If there are two weeks every year which inspire nervousness in most Arsenal fans, then it is the two weeks preceding the a North London derby.
It’s not fear as such – history, on this side of the divide at least, has taught us that the opposition do not present a huge threat – but that perhaps makes the prospect of a rare win or even a draw that little bit more unthinkable.
We’re all familiar with the consequences, DVDs and all. The excitement and glee of the victorious Spurs fan is sickening (and yes, they see draws as if they were victories) whether you face it across the work desk, by the water cooler, or in the pub after work.
Imagine what it’s like across the dinner table. In my house, winning the spoils takes on a whole new significance.
You may have noticed that the writers here at the Daily Cannon, and I in particular, have been particularly active in the week running up to this game.
Of course it’s a big derby so it’s natural that we would focus on the opposition and how we can overcome them, but for me it is a rather bigger deal than for most. There’s a reason I feel more qualified than most to comment on this week’s hosts.
Dating a Spurs fan
So then to a confession: I have been dating a Spurs fan for ten years.
In my defence, I was 16 at the time and I had no idea of his allegiances. Even if I had, unfortunately the area where I live is a hotbed of Spurs support, and I was just incredibly lucky that my dad brought me up ‘properly‘.
I’d be pretty restricted if I counted out every man with Lilywhite tendencies, however, it doesn’t change the facts – I live with the enemy.
To be honest, you’d think it would be a major problem.
When it comes to Spurs fans, it’s very much a case of can’t live with them, can’t live without them.
Certainly my domestic situation has its moments too. A couple of nights ago we were watching an episode of a programme called ‘Take Me Out’.
For those who are either outside the UK or far too sensible to watch this kind of trash, it’s basically a dating show where the final step is for the man to turn out the lights on the podiums in front of the girls he doesn’t want to “take out”.
In this particular episode, the chap was a Tottenham fan, and he turned out the light of a girl who professed to be Arsenal. My boyfriend turned to me and uttered the rather worrying words: “Well it’s for the best. It would never have worked out after all…!”
Does he even like football?
Right now it’s working for us.
So he can’t really be that into football, I hear you say? Perhaps he’s one of those cardboard-cutout Spurs fans who only crawl out of the woodwork in the aftermath of a rare result or when the year ends in a 1?
Surely a girl who goes to every Arsenal game at the Emirates, one whose happiness is rather dependent on the Gunners’ results, and who even spends her spare time writing about the Arsenal, surely that girl couldn’t put up with a real, live, proper Spurs fan?
Surely he must be some sort of half-hearted fan?
In fact, my other half is a season ticket holder too, albeit at the scummier club in North London.
I probably go to half of Tottenham’s home games as well, since they’re always on the opposite week to Arsenal’s home games due to safety and policing concerns.
Those visits are the one time in my life where I play to the whole “Oh, I’m a girl, I don’t get what’s going on. Didn’t Spurs just score? Oh whoops, I didn’t realise it was the opposition!” brand of girliness.
To hell and back
Still, I’ve been to the North London derby in the Spurs stand a couple of times and it was pure hell.
On one occasion Arsenal scored and someone behind me cheered – clearly an undercover Arsenal fan who couldn’t quite stop a “YES!” slipping out.
You could feel the whole stand lurch as fans around me clambered over chairs to try to get to him.
I’ve not been back on derby day at least, but the amount of times I have seen Spurs play at the Lane this season makes me confident we can get the right result there on Saturday.
Watching the reactions of others sitting in that East Stand, they’re almost schizophrenic in their view of the team.
Harry Redknapp was the saviour of N17 until they worked out that he couldn’t organise a defence for toffee (as QPR also found out) and the goals his approach demanded couldn’t always be enough.
Then AVB was worshipped for bringing some order until they decided it was better to be exciting and rubbish than boring and marginally less rubbish.
So the cycle began again, with gung-ho Tim Sherwood given the job on a full time basis as he tried to outscore opponents, before again they realised that any serious Champions League aspirations require at least a semblance of a defence.
Even Arsene Wenger knows that!
In came Pochettino, and so far the form of Eriksen and Kane has carried them through some pretty dull and low scoring games.
To be honest, I’m heartily sick and tired of seeing Eriksen place a free kick millimetre perfectly into the very top corner, or Kane sneak a long range pot-shot through about 16 legs and in. It can’t keep coming off forever.
I’m also heartily sick of seeing my other half come through the door practically babbling about how he wants to have Hugo Lloris’ babies.
Pochettino has noticeably changed the way Spurs play, with a strong emphasis on playing out from the back. Curiously though, he has chosen to do this with a particularly weak right half of the defence.
On numerous occasions this season I have witnessed Walker and Fazio getting very lucky when taking players on in their own defensive third.
Arsenal’s five-second press on the opposing defence before they drop deeper could see a lot of joy on Saturday lunchtime.
In midfield they are also pretty underwhelming, and the tactic seems to be based on Brian Clough’s “give it to someone better than you” approach.
The real threat tends to come from Harry Kane in open play or Christian Eriksen in dead ball scenarios. The Dane is also often seen arriving late in counter-attacks to apply the finishing touch and will need to be closely tended, whereas Kane just needs to be closed down pronto, as he pretty much shoots at will, wherever and whenever.
Neither is the type of player to ‘do‘ you with ‘mad skillz’.
Cut off supply
As long as we cut off the supply to those two players and make sure we don’t give them the time and space to shoot, we should be ok.
Spurs have been pretty toothless at times, even against shocking quality of opposition such as in the Europa League. Certainly the lack of assists – Townsend, Chadli and Lamela are all tied with just five – demonstrates their high reliance on the individual efforts of Kane and Eriksen.
Arsenal by contrast have the most number of different scorers (17) and have already shown in the game at City an ability to work cohesively as a team to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
Despite having a number of players out where Spurs have their full complement available, the players we do have are man-for-man better than their Tottenham counterparts.
I’m always confident we can get some kind of a result no matter the opposition, but on this occasion I really do think we have far too much for Spurs.
I certainly hope so given my home circumstances!
So for me, Saturday’s game is the most important game of the Premier League season, not only from a supporting viewpoint but from an ‘all quiet on the home front‘ perspective.
It’s got to the point where I quite enjoy living with the enemy, although of course it helps that we almost always take the spoils!
It would be easier if we both supported the same team, but as we know so well, “Once a Gunner, Always a Gunner.”
In any case, this kind of heated rivalry is exactly what makes football special.
Positives to dating a Spurs fan
There are so many positives about dating a Tottenham fan, not least the regular and abject failures which always put our troubles into perspective.
I had to leave the room during the recent FA Cup ‘giant killing‘ as I was completely unable to contain my laughter as first the Leicester equaliser, and then the winner went in.
Judging from the reaction when I returned downstairs for dinner, I probably laughed too loudly.
(Well what’s a girl to do when her nearest and dearest rivals are unceremoniously dumped out of a cup we are still in?!)
Stephen wrote a great piece earlier this week on why we hate Spurs, and how we should never lose that as it’s part of the identity of our club.
He also touched on why this game matters so much.
Let me tell you, when your other half supports the opposition, it multiplies all those reasons tenfold.
So, Arsenal boys, even if you don’t do it for yourselves, for the manager, for the club as a whole even, then for goodness sake do it for me this weekend.
I’d like to be able to look across the dinner table on Saturday night without feeling sick to the pit of my stomach.
There have been lots of good memories over the years, it’s time to make some more.
Let’s do this.