By Richard Clarke
Derby day can be riddled with negativity.
For fans, sometimes it is not about what you do but what you stop your rivals from doing. The ultimate example came in April 2004 when Robbie Keane scored a disputed injury-time penalty to prevent Arsenal winning at White Hart Lane. Tottenham fans should have been elated by pulling off an unlikely two-goal comeback against their high-flying rivals. However most of them left the game crest-fallen and with the celebrations of the visiting players ringing in their ears - the point had been enough to give Arsène Wenger’s side the Premier League title.
The same was true at Emirates Stadium in October when Tottenham scored twice in the final three minutes to complete a head-scratching 4-4 draw. It was a point, something the visitors had got before in recent years at Highbury, but it felt like a defeat to Arsenal therefore it was a victory for Tottenham.
Sunday, hopefully, will have a little more positivity than that. Tottenham are one point off the drop zone, Arsenal are five adrift of the Champions League places. Arsène Wenger and Harry Redknapp have easily identifiable reasons to go for victory while, even for supporters, the negative effect on their opponents will be merely a by-product of the overall aim. For the Frenchman it has always been this way.
“I am just focused on us doing well,” said Wenger at Friday’s press conference. “I want Arsenal to do well more than Tottenham not do well.
“What is important for us is that we play at the top. Usually, I don’t look at the neighbours and think ‘is he doing well or not?’ You just want yourself to do well.
“Tottenham have always been interesting games but, in fairness, over the last 10 years we have been more focused on Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.
“Of course, we were conscious that against Tottenham we couldn’t afford to slip-up and drop points; it could be costly. You know that if you want to do well in the title race, one of the big games you couldn’t afford to drop points in was Tottenham because it’s a special rivalry.
“But this year I believe that they want to get out of the relegation zone and we want to come back to the top four so there is a bit more pressure on both teams.”
Arsenal have not been beaten by Tottenham in 18 Premier League games. Ironically, former Highbury boss George Graham is the last man to inflict a defeat on Arsène Wenger’s team. Since then David Pleat, Glenn Hoddle, Jacques Santini, Martin Jol and Juande Ramos have all tried and failed. Though the last of those did pull off a spectacular 5-1 success in the Carling Cup.
“I cannot explain that run with any specific reason,” said Wenger. “We always have good teams in these matches. We prepare well physically and mentally.
“In these games there is a huge commitment. So it is important to play and not to be too tense. Sometimes passion takes over and you must always try to play your game.
“The environment is there and the passion of the fans is big. It is good not to lose your nerves and focus. You must try to play another good team and nothing more than that.”
Wenger will make a late decision whether to include new signing Andrey Arshavin. The midfielder was flying back from Russia on Friday and due to land late in the evening. With only 10 days of pre-season training in his legs, you sense the 27-year-old will be held back.
Emmanuel Eboue is fit after limping off last week against West Ham however Abou Diaby has the distinction of being both injured and suspended. The Frenchman is serving a one-match ban and is expected to be back for the FA Cup tie with Cardiff on Monday week.
That 4-4 draw at Emirates was Redknapp’s first game in charge. At the time Tottenham were bottom of the table.
It was not that point itself but the manner in which it was obtained that kicked off their revival. They won at home to Liverpool the next week then at Man City the week after that. However they have never really pulled clear of the relegation mire and, with one win in their last eight Premier League games, Redknapp felt the need to act.
In January, he spent £47million on Jermain Defoe, Keane, Wilson Palacios, Pascal Chimbonda and Carlo Cudicini. No-one, not even Manchester City, have shelled out more.
“I don't think they will go down,” said Wenger. “But once you are down there, 10 teams can go down and, among these teams, Tottenham have more quality than many.
“As for us, we have created a little bit of momentum again. Against other teams, once you have done that, it makes it a little bit easier. But that is never the case in a derby because in a derby the teams put everything in, every time.
“We can only show on Sunday that we can play as well as we did last season. But in football it is never acquired definitely.
“Personally,” he concluded, “I believe we are on the way up.
“We are a bit less creative but that is linked to confidence. I’m sure that this team is ready to score goals now.”
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