Well Spurs won’t beat Arsenal. It’s Arsenal’s game to lose and I don’t think they will. That said, Arsenal can’t afford any more slip-ups...”
And the history books clearly point to a home win with Tottenham ‘boasting’ an atrocious record at their bitterest of rivals.
Their last win in N5 came many years ago, back at the tail end of the 1992/93 season, when they ran out 3-1 winners against an Arsenal side resting most of their key personnel for the forthcoming FA Cup final, young reserve striker Paul Dickov netting for the Gunners.
More than 17 years on from that balmy May evening Tottenham will, at least, believe they can arrest an awful record of just two points from their previous 11 visits, a sequence of nine defeats and two draws.
The Gunners have been poor at home this season, suffering defeats to newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion and, in their last Emirates outing, against Newcastle United.
But following successive away wins on the road at Wolves and Everton, optimism has been restored.
Speaking ahead of England’s friendly with France at Wembley, in which he was expected to play, Arsenal’s French playmaker Samir Nasri said: “Is it our title year? It is definitely a case of being optimistic for the future and, maybe, it could be our turn.
“We are in a good position, just behind Chelsea, which is quite exciting for us and the league as a whole.
“Having done so well, now we must look ahead to what will be a very difficult game on Saturday against Tottenham. We will have to fight hard to get the result but I feel our reputation is restored and we can do well.’’
And in-form goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, who has kept three clean sheets in his last five Premier League games and was in goal in a 4-1 Carling Cup win at White Hart Lane back in September, also believes Arsenal have turned a corner after recovering from that shock loss to Newcastle.
The Pole added: “We had two very difficult away games and we got six points from them, so of course we are all happy and looking forward to the next games.
“We are more focused on every single game rather than thinking about the title. We want to be focused on the next game and the next game is Tottenham.”
Verdict: After recent meetings dripping with goals, this could be an altogether more tense affair. Arsenal’s patchy home form needs improving and who better to do it against than their oldest rivals?
Arsenal to sneak it by the odd goal – and don’t be surprised if the Spanish skipper holds the key, just as he did last season. A 2-1 home win