Pre-Match Report

Match Preview - Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal

By Richard Clarke

Lukasz Fabianski will begin a personal battle for redemption at White Hart Lane on Tuesday evening.

In truth, he will be accustomed to a battle: Arsenal’s goalkeepers have been fighting it out all summer. While the outside world revelled in rumours of new arrivals, Messers Almunia, Fabianski, Mannone and Szczesny were jockeying for position.

The race really began after the first pre-season friendly when Arsène Wenger declared: “I have no Number One” and ran until the Spaniard was chosen between the sticks at Liverpool on August 14.

Ironically, Almunia’s 2009/10 season had ended with the defeat at Tottenham last April. That effectively confirmed Arsenal’s title hopes were over so Wenger gave Fabianski a go for the final few games. Coming in to the new campaign Almunia was the choice for Anfield and since then, the Spaniard has been excellent.

“Lukasz was disappointed [to miss out on the No 1 spot] certainly,” said Wenger on Monday afternoon. “At that level it’s about competition. You don’t have to accept the decision but to fight against it and to change the mind of people who make it.

“I believe he has a very strong attitude. He has had a very strong response and he works very hard in training. And now he has an opportunity to show his massive talent tomorrow night. I have massive faith in him and I think I have shown this historically. I am convinced that he will become a great goalkeeper.

“But we live in a world where, if you have an opportunity, you have to take it. You will get a second one but you will not get ten. That’s part of our job.”
Fabianski was in goal two years ago on the night an Arsenal squad side lost 5-1 on the same ground in the Semi-Final of the same competition.

“It was a massive disappointment for him,” recalled Wenger. “But I believe he has had other chances and he will get another one tomorrow. I am personally convinced he is a world-class goalkeeper potentially and, of course, when you have that potential you want to transfer that into competitive games.

“But I can only give him the opportunity to show how good he is.

It is a ringing endorsement of a player who, quite frankly, deserves a break. But you only have to return to that defeat at White Hart Lane in April for an example of a keeper who has repaired a reputation.

Heurelho Gomes was pilloried after a string of errors at the start of his Tottenham career. But that night he produced one of the best goalkeeping performances Arsenal have ‘suffered’ under Wenger.

The Frenchman will sit in the stands on Tuesday having admitted an FA charge of improper conduct at Sunderland on Saturday.

He has traditionally played a second-string side in this competition. But he admitted that this time injuries have hampered his options.

“We continue to rotate and play a little bit with the same group, plus we’ll add two or three young players,” he said. “But we have many injuries at the moment. If you had Bendtner, Van Persie, Ramsey, Walcott, Fabregas, Vermaelen and Diaby available it would be a little bit easier for us, but with the number of games we have to play now we are a bit short.

For the first time, Spurs have the same kind of early-season fixture congestion that Arsenal have contended with for years. At the weekend, they have another London derby at West Ham then they entertain Twente in a game that may determine the extent of their ambitions in Champions League Group A.

At his press conference, Harry Redknapp suggested he may use some unfamiliar names – Steven Caulker, Jake Livermore, Kyle Naughton and exciting Brazilian playmaker Sandro – along with others who have not been starting for the first-team this season – Niko Krancjar, Wilson Palacios, Giovani dos Santos and David Bentley.

“I must say frankly I don’t worry too much about our opponents and speculation about who will play,” admitted Wenger. “I always look to bring a team that, no matter who we play, can win the game.

“We want to do that because we feel we are on a very strong run. We have shown it again on Saturday. After what happened at Sunderland people don’t speak about it but we had a very strong performance. There were more chances for us to win the game than to draw the game and we want to keep that winning habit.

Wenger’s pragmatic Carling Cup policy is incredibly useful to the Club as a whole but it has not brought them the trophy. Under the Frenchman they have been regulars in the last four and last eight but have made the Final just once.

Arsenal are the ‘nearly men’ of the competition – even if the experience has moved the squad nearer to the first team.

“There is a frustration about [only making one Final] and we will try to correct that this year,” said Wenger.

“I want to win the competition highly but before we talk about winning the competition let’s focus on tomorrow night and continue our good run that we have had since the start of the season.”

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