Arsenal-Tottenham Hotspur Preview
Tim Sherwood will attract much of the attention ahead of Sunday’s north London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, which will delight his opposite number.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal (18-5-5) were knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich on Tuesday and have been written off by many in the race for the domestic title, but know a win over their local rivals on Sunday would leave them still very much in contention for the Premier League crown as well as effectively sealing their top-four status for another season.
The Gunners finished just one point above Spurs last season, but would go nine clear of their rivals with a win – which would also be their third derby victory of the season following a 1-0 league win in September and a comfortable 2-0 FA Cup victory in January.
Despite his team’s strong position, Gunners boss Wenger is fully aware it will be a tough game at White Hart Lane.
"Tottenham is a difficult ground to go to for everybody, we have good memories and bad memories," said Wenger, who played down Spurs’ inconsistent form. "I still think it takes time when you bring in many new players but you cannot say that Spurs have had a bad season. They have gone through good and bad periods, like everyone else."
Tottenham (16-5-8) have slumped into disarray in recent weeks under manager Tim Sherwood. The former youth team coach started his managerial career promisingly enough (although he did oversee his side being knocked out of both cup competitions by London rivals), but the wheels appear to have fallen off as the pressure to mount a top-four challenge continues to grow.
A 4-0 capitulation at Chelsea last week prompted Sherwood to question his players’ "heart and desire" and suggest many of them were "playing for their futures at the club", but his tirade failed to prevent a disjointed 3-1 first-leg defeat against a slick Benfica side in the Europa League on Thursday.
"I’ve got no problem with the desire and effort tonight," said Sherwood after the game. "That’s what I questioned and asked for. We’ve got to see it over a consistent basis.
"They’re better than us. They had a lot of attacking threat. They weren’t great first half. They had one shot which went in, a blow, and then we got done on two set-pieces. That’s a disappointment, but we haven’t opened them up. It’s a blow. No problem with the attitude or desire. It’s just we have to hold our hands up and say they’re a class above.
"We’ve got the best game we could have now, a North London derby. We won’t need any more motivation than that. If we have any chance of getting in the top four, we have to beat them on Sunday."
A win for Spurs would see them pull within three points of Arsenal and keep them in the hunt for a surprise top-four finish.
However, the Lilywhites will first have to cope with a host of defensive injury problems, with captain Michael Dawson (hamstring) out, and Kyle Walker (hip), Younes Kaboul (knee) and Vlad Chiriches (back) all doubtful. Central midfielders Etienne Capoue (ankle), Sandro (knock) and Mousa Dembele (hamstring) are also injury concerns, while record signing Erik Lamela remains on the sidelines with a back problem.
Arsenal have plenty of injury problems of their own. Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere are out until late April with hamstring and ankle injuries respectively, while Tomas Rosicky (groin), Nicklas Bendtner (knee), Yannick Sanogo (ankle), Kieran Gibbs (ankle), Nacho Monreal (ankle) and Kim Kallstrom (back) are doubts. Aaron Ramsey (thigh), Abou Diaby (knee) and Theo Walcott (knee) are also out.
Arsenal have won four of the last five meetings with Spurs in all competitions, but haven’t tasted victory in the league at White Hart Lane since a 3-1 win in 2007. Emmanuel Adebayor scored twice for the Gunners in that game, but is likely to start for the hosts this time around.