28 April 2017

Oi, Tottenham! What do we think of you? (This could be an epic derby...)

They're 14 points clear of Arsenal. They have a glimmer of a chance of winning the Prem. They havn'et lost at White Hart Lane in 15 straight matches, having scored 49 an conceding just nine. With a win on Sunday, they kill whatever last embers of hope we have of finishing above. They're undefeated at home in their final season at White Hart Lane. It's looking more and more like Tottenham will end Arsenal's 21-year run of painting the town red. Could there be any more storybook elements to this derby? After all, all the stars seem to be aligning for Tottenham.

On top of all that charm, good fortune, kismet, and whatever else you might want to call it, we at Arsenal are clinging rather desperately and none too convincing to the tattered remnants of our pride. We know that we essentially have to win each of our remaining matches to protect any hope of finishing in the top four. There's the secondary matter of the FA Cup final, which, though wonderful to win, wouldn't do much to improve our fortunes going into the summer and preparing for the next campaign.

However, I digress.

Though it is not our birthright to forever finish above Tottenham—that ship has all but sailed for this season—I have a feeling about Sunday. I'm not basing it on any of the usual "anything can happen in a derby" folderol. To paraphrase the great Tom Waits, the higher that the Spuds do climb, the more they show their tails. After a tremendous run in which they battered several opponents by scoring four or more goals four times in six matches and keeping clean sheets four times to boot, they've lost a bit of of momentum not to mention motivation. There's no shame in losing at Stamford Bridge, but their desultory bounce-back to squeeze past Palace suggests flagging confidence. Despite that run, Chelsea remain four points clear, and the manner of that FA Cup semifinal loss shows that Chelsea are still a cut above Tottenham.

For as young and as impressive as Pochettino's squad is, there's little experience in managing the pressures of a title-tilt. They wilted at this stage last season, and when you add in all of the fairy-tale melodrama of trying to defeat your hated rival to give your stadium a proper send-off, the pressure only grows. The collective weight of expectations built up over a generation can be massive, and they've got to be as nervous as a long tailed-cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Pardon my French, but they're probably so tense over there that if you stick a lump of coal in any Spud's arse, you'd have a diamond back by Sunday.

14 points clear, did I say? Fine and dandy like sour candy. Let's be clear: we need a win, but even a win on Sunday doesn't really stop Tottenham from preparing their "North London is White" parade. Let the babies have their bottle. While I'm spouting heresies, let's admit that they have been the better squad for most if not all of the season. It's taken their best season in club history combined with the worst in ours in a generation to allow them to reach this point. Aside from an admirable display against Man City, we've been atrocious. So be it.

Should Tottenham somehow win despite my optimistic take, the sun will still rise on Monday. Birds will still sing. And Tottenham? Well, they'll still only be the second-best club in London.

LAST 3
Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham (06.11.2016)
Tottenham 2-2 Arsenal (0.03.2016)
Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham (08.11.2015)

FACTFILE
Neither side has kept a clean sheet in the last six derbies (four draws and one win apiece).
Harry Kane has scored a goal in each of the last three.

INJURIES
Cazorla, Lucas, and Ospina have been ruled out; Koscielny and Mustafi face late fitness tests.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Gibbs, Koscielny, Gabriel; Monreal, Ramsey, Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Alexis, Özil, Giroud.

PREDICTION
It's hard to know how this one will play out, to be honest. Given the emotions and history of the moment, it's anyone's guess.

Tottenham 1-2 Arsenal.