Chelsea’s narrow victory over Bolton, achieved in part thanks to two remarkable penalty denials, ensured the North London Derby remains a must-win game for Arsenal.
Two fascinating returns provide the talking points for this game: Sol Campbell to White Hart Lane and Robin van Persie from a sustained injury lay-off.
Campbell is bound to get a ferocious reception at White Hart Lane, just as he has received every time since defecting from Tottenham to Arsenal in 2001. That he is back in an Arsenal shirt, rather than a Portsmouth one, will give the fans even more incentive to scream abuse. He will take his place in the starting team alongside Thomas Vermaelen and it will be interesting to see how the Englishman handles the atmosphere.
Van Persie’s presence in the squad, meanwhile, is in many ways just as improbable as Campbell’s return. Given that ligament damage has seen a five-month injury absence ruin his season and reports suggested he might not make it back before the end of May, it is a shock to see him available so soon. With Nicklas Bendtner in good form and scoring goals there is no need to rush van Persie into the starting team, yet his presence in the matchday squad will provide both a psychological boost and some genuine depth from the bench.
I expect the same team that lost heavily to Barcelona to start this game, with the exception of Campbell for Mikael Silvestre and perhaps Emmanuel Eboue for Theo Walcott. Once again Samir Nasri will need to provide the spark in the creative midfield roll and Denilson and Abou Diaby will provide protection for the back four in Alex Song’s continued absence.
With Spurs chasing fourth spot and our boys chasing the title, both teams have much to play for. I expect the match to be fiercely contested although I do expect the contrasting preparations of the clubs – Tottenham played a gruelling extra-time FA Cup semi-final on Sunday while Arsenal have had an eight-day break since the trip to Barcelona – to make a difference as the game wears on. Indeed, late goals look likely.
The title race will effectively be over if our boys fail to beat Spurs tonight and it is that incentive that needs to drive our performance. There are no excuses for a lack of effort at this stage of the season, regardless of how many people lay prone in the injury treatment room, and our young team must give every ounce of their energy towards keeping us in with a shot at the title for as long as possible.
It’s hard not to be excited about tonight’s game and three points would do nicely.
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