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Spurs Odyssey Preview - Spurs v Arsenal, 07.11.99

Last season's game - Spurs 1 Arsenal 3, 05.05.99
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This preview was written by Brian Judson

Full Record of Spurs -v- Arsenal

Premier       Pl   W   D   L   For-Ag  Pts
Home           7   3   2   2     6-6   11
Away           7   1   5   1     6-6    8
Total (Prem)  14   4   7   3    12-12  19
Football Lge
Home (Div 1)   55 24  12  19    93-83  63
Away (Div 1)   55 16  12  27    65-85  46
Total (Div 1) 110 40  24  46   158-168 109
Total (Prem)  14   4   7   3    12-12  19
Total (Div 1) 110 40  24  46   158-168 109
Grand Total   124 44  31  49   170-180 128

It's THAT time of the season of the season again where logic and reason vanish and hope springs eternal that once again a Tottenham side can vanquish the enemy from the other end of the Seven Sisters Road. Unhappily for Tottenham, this game comes less than 72 hours after we have been eliminated from the UEFA Cup. This is not the sort of game we would have preferred to have been playing in the wake of such a shattering defeat as we experienced on Thursday night. The Gooners will doubtlessly be falling about with laughter, especially as they are still in Europe, despite being eliminated from the Champions League. At one time, elimination meant just that. Now it means nothing but a further chance to play more European football ......

Since we have last seen Arsenal, there have been some changes in their squad. The familiar face of Steve Bould is no longer there as he has, as we found out last weekend, joined former Gooner Niall Quinn at Sunderland. This has allowed a slight rejuggling at the back where Tony Adams and Martin Keown form the backbone of the defence. Adams has been increasingly prone to injury and was heard to be musing about possible retirement last season if his injuries continued to plague him. Both Adams and Keown have been in form this season.

Unhappily for Arsenal, the same cannot be said about David Seaman. Not so long ago, he was the undisputed choice as England's Number One 'keeper but the displays of Nigel Martyn for Leeds has put Seaman under pressure. He missed a large chunk of the season following injury and Manninger, his deputy, played very well during his absence. Since his return to duty, Seaman has made a number of gaffes that suggest that his confidence has been sapped by his long absence through injury. He seems to be at the same point of his career as Pat Jennings was during 1976-77 when injury kept him out of the team for long spells and was released at the end of that season. We all know what subsequently happened, although memories of 1980 are probably more pleasant than those of 1978 as far as the Blue and White half of North London is concerned. M.Wenger has the delicate task of trying to keep two goalkeepers happy and he may yet reach a point where he decides that Manniger is the one to keep happy and to allow Seaman to go.

Elsewhere in the defence, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn continue to defy the advancing Father Time. To my mind, in the games I have seen of Arsenal in various televised proceedings, Winterburn has been the most impressive Gooner on display. Considering he is 36 next month, he is putting some players half his age to shame by the way he galumphs down the wing, cheeks fully puffed out. It is a shame that he has not been rewarded with more than 2 caps as an England substitute but it was his misfortune to be around at the same time as Stuart Pearce.

Dixon, by contrast, seems to be well past his best. Whenever I have seen him, he has been churlish and petulant, even more so than some of the continental players in the squad. Dixon will be 36 in March and will probably be released at the end of his testimonial season.

Arsenal's problems this year have been in midfield where Pettit has spent a lot of the season in the treatment room. He has been recognised as the brains in the Arsenal midfield because he usually remembers to keep his Gallic temper in check, unlike Patrick Vieira who always 'rises to the bait'. Vieira is, in fact, about to commence an unplanned six weeks holiday as a result of a little fracas in a neighbourly get-together at Upton Park with West Ham recently. Neutral observers will believe that Neil Ruddock is not the innocent angel that West Ham believe him to be and persuaded the FA that he was sweetness and angelic. The problem with Vieira is that he is a player who is WYSIWYG. In other words, he is all up front and lashes out and thinks about the consequences only when the referee waves a yellow or a red card at him through the mists of his anger.

Elsewhere, Arsenal have a mixture of talent and journeymen. No one must have been more surprised than Ray Parlour when he was called up for England. No one can ever describe him as a great player. He is just a plodder who can run around for ever and a day without breaking into sweat. Ian Wright, he of the surly and scowling face, has gone as has his equally sulky partner Anelka. In their places have come Suker, on a short term contract and Bergkamp has started to play up front again. But otherwise it is more or less the same players up front as it was two years ago when they surprised themselves in helping Tottenham to preserve their status in the Premier League by beating Everton to ensure Tottenham stayed up.

Unusually for Arsenal there do not seem to be any youngsters coming through. Stephen Hughes, who looked so promising a couple of years ago, seems to have disappeared from view after walking out on a loan period of three months with Fulham. Matthew Upson also seems to have disappeared from the scene. With Arsenal now seemingly committed to replacing players by purchases from abroad, there is a risk that talented youngsters will prefer to go elsewhere rather than commit themselves to Arsenal. But that is not Tottenham's problem!

Tottenham's resources have been stretched to the limit. Darren Anderton and Les Ferdinand seem to have disappeared into the Bermuda Injury Triangle again. A number of Spurs players, notably Tim Sherwood, are known to be carrying injuries that will probably need an operation to resolve in the long run. Spurs need to strengthen their squad but there seem to be few quality players available at the moment. I suspect that involvement in Europe probably came a season or two earlier than Graham would have preferred but no one is going to turn down a chance of European football just because the squad is not quite shaping up.

Indeed Graham's problem is how to dispose of the players he inherited that he does not want. He has Paola Tramezzani, Moussa Saib, Ruel Fox, John Scales and Ramon Vega, all of whom I suspect he would prefer to get rid of for differing reasons. Tramezzani and Saib defied Graham early in his stewardship at Tottenham and have paid the price by being dropped from the squad. Neither have figured in Graham's plans at all this season. Fox has been on the bench and recently made his first appearance of the season whilst Scales and Vega have been injured but are probably behind Campbell, Perry and Young in the pecking order. Graham may well have to wait until their contracts expire before he can dispose of them.

The effect of this is that the Spurs squad largely chooses itself from the sixteen fittest players available which usually include untried players like Ledley King, Mark Gower and John Piercy on the bench. Thus Sunday's confrontation is likely to be an inexperienced team playing against an ageing team.

Matches between the two sides never reflect recent form. This is not a fixture where you can study form and patterns and predict a likely outcome. Both have had their European aspirations shattered this month, although Arsenal do have a wild card entry into the UEFA Cup. Both sides have known problems and injuries and both need to take stock of where they go from here.

Trying to be detached, despite my preferences as a Lilywhite, I suspect that Arsenal will win this match if only because they have had more time to recover from the effects of their European fixture on Tuesday night as against Tottenham's recovery from Thursday nights fixture and travelling. There won't be much in it but I cannot, in all honesty, see a Tottenham win given our slender striking force. Tottenham's one hope will be to try to counter attack when Arsenal are pounding away at Walker's goal.

Cheers, Brian

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