The second North London derby of the season comes at a critical time for both clubs.
Arsenal vs. Gareth Bale and the Jordanaires
English Premier League
Kickoff: Sunday, March 3, 4PM London/11AM Natick, MA/8AM Puyallup, WA
White Hart Lane, Seven Sisters Road, Haringey, Middlesex
League Form: Arsenal WDWWW | Spurs DDWWW
Movin' Pitcher Show: Fox Soccer
SBN's Tottenham unfinished basement: Cartilage Free Captain
A VERY SPECIAL ADMIN NOTE: As you are well aware, this is a fractious game, and passions and excitement run high. As mods, we would like to take this opportunity to remind you: if things go well for Arsenal in this game, do not go to CFC and gloat, during or after the game, particularly if you're not a regular commenter over there. Trolling there will be considered trolling here, and you will be banned here for it (and yes, we will also lean heavily on the banhammer for Spurs fans that come here and act like dickbags if things go their way). Consider this your official warning about that. Be cool.
So, that out of the way, let's talk about sports, not real estate and shady back room deals, shall we? Arsenal and Tottenham are currently fifth and fourth in the league, Arsenal being four points behind their neighbors in pursuit of a Champions League place, which makes this particular North London derby a very important match indeed. Arsenal are in really solid league form lately, having only dropped two points in their last five games, while Spurs
are wobbling a bit lately, dropping points like a drunk drops his car keys while all the while insisting he's fine to drive. No, really, he's fine. are coming off a perfect league February and are everyone's pick to Change The Natural Order Of The Game over the rest of the season.
Spurs have, however, been really strong this season, due in large part to the startlingly good form of Gareth Bale. Arsenal were derided as being a one man team last year, and while nobody's really leveling that charge against Spurs this season it's arguably just as true - Bale has 15 of Tottenham's 45 Premier League goals this season, and 19 of their 62 overall. Only Jermain Defoe is even close to Bale's goal tally this year.
Don't get me wrong - Bale is a threat. He's legitimately good, so good that he'll probably end up at Real Madrid next season (WHY CAN'T THEY HOLD ON TO THEIR BEST PLAYERS!!!!), and he's the Spur I'm most worried about facing as he's in a pretty amazing patch of form right now. He's getting pretty good service from his team, and in fact this seems to be the first season in a while that the boys in blue have played well as a team - Andre Villas-Boas has done a pretty good job of making Spurs into a team that is willing to work together, to get the ball to their talisman, and to enter the conversation as a legitimate threat for a Champions League place.
And then there's Arsenal. The challenge in writing about a team (in any sport) is that things get repetitive really fast - what can be said that hasn't already been said a million times in a bunch of different ways? Inconsistent, lazy on the defensive end, wasteful up front - we've heard them all. But what gets lost in all the lazy narrative and shrieking about Wenger losing it and about the board firing him and all that is the line up above marked "form" - Arsenal have won four of their last five, and have done so on a couple occasions while playing, shall we say, not up to their best.
So if you read stuff that says "SPURS WILL WIN THIS GAME EASILY" or the like, don't buy it - Arsenal know what's at stake here, as do Spurs, so both teams will come at this game with something to prove. Arsenal are the team in better form at the moment, but with Arsenal that doesn't mean much - Arsenal are also somewhat dinged up, with Sagna the most significant (Sagnificant? HAW HAW) injury, leaving Carl Jenkinson to mark Mr. Bale. Yoiks. In a complete shocker, Diaby's also out, which means that an under-pressure Arsenal defense will be under even more pressure tomorrow.
Arsene Wenger has no specific game plan to stop Bale, though - he doesn't build a team or a strategy like that. When asked about the rivalry and the game, and about the relative strength of the two teams, he offered what is probably my all-time favorite quote he's ever given EVER:
"It's all down to the results on the football pitch. The quality of our display will decide that. Spurs always had good teams since I'm here. They had Ginola and Anderton before."
Namechecking Darren "Sicknote" Anderton in a quote about the quality of Spurs' teams in the past? Game, set, and match, Mr. Wenger. You are still a genius.
So that's that then. No more words. It's game time. UP THE GUNNERS.
FEARLESS PREDICTION: Thierry Henry, in Portland for the Red Bulls season opener against the Timbers on Sunday, comes over and has breakfast at my house while we watch the game. Well, he watches the game; I just stare dreamily at him for 90 minutes and try not to go all Kathy-Bates-in-Misery and keep him at my house forever or until he realizes we're best friends.
Oh, a prediction for the game. Right. Deep breath, keep it together. Anyway. As easy as it would be to predict another soul-destroying 5-2 win, we all know at this point Arsenal are as prone to give up five as they are to score five. Bale gets sent off after getting his second yellow for diving in the eighth minute, second half sub Gervinho finds Bale's form, and all of a sudden Arsenal win 3-0.