5 Reasons to Look Forward to Sunday's North London Derby
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All across the world, there are certain football matches that stand out from the rest and always leave memories in the hearts of the fans supporting them.
From the left hand side of the Atlantic, the Super Clasico between Boca Juniors and River Plate is one of the most anticipated matches in South America. That game has brought the best out of legends like Martin Palermo, Ariel Ortega, Juan Riquelme and Pablo Aimar, among others.
Just up north, the Old Firm derby between Glasgow Rangers and Celtics turns footballers into William Wallace-like figures, because the tackles that fly in on the pitch can be likened to the sword fights of the Renaissance period. With Rangers languishing in the third tier of Scottish Football, it will take a while before they lock horns with the eternal rivals, Celtic.
England has its own fair share of derbies that are special in their own ways. If you’re in Merseyside, you’ll have to get ready to watch two great sides in the forms of Liverpool and Everton battle hard for bragging rights.
One of the most anticipated derbies in English football is the Manchester Derby, where both sides lock horns with the Premier League title being the ultimate prize. Football neutrals like us can acknowledge the fact that a bad result for Manchester City in Old Trafford in April would signal the end of their title hunt for this season at least.
On Sunday, all eyes will be firmly fixed on the North London Derby—a clash that showcases two of London’s finest strutting their stuff in the world stage with the prize being a place in Europe next season.
Arsenal has become accustomed to life in Europe, as the team’s loyal stalwart, Arsene Wenger, has impressively guided them to the competition consistently season after season. Tottenham on the other hand, had a taste of Champions League football a few seasons back and were only denied a place in the competition this season after Chelsea miraculously won the trophy, despite ending the league campaign in sixth place.
In Arsene Wenger’s reign at Arsenal, Tottenham has managed to hire and fire a host of managers, but one thing stands out—they have never finished above Le Professor in the Premier League, which signals another St. Totteringham’s day celebration from the Red half of North London.
On Sunday, Arsenal will visit White Hart Lane bearing in mind that they are four points behind Andre Villas-Boas’ side. A game that was touted as a must-win encounter for the Gunners has become a must-not-lose clash, because a defeat to Tottenham will dent the Gunner’s chances of qualification, and as everyone knows, we are running out of games.
There are a thousand and one reasons to look forward to this weekend’s North London Derby. Here are my top five.
An Epic Rivalry Renewed
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In every Arsenal fan’s football calendar, the North London derby is a fixture that cannot be missed because of its high significance to the teams involved. It’s a fixture that brings the great city of London to a standstill, and the game itself is always filled with drama, bookings, injuries, spectacular saves and of course, great value for money.
As stated earlier, many Arsenal fans always look forward to St. Totteringham day, and like last season, they may have to wait till the last Premier League fixture in May to know whether they’ll be able to celebrate again.
Last season, Tottenham was 10 points above Arsenal and, with two goals to the good at the Emirates, they would have been 13 points clear of Arsene Wenger’s men; the Gunners would have waved their goodbyes to Champions League football. In a strange twist of fate, a Bacary Sagna header paved the way for a rout that gave the Gunners a deficit of seven points.
Tottenham went on to lose to Manchester United, Norwich and Stoke while their illustrious neighbors eased past Liverpool, Newcastle and Everton, leapfrogging Harry Redknapp’s men in third place.
The rest they say was history.
Another AVB vs. Le Professor Clash
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Unlike Arsene Wenger, who has been a football figurehead for as long as fans can remember, Andre Villas-Boas rose to prominence when he guided his Porto team to an unprecedented treble, winning the Portuguese Superliga, Portuguese Cup and the Europa League. Most of AVB’s success that season could be attributed to the inhuman goalscoring exploits of Radamel Falcao, and we are not surprised to see him destroying defenses in Liga BBVA.
AVB made the huge leap from Portuguese football to the English Premier League under the reins of a big club like Chelsea. He seemed to be the next best thing in England judging from his previous exploits, but he was under the watchful eye of the trigger-happy Roman Abramovich, who changes managers more than babies change diapers.
AVB’s “project for the future” saw him sign players like Juan Mata to the team, but he flushed out most of the old hags in the team, with Alex and Nicolas Anelka getting the boot while the futures of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard were shrouded in mystery. His Chelsea adventure ended prematurely, and after being out of the game for a couple of months, Tottenham came calling, and AVB answered.
In Tottenham, AVB had a torrid start, but his team is finding their feet, and they have done very well to usurp Chelsea to third place.
