By Declan Taylor
With three ex-Spurs returning to their former home this January, it is a case of ‘back to the future’ for Tottenham Hotspur.
Jermain Defoe, Pascal Chimbonda and, most strangely, Robbie Keane have all re-signed at White Hart Lane leaving Harry Redknapp’s squad looking like a throwback to the days of Martin Jol.
However, that might not be a good look for Spurs who never managed to beat Arsenal with the now-departed Dutchman at the reins.
But the fightback which snatched a 4-4 draw at Emirates Stadium in October suggests that Redknapp’s men are well preened for the North London derby fight. And with only two points between Spurs and the foot of the Premier League, Arsenal’s near-neighbours will be playing for more than bragging rights.
We spoke to Tom Collomosse of the Evening Standard for an in-depth view of the Tottenham side, a look back at that dramatic 4-4 draw and a possible ‘debut’ for Keane.
THE STORY SO FAR
"I remember going into injury time [at Emirates Stadium in October] with Arsenal leading 4-2 and if they had won that game no-one would have had any complaints because I think Arsenal were the better side. Those two goals in injury time provided an incredible climax to an incredible game. Although they only got a point from the game, the result was so crucial in pushing Spurs forward onto that run they had afterwards. They beat Liverpool, Man City and Blackburn at home which pushed them right back into the group that were fighting against relegation. I think that result was just so key to everything good that has happened since Redknapp took over. Arsenal-Spurs games are big enough but the manner in which they achieved it, when looking dead and buried, gave them so much confidence. Certainly one of the most important results of the season."
THE ONE TO WATCH
"Luka Modric had been in and out of the side under Juande Ramos and he hadn’t shown the ability that he had for the national side against England and in Euro 2008. I think when Redknapp came in he made it very clear that he believed in Modric, this was the guy that he would build the team around. He really thrived in the 4-4 draw and he has been a bit up and down in recent weeks but his form was excellent in the great run they had and he’s still their most creative player by a street. That derby was very important to him because he had a big hand in the equaliser particularly."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Robbie Keane's return has been in the offing since it became clear that he wouldn’t get a proper look-in at Liverpool. It was obvious that there was no real future for him there as much as he would’ve wanted to make one. I think Redknapp signed him as much for what he can do off the field as he can on it. The manager has said this season how quiet he thinks the squad and dressing room are at the moment and Keane is a very boisterous, bubbly character. It is no surprise that he has given him the captaincy and Redknapp will expect Keane to gee them all on. If someone’s playing badly he will tell them and he has that kind of enthusiasm and ability to lead which Spurs have been lacking a bit this season. Redknapp is looking for Keane to be his leader on the pitch in a way.
"It was strange, the whole thing [with Keane and Liverpool]. I don’t really know what went on in the background but if you pay that much money for a player and then sell him again six months later, without him having a proper crack of the whip, it was a very mysterious time. I think it was clear that something would be done when he was left out of the squads for the Chelsea and Everton games. When it happened it wasn’t a surprise but if you look at it closely you wonder why anyone would buy a proven Premier League player for £20million and sell them without even bringing in a replacement. It’s a bit of a crazy one all-round."
THE MAN IN CHARGE
"Harry Redknapp has changed it a lot. He saw this January window as absolutely crucial and it’s not a surprise that he’s done so much. While they did very well immediately after he took over, and I’m not understating the impact that he had when he came in, but I think the real test of the squad is how the team does two or three months down the line. They haven’t been great recently; they have been beaten away from home and conceded some silly late goals. They played well against Stoke the other night but Stoke weren’t at their best at all.
"He saw January as absolutely crucial to assembling a squad that will survive. He is confident of that now and I very much expect them to. It is a big blow that Jermain Defoe has been injured but I still think they’ll have enough given the signings he has made."
"I think Defoe was one that was always going to happen. You have to look at the key factor in that deal which was Redknapp, who had signed him for Portsmouth. It was obvious that he would want to bring him back when he came to Spurs, particularly with attack being their weakest area.
"I think the signing of Pascal Chimbonda was slightly surprising if only because he left Spurs on a bit of a sour note. In the Carling Cup final he stormed off when he was substituted and I don’t think Spurs fans were too pleased with that. Then again, Redknapp will tell you that for £3million he has a player who can play anywhere across the defence.
"In Carlo Cudicini he has got a keeper who is proven in the Premier League. Wilson Palacios was excellent when they lost at Wigan and he was the best player on the pitch by a mile and Harry will be hoping he can transfer that form into a Spurs shirt. He always wanted to make a lot of changes in January and I think he will be very glad that he has been able to."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"A derby game is always slightly different and Arsenal are much higher in the league so they would be the favourites. But after the 4-4 and the 5-1 win last year, in a one-off game Spurs will fancy their chances. They have tended to play reasonably well against the bigger sides; they drew at Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United and beat Liverpool. Because of that and the unique nature of the game then they will certainly fancy their chances."
"He will probably go 4-4-2, how exactly that will be I don’t know. I’m sure that Keane and Roman Pavlyuchenko will play up front but it’s how he balances the midfield. I’m sure that Aaron Lennon will start on the right and we hear that Jamie O’Hara might be back so he could possibly start on the left ahead of Gareth Bale. In the centre I imagine Palacios will start and then one of either Modric or Didier Zokora depending on how conservative he intends to be. Saying that I would expect them to line up with Keane, Pavyluchenko and Modric all in the starting XI.
"Chimbonda came on in the Bolton defeat and did well. He would prefer to play at right back which would mean Benoit Essou-Ekotto coming in on the left and Vedran Corluka dropping to the bench. You would say that Corluka is stronger than Essou-Ekotto but then right back is Chimbonda’s best position. It is a bit of a conundrum but I imagine one way or another, Chimbonda will start."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 6 Feb 2009