By Chris Harris
Here we go again. Another North London derby, another tense night in store and yet another chance for Tottenham to end their long winless run against Arsène Wenger's side.
Theo Walcott's fortuitous equaliser in the first leg of the Carling Cup Semi-Final at Emirates Stadium extended that sequence to 21 games but, for Spurs, the signs are promising. They have clearly improved since Juande Ramos took over. They dominated their old rivals a fortnight ago. And, while Arsenal will be bolstered by the odd first-teamer, they have home advantage against inexperienced opposition.
We asked James Callow for a Spurs perspective ahead of tonight's decisive second leg. Read on for his views on the first game at Emirates, the reaction of the Tottenham players, the class of Arsenal's substitutes bench and the return to top form of Ledley King.
James, what are your thoughts on the first leg?
It was a fantastic game, one which perhaps made even the least superstitious Spurs fans wonder whether there is some kind of jinx against them. To take the lead, to be so worthy of that and then to see a combination of Young-Pyo Lee, Theo Walcott's head, shin and heaven knows what else give Arsenal a goal, well, Spurs fans could not believe their eyes. It has obviously set things up very nicely for tonight's second leg, not just because the scores are level but because both teams will be optimistic they can reach the Final. That hasn't always been the case. For example last year the scores were level at 2-2 after the first leg but Spurs had to go to Emirates and you always felt that Arsenal would go through. It's more finely balanced this time.
It's hard to think of a more one-sided game in Tottenham's favour in the Wenger era. Was the first leg a missed opportunity for Spurs?
They did have opportunities to bury Arsenal with Steed Malbranque missing a couple. Dimitar Berbatov forced a fine save from Lukasz Fabianski so, yes, Spurs should have taken their chances. Arsenal didn't create so much.
What did the Spurs players say after the game?
They have played down any suggestions that Arsenal have a mental hold over them. They were disappointed but the key for Spurs' development is how much losing - or failing to win - hurts them over the next few years. Clearly you can see from Arsène Wenger and the way he's encouraged his players to feel, losing or failing to make the most of opportunities is the worst thing in the world to them. If Spurs go into the second leg with that kind of determination, not only thinking about the glory of Wembley but also a healthy amount of fear about failing, I think they will be in the right mindset.
Wenger has hinted he will play some first-team players. How much of a concern is that for Spurs?
Assuming it will be a similar Arsenal team, with just a couple of changes, Spurs shouldn't be too fearful. But the main fear factor from last year was that Arsenal had such a strong bench. They had Hleb and Eboue for example, players who could change the game in Arsenal's favour and were fresh.
What is the Spurs team news ahead of tonight's game?
The players definitely out are Gareth Bale, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Anthony Gardner. It's unlikely that Darren Bent will be involved, he's got a knee injury. Ledley King, Pascal Chimbonda and Robbie Keane were all rested to varying degrees on Saturday so they should all come back into the side. Malbranque is back from suspension, while Younes Kaboul might be back but he's touch and go. Radek Cerny will probably continue in goal.
Ledley King is so important to Spurs, isn't he?
He is so solid and against Arsenal he was probably Spurs' best defender. Even so he was patently not fully fit. I think he's still got a little way to go but he has demonstrated just how important he is to Spurs. Against Chelsea he was absolutely outstanding and really reminded people what a class player he is. It has been a long time since people have seen him in full flight and it was a reassuring sight for Spurs.
I suppose the lesson for Spurs from last year's Semi-Final is not to surrender the initiative if they get their noses in front.
Exactly. The difference with Juande Ramos compared to Martin Jol is that, if things are going well, Ramos will still consider changing things. Jol's temptation was generally 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'. Ramos has a slightly different view in that if you achieve one goal you go and look for the next one. If they go ahead Spurs will not only look to protect their lead, they will look to add to it too and press Arsenal back.
What's your prediction for tonight's game?
It's a very, very tough one to call. I wouldn't be surprised by another draw which could of course lead to penalties. I think the game will be decided quite late on and it could be a late night.Copyright 2013 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 22 Jan 2008