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Off the field controversies spice up North London derby

Thursday, April 21, 2011

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It’s not as if it needed it, but it looks like we have one hell of a derby on our hands tonight. Aside from the usual chest thumping and football bets being placed, both managers have been side-tracked by their own agendas ahead of what is a pretty important night for both sets of players.

Both teams still need to fight for their lives if they are to leave their mark on the Premier League this season.  Arsenal’s draw against Liverpool was labelled as disastrous, but placed in the context of Manchester United’s stalemate against Newcastle; ground has neither been lost or gained.

Tottenham, following a poor run of form which saw them become the only team to lose to Blackpool in 13 games as the Seasiders plummeted towards the relegation zone, while draws against fellow relegation strugglers West Ham and Wigan, and Wolves is hardly the form of a Champions League side, yet somewhat inexplicably, they still have a chance of overhauling Manchester city for fourth once more, and are just three points behind Roberto Mancini’s side with a game in hand – which just so happens to be a North London derby.

Not that Harry Redknapp or Arsene Wenger seems to be aware of what is at stake tonight.

It is perhaps the Arsenal manager who is trying to douse the most amount of fires before tonight’s game. The Frenchman was indignant following the decision to award Liverpool a very late penalty, an attitude that has drawn a wave of criticism as Wenger has the accusation that his side are over-protected and soft when it comes to the big games levelled at him.

Comments from his club captain will have done little to improve his mood. Cesc Febrages has seemingly admitted what most believed but had yet to hear vocalised – that their trophy-less run that stretches back to 2005 is a weight that hangs heavy around their necks.

“From 2007 I had already started saying we're not winning, but we're playing well. And then you realise that's no use.” The Spanish midfielder said.

"The problem is that the team needs to win something and that's why it was so important to win the Carling Cup (they lost 2-1 to Birmingham in the final).

"You have to make a decision: either go and win, or develop players." He added.

The Gunner’s captain has targeted not only his side’s inability to win trophies affecting their approach to the game as they grown in desperation to be freed from the shackles of their barren run, but also the philosophy that under-pins the ethos of the club. After all what has Wenger worked so hard to build in his time at Arsenal? And if he cannot win trophies then he has always been able to fall back on their style of play – that isn’t good enough anymore according to the captain.

Meanwhile Harry Redknapp has found himself confronting the FA over the fixture list. After the game between Stoke and Manchester City was shifted because of their FA Cup commitments last weekend, a tenuous set of circumstances mean that it could well benefit Stoke if they were to lose the re-arranged fixture.

Why Redknapp has decided to become embroiled in an argument of which he has little control over is a little confusing, and could be a distracting tactic from the pressure placed on his own side to replicate their performances last season, and regain entry to the Champions League once more, a competition they excelled in this time round.

If not already, the game between the two fierce rivals tonight is loaded with potency as the implications of the result are wide reaching, and stretch even beyond the three points on offer. A win for either side would do little harm to both their on the pitch ambitions or their off-field arguments. After a series of dramatic results in recent meetings between the two, and with football betting unable to separate the two - this could well be the best of the lot.
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