Despite his newly-found exploits with Tottenham, AVB has an appalling record against Arsene Wenger,, and he has shipped in 10 goals in just two clashes with his opposite number.
While flying the Blue flag of Chelsea, AVB was at the end of a Robin van Persie-inspired spanking from Wenger, and as recently as November, AVB’s side shipped in five at the Emirates.
I don’t know if Wenger can be third time lucky with AVB, but many Arsenal fans wouldn’t mind that at all.
The Curious Case of Arsenal’s Leaky Defense
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I would like to introduce you to Arsenal’s first choice defense that will be odds on to play on Sunday.
Wojciech Szczesny is a young prospect with 13 caps for Poland, renowned for his aerial abilities and his command of area, and he’s really good in orchestrating his defense. He has had his fair share of great games while donning the No. 1 jersey, but he has had his collection of bloopers as well.
Bacary Sagna is a player I once heralded as the football S.I. unit for consistency, but he had a 2012 to forget as it was dominated by injuries as well as a poor run of form towards the end of the year. He has notched up 33 caps for France thus far, and his performance against Sunderland will go down as one of his finest in Arsenal colors.
Nacho Monreal is a Spanish fullback who rose from the ranks of youth team football in Osasuna before making a step up to Malaga in 2011. When Kieran Gibbs got injured, Arsene Wenger swooped for the Spaniard and he has balanced his defensive and offensive play superbly. Last week, he handed his first Arsenal assist with a perfectly-cushioned cutback to Santi Cazorla, that wasted no time in rattling Brad Guzan’s net.
Thomas Vermaelen is the aggressive and commanding skipper, who is renowned for his goalscoring exploits as well as his defensive gaffes. With 40 caps already for Belgium, Vermaelen caught the eye in his debut campaign at Arsenal but an Achilles tendon injury he suffered in his second campaign saw his form dwindle since his return to full fitness.
Per Mertesacker is the big, friendly and vastly experienced giant with 86 German caps to his name. Where Mertesacker lacks with his pace, he makes up with his perfect ability to read the game and make some interceptions, or Merteceptions, as I prefer to call them.
These players have a joint total of 182 international caps between and look like a formidable force on paper, but on the field of play, it’s something else entirely. Arsenal has shipped in 30 goals in the Premier League, eight goals in the Champions League, seven goals in the Capital One Cup and five goals in the FA Cup.
You rarely see Arsenal concede a goal from a stunning 30-yard volley or a clear cut goalscoring chance. It’s usually when Sagna is caught out of position (Chelsea) or executing a poor clearance in his box (Southampton), when Mertesacker is ball watching (Swansea, Liverpool) and when Vermaelen concedes unwanted free kicks (Chelsea).
In simpler terms, Arsenal are usually the cause of their own downfall and have become talented in shooting themselves in the foot.
Sadly, many Tottenham fans will be looking forward to this.
Another High Scoring Game
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When Arsenal and Tottenham clash in the North London Derby, there is something that is more certain than death, taxes and England losing on penalties—goals.
There was a season where both teams went on a goal frenzy with Arsenal slamming in five while Tottenham blasted in four. In Harry Redknapp’s first North London derby, Arsenal was running away with a 4-2 lead, but two late goals from Jermaine Jenas and Aaron Lennon leveled the game at 4-4.
Last season, both sides showed what they were made of from an attacking perspective as Louis Saha and an Emmanuel Adebayor (from a Gareth Bale dive) saw the visitors get two early goals at the Emirates. A surge from the home side saw Sagna, van Persie, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott get in on the act to record a stunning 5-2 victory.
Last November, it was a case of deja vu as Arsenal fired five past Tottenham again with all the new signings scoring, Per Mertesacker breaking his goalscoring duck and Walcott completing the rout.
I can assure you of one thing in Sunday’s clash—goals.
The Man on Fire: Gareth Bale
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At the age of 16 years and 275 days, Gareth Bale became the second youngest player ever to play for Southampton (Walcott is still the youngest). He also capped his first Saints goal with a stunning free kick against Derby County. After a successful campaign with the Saints that saw him score five goals in 43 appearances, Bale made a big-money move to Tottenham.
In Spurs, Bale began his career as a left back but was moved further up the pitch to the left wing position, where he has had devastating effects. With each passing season, Bale’s scoring count increased for Tottenham and he’s in the form of his life this season with 19 goals thus far.
If Arsenal wants to come out of anything from Sunday’s North London derby, they must find a way to contain Gareth Bale.
I’m looking forward to a great game of football on Sunday.