12 May 2022

NLD Preview: A deep, deep block of lasagna...

So. It all comes down to this, possibly the most-important North London Derby in decades. If we lose, fourth place is still up for grabs. If we draw, we still have an inside track on it. Win—well, win, and it's all over. Fourth is ours. However, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Tottenham would never let us achieve anything of significance at their home ground. That would be truly humiliating. As I write, I'm feeling a bit peckish, with a hankering for some lasagna...but I should abstain. I have to watch my figure, and all those carbs could make me go pear-shaped. I should draw on past experience to guide me...

I allude, of course, to two previous encounters when the stakes were high. May 2006, matchday 38: all Tottenham had to do in their match against West Ham was match or better Arsenal's result against Wigan, and they'd qualify for the Champions League at our expense. Lasagna apparently had other plans. No fewer than ten Spurs players, including Michael Carrick, Robbie Keane, and Jermaine Jenas, were too ill to play to their usual levels. Even manager Martin Jol was affected Long story short, they blamed the lasagna for their 2-1 loss to West Ham while we ran away from Wigan 4-2. So there's that.

On another, more-memorable occasion, one with perhaps more-direct connections, we went into White Hart Lane on 25 April 2004 needing at least a draw in order to take one more step towards an invincible season and win the Prem. We carried a 1-2 lead deep into stoppage time only to see Tottenham score from the spot and then celebrate with the kind of ecstasy that would, I'm sure, send Wolves into conniptions...even though the result meant that we did win the Prem at White Hart Lane. For a second time, for those keeping track.

And so we go into Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Thursday. As one wag put it, "dates and names change. People don't." Does that mean we can count on Tottenham to be Tottenham? Not necessarily. They may need some help, some encouragement, and it's with that entirely selfless and magnamimous goal in mind that I propose the following: we sit back and defend deep, pressing only here and there, and dare Tottenham to try to break us down. Their own manager has admitted that they struggle against sides that stay compact and that they're better against those that try to attack, allowing Spurs to hit on the counter. Son is especially dangerous, and we therefore have two reasons to sit back and dare them to try to break our lines: one, it will play to their weaknesses, and two, it will frustrate their supporters. The longer it takes them to find a goal, the quieter that crowd will get, the more-reckless the players will get, and the more we'll be able to hit them oun a counter or two.

With Saka, Martinelli, and Nketiah, we have more than enough craft and pace to press just a little bit but also to get in behind a high line as Tottenham struggle to break us down. They need a win. We can live with a draw. In fact, a draw might warm the proverbial cockles of our hearts, harkening back to that 2004 draw that saw us win the Prem on their ground. I might even go so far as to suggest that I'd be willing to carry a 1-2 lead into stoppage time only for Kane to convert a penalty to level it...achieving nothing, really. 

It's all going to be more than a bit nervy. Which factor will play a larger role? Arsenal's youth, or Spurs' Spursiness?  The pressure is arguably on Tottenham. No one expected Arsenal to be here. The hiring of Conte raised expectations that he's struggled to match. Anything less than a win for them drives numerous nails into that squad's coffin: Conte might leave. Kane might push even harder than last summer for a transfer. I'm not out here saying that I want that squad to implode under the burden of expectations, but I don't know how else to end this sentence. I've kind of painted myself into a corner here...similar in some ways to the situation Tottenham find themselves in. 

As always, weigh in. I'll shamelessly insist that you upvote, re-share, comment, subscribe, and all the rest. Maybe, just maybe, doing so will build enough cosmic goodwill to propel us to victory. I'm not promising anything, of course.