I heard a great story last night from a Nottingham Forest fan who had once spent an evening with Stuart Pearce and his Forest team mates. The story goes that Brian Clough turned up for training somewhat worse for wear and irascible, Pearce escorted Clough to the bath, filled it up with cold water, stripped his boss of the famous green jersey and threw him in to the water with the words "When you're sober you can get out of the bath, put that back on and come and manage us." Pearce should have the England job on the back of this alone.
Managerial matters of a different kind have been a compelling feature of this week's build up to the NLD. Redknapp has been widely celebrated for the way he's built our team and pushed us up the table. Wenger has been questioned for not winning anything for six years and failing to land a marquee signing in successive transfer windows whilst losing his best players. Neither manager appears to have much of a future at their current club, which lends even greater significance to the result. Reputations are at stake.
This is Arsenal's cup final. Their Champions League status is being challenged and taking three points from us will no doubt catalyse their campaign to finish above Chelsea, Newcastle and Liverpool.
As a number of pundits have pointed out this week, one measure of our progress is that, important as this game is, our season no longer hangs on it. For the time being, the days of a possible victory over Arsenal being the only highlight of our campaign are behind us. It'll be sweet if we win, and in style, but victories over Arsenal have almost become commonplace (even if away victories are still relatively rare). Beating Manchester United or winning at Stamford Bridge might be more fulfilling. We could even afford to lose this one without a serious dint on our points cushion or overall sense of footballing superiority. And this worries me.
If Stevenage was a banana skin, the Emirates is a very big puddle of oil. As well as having a margin of comfort in terms of points, we have the news that our manager is not a naughty boy, he's the messiah, that just two of the current Arsenal team would make a North London XI and that we are a new footballing super power destined to hold sway for decades. If you believe any of this, then you'd probably imagine that we only have to turn up at the Woolwich end of the Seven Sisters Road tomorrow to collect our three points.
|Bale in focus|
We must guard against complacency, we must justify the hype, we must anticipate Arsenal's best performance of the season and then crush them. I don't want us just to win routinely, I want us to notch up a four or five goal margin. I want a victory that nails our flag of title aspirations to the mast. A marker that future Tottenham teