The North London derby.
Probably the purist of all derby games simply because the animosity stems from matters of football rather than religion or social and geographic economic upheavals. No docks or waving of loyalist flags. Just two neighbours at war over long forgotten arguments screaming abuse at each over the garden fence, we are forever enemies with no chance of a reconciliation. Not unless they sell up and move back to the South of the river where they came from. That would appease most. Unlikely with their current mortgage and new home. And we obviously have no reason to leave either. We were here before them. And renovations are afoot for a lovely new extension too. And we should still be left with the money and time to perhaps organise a nice little tour of Europe. Standard class. But we should try and book first class.
And as much as we despise each other, we perversely look forward to our encounters. A couple of times every year guaranteed, there's always a bit of a scuffle. Without fail. Pushing, finger pointing. The usual bravado which can sometimes end up with a brick being lobbed over, breaking a window. Their aim has been a lot better than ours recently. Although last time a fight broke out in their garden, it ended all square. They thought they got the better of us, all smug and showing off, but we managed to have the last word leaving a rather bitter taste in their mouth.
Never a boring day in North London.
Spurs v Arsenal. We hate them and they hate us. Because we do. Unquestionable good old traditional 'hate'. I'm hoping that regardless of injuries and suspensions and the fact that we hardly ever beat them in the league (it's getting tedious now), this time we turn up and smash them up all over the pitch. Last season we rode our luck but kept believing and plugging away. We looked for a way back in and deserved the point for simply never giving up. It was a point clawed back from the grasp of oblivion. And a point that set us on our way upwards and away from the mire.
Usually at WHL we stand up and fight and sometimes, almost…almost get something out of it. All I ask of the players is to remember to bring some of that blood and thunder to proceedings come Saturday mid-day at their patch. Nothing worse than not showing up and getting beat comfortable. Their form is good at the Emirates. But their defending has been suspect all season. Might turn out to be (another) game full of goals. But it’s a certainty that if we play openly, we might well suffer for our ambitions. There is no Modric to pull the strings and Defoe to pull the defence. And Lennon's absence is one that grates me although you can almost laugh at the irony that David Bentley has remembered what it means to be a bread and butter footballer, less than a week before another return to his former club.
But if we do suffer, then we have to make that despairing journey through the painful five stages of grief that we have come close to copyrighting so many times over the years.
What the f*ck was that? I can't believe we are losing already? Come on you Spurs! Sort it out! We can do this lot! They’re just a bunch of kids!
I can't believe we lost that. What happened to having a game plan? Tactics? Picked the wrong players in midfield and the wing play was shocking. No balance or purpose. Hit and hope. Harry is a joke. Cost us three points. How the fuck am I meant to got to work on Monday after this shambolic display? Top 4? No chance.
Could have been different if we hassled them more, applied a bit of pressure and got the ball to Crouch on the deck rather than hoofing it. Thin line between defeat and victory. If that shot had gone in, it would have been a different game.
What is the point of it all? We just can beat Top 4 clubs away. I'm sick of expecting anything different. I'm not going to watch Match of the Day.
Fuck it. Who we got next week? Come on you Spurs! Top 4? Yeah, of course we can do it we only have to play Arsenal, Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea in total, 8 games. That's 24 points. But they've got to play each other and we can make up the points in other games. Top 4 here we come!
Been here a few times, haven't we? You have to earn the bragging rights rather than simply expect them to fall onto your laps. We have work to do come Saturday. This is not going to be an easy afternoon. And far too many times in the past we've fallen short. Choked. This is as good a chance as ever to get something out of the game.
We are not fighting for our lives, like we were when Harry took over. Instead, rather than damage limitation, we have to be looking for something more this time round. Which is why there's no point in being negative. Forget the 5 stages. Forget the ready-made excuses. Smile. Have faith.
Our players need to still go there and fight for every ball like their lives depend on it. The difference is we are now a balanced team and have more confidence than we've had in a long time. We have taken knocks this season and have bounced back. And on occasions done so when expected to falter.
It's about being fearless but also (yes, its a contradiction) fearing the consequence of failure. If you're scared or respect the opposing team too much, then forget it. If you're scared to ask the questions and take the game to them, then forget it. But if you fear the bitter taste that disappointment drowns you in when defeated, then take that fear and use it to inspire you with all your God-given will to avoid experiencing anything other than a win.
So what if we have a couple of missing warriors?
As long as the players do us proud, right? Although doing us proud is only half of it. We don't want to be losing gracefully either.
In a nutshell?
It's about time we stuck it up their bollocks and planted a white and blue flag in the middle of their back garden. Too often it's them sliding on our lawn and posturing arrogantly as we slowly close the curtains.
No more knock-down ginger. No more shouting from our own doorstep about what we'll do to them next time. Get in their face and then get in their face some more. And when they think you're not going to do anything other than stare them out…, goad them, knowing you've got someone round the back burning down their rose bush.
Be sly. Be tricky. Be expressive but not beyond your means. Be mentally strong. Be confident. Believe.
We need to go there with intent and passion, tied up to a master plan. A strategy. It's going to be won in midfield. But defending will be key as it's the type of game where mistakes will be punished ruthlessly.
They have key players starting. We don't. Let's not try to out play them pound-for-pound. Palacios will have to bite their ankles. Huddlestone's passing will have to be immaculate. Crouch will have to torment them with his tallness (he likes doing that) and we'll have to be clever with how we get the ball to him (try feet more than head). Both him and Keane will also have to be clinical. Hear that Keano? Get a one on one? Bury it. And Bentley will have to produce the goods from set-pieces and crosses. No Azza hugging the touchline and cutting in. Bentley will have to imagine roof tops and skips to focus on striking down the enemy.
Our defence will have to be heroic and completely disciplined as a working unit. Supporting and protecting each other. And if King starts, we are in with a chance of containing them. Woodgate? I'll be more than happy to see him back there too - but Daws can also do a job for us. Much the same Bassong. And we all know JJ loves a NLD. Step up, step up...
Every player selected will need to make up for the missing quality with determination and steel. Had Moddle been available then this write-up would have taken a completely different slant on proceedings.
Arsenal will want to give their fans what they lust for and will turn the tempo up, which means short quick passing. It might be another frantic 90 minutes. Arshavin has already gobbed off about doing us over and our Robbie has done the same. Not that I care too much about it now. Ok, so Robbie is 'bigging' us up. But if you've cared to notice, most Arsenal fans have laughed not just at Keane's comments but also at any suggestion Spurs pose any type of threat at all. Even though we are some way off the Sky Sports Top 4, the gap continues to shrink with each passing season and regardless what any gooner cares to believe, they are not half the team they were 4/5 years ago. If anything, they have stagnated and we've improved. They are still (wash you mouth out son) a very decent side. And that's all we need to concern ourselves with. AA is going to be the one to watch when they push forward. We'll have to make sure he is given as little time as possible on the ball.
It's going to be tasty. They will want to make up for last seasons 4-4. We will want to move on from those plucky memories and produce something more befitting of our progress since that fateful day.
This is it people. Derby day. Hairs on back of neck dancing a merry tune.
And don't be leaving the ground until the final whistle. Slow-clap. Sing up. COYS.
You know I can't smile without you
I can't smile without you
I can't laugh and I can't sing
I'm findin' it hard to do anything...
If you're going to the game, look out for a free newspaper that will be handed out around the ground to both Spurs and Arsenal fans. TwoHalves is a 16 page, fan-made newspaper of professional quality giving the informed fan's perspective on the North London derby giving readers two different insider perspectives on the game. The paper can be read two ways depending on your allegiance: one way up it's packed full of Spurs news and articles; flip it over and it's got everything a Gooner might want to read ahead of the game.
I'll be including a PDF of the paper on this blog after the game (or earlier if allowed). One or two familiar bloggers have written for it (including myself) so I guess the pdf will be all over blogland soon enough.
My article is about Ledley King.