For the past ten years, North London football has had a shadow cast over it by one man and four syllables: Ar-sene Wen-ger.
As their closest neighbors and traditional rivals it’s no wonder that more than any other club Tottenham have measured their team against Arsenal and their managers against Arsene Wenger. But if Arsenal remain unbeaten again tomorrow, they will equalize their longest single-team unbeaten run of 19 league matches (previously held against Chelsea and Villa). Given that dominance and that we are their yard stick, you can easily see why Tottenham have had five different managers in that time and spent almost £50m thrashing around in the transfer pool this season trying to rebuild the team that saw them reach their zenith: 5th place.
Much has been made of this dominance in the press today but no matter how much I’d love to see Thierry Henry equalize in the last minute or Bergkamp slot in off Ian Wright, or any of the great goals that Arsenal have gotten in the past, those times are over. Those teams have been blown up, the medals are hung, and both clubs go to battle on Sunday looking a shell of their former selves.
You’ll pardon me if I hear Arsene Wenger’s words about dominance and see them for what they are: a vain attempt to play mind games. The only things that count as far as Spuds are concerned is the 4-4 draw at Emirates in October and the re-signing of Robbie Keane in February. Everything else will have been a blur in the preparations for this game. They will be sipping tea from their 5-1 commemorative mugs, and slapping backs reminiscing over the 4-4 draw and how they were there the day they “beat” Arsenal.
Keane will be there too, regaling the team with his Liverpool goal against us, describing each moment in exacting technicolor detail. It was probably the highlight of his life; scoring a goal against your old rivals for your new “dream” team. The bitter taste of failure he felt every day at Liverpool certainly was assuaged by that goal and so he’ll surely be desperate to re-live that moment.
Arsenal, for their part, have not met fan expectations and (as I sit here watching Villa with a 1-0 lead over Blackburn) look set to be fully 8 points adrift of the team that should never be considered a rival. Crucial injuries have added injury to injury and despite some folks’ hope that Cesc and Rosicky might make an early return, Eduardo’s prolonged recovery after similar predictions should indicate that this team has a lot more limping along to do if they are going to finish this season with their Champions League spot intact. If Arsene’s surprise admission that he’s considering including Arshavin, who hasn’t trained a single game with Arsenal and hasn’t played competitive football in 2 months, is any indication Wenger is acutely aware of the danger and desperate to keep them in the race.
No, Arshavin’s not going to come in and rescue us tomorrow — we’re going to need the likes of van Persie, Sagna, Adebayor, and Nasri to put in a monster 90 minutes. There’s no doubt that Tottenham will be up for the match. Hell, they’re probably already planning the parade, the theme of which will be “How we saved our season and knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League.”
Let’s rain on that parade, shall we?