By Chris Harris
"Two-nil, and you messed it up." That's the polite version of a chant Arsenal fans taunted their Spurs counterparts with after last season's Carling Cup Semi-Final. Having started so brightly in the first leg, Tottenham squandered a two-goal advantage and lost 5-3 on aggregate.
Now they have a chance to make amends. The North London rivals meet again at the same stage of the same competition and you sense that, if Tottenham get their noses in front, they will not capitulate again. The reason? Juande Ramos.
The Spaniard has instilled discipline and organisation since he replaced Martin Jol as manager in October and, as anyone who saw the local derby at Emirates Stadium before Christmas will testify, Spurs now play with more intelligence too.
Ramos' tactics and formation hampered Arsenal's passing game and, but for Manuel Almunia's penalty save, Tottenham might have celebrated the end of their long winless streak against Arsène Wenger's side. Spurs did lose - again - but for the first time in a while they were not second best.
We asked James Callow of the Tottenham Journal for a Spurs perspective ahead of Wednesday's first leg. Read on for his views on the pre-Christmas game, the changes Ramos has made, last season's Carling Cup Semi-Final and the future of key man Dimitar Berbatov.
James, were Spurs hard done by at the Emirates before Christmas?
"Yes, definitely. You could say that their performance will give them belief going into a game like this. However, the way Arsenal keep coming back into these games, it almost seems that fate conspires against Spurs. I don't think they did an awful lot wrong when they last played Arsenal, so it will probably take some good management to pick them up from the disappointment of playing well and still losing. Ramos has to get the players in the right frame of mind to play Arsenal again."
Ramos deployed two holding midfielders - O'Hara and Boateng - and they did a good job of closing down the space Fabregas and Hleb like to use.
"They played much more intelligently. The last time Spurs were at the Emirates in the League they lost 3-0 and they didn't think about the game so much and tried to impose themselves physically. It really cost them because Arsenal gave them the runaround. But O'Hara and Boateng are both quite mobile, they have their limitations but they were certainly well-tuned to combatting Arsenal's passing and movement. Mind you, Arsenal were a little bit below par on the day."
Will Spurs use similar tactics on Wednesday night?
"You would think that Spurs might be able to dictate slightly more but don't forget that their players in central midfield will be every bit as inexperienced as the Arsenal midfield. Arsenal's players have played together consistently throughout this Carling Cup run, no matter how young they are. The likes of Boateng and O'Hara barely got a chance before Ramos came in. So there will be inexperience on both sides."
What are your reflections on last year's Semi-Final first leg?
"That was the definitive Spurs capitulation. They started so brightly at the Lane and you felt that even if Arsenal had scored once Spurs would be in a good frame of mind to take the tie back to the Emirates. But they fell apart in the second half. They were brave in the second leg and pushed Arsenal all the way but their knowhow and quality told. This time the legs are the other way around and if Spurs can keep it tight - and I'm not totally convinced they can do that - then they have a really, really good opportunity back at the Lane to put this hoodoo behind them."
What would be a good first-leg result for Spurs this time?
"It seems an obvious thing to say but they've got to look to win the game. Given Arsenal's relative lack of experience in certain positions, Spurs must feel they can beat them. If they don't there is something wrong. They have to go in with that mentality rather than play for a draw because one of the strengths of this Arsenal side is that they don't know failure yet, and consequently they might not know when they are beaten. Spurs must take as much from this game as possible."
Spurs lacked mental toughness in last season's Semi-Final - has Ramos changed that?
"There has certainly been a change in approach from the new manager. I'm not saying Jol didn't want a mentally strong team because he did, he kept mentioning it, but Ramos has tried to be more radical in his approach to bringing in mental strength. He has also been more proactive himself in moving things around, giving more players a chance and changing losing teams as well. Perhaps Jol didn't do that as regularly. But at the end of the day it is the same group of players and the change has to come from them. Whether they are the right players to take on those extra mental skills, I'm not so sure."
Dimitar Berbatov has been linked with a move. How do you see that situation unfolding?
"At the risk of making myself look silly I think he'll definitely stay until the end of the season. I think he is as happy as he can be at Spurs. I know he often looks miserable but that is as much his demeanour as anything. I know he wants Spurs to do better but I don't think a club of the required quality will come in, and they will need to offer significant money to make Spurs sell at this stage of the season. But I would suggest that he might be at a club like Manchester United in the summer."
Despite the speculation he keeps on banging in the goals, doesn't he?
"He sets high standards for himself and his team-mates, in much the same way as Thierry Henry did at Arsenal. People can read into that what they like but Arsenal know full well how good Berbatov is. He was the best player on the pitch in the last game at the Emirates and for Spurs to have a player of his quality is very important. Berbatov's involvement in last season's derbies was restricted by badly-timed injuries and if he can stay fit over these two games he can play a very big part."
Who is definitely not available for Spurs on Wednesday?
"Tom Huddlestone is suspended and Didier Zokora has gone to the African Cup of Nations, I believe. There's always a slightly nervous wait for Ledley King to prove that he can play two games in a week but I think this will be one of those occasions when he can do that. Kaboul and Bent both had knocks at the weekend but should be available, as did Stalteri and Tainio. Tainio could be in midfield alongside Jenas or Boateng. It's a fairly full-strength side."
Finally James, we'll put you on the spot. What's your prediction?
"I think Spurs could win. It will be very, very close with various factors to consider but it could be a memorable win for Spurs in the first leg. Whether they go through to the Final is another matter."Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 8 Jan 2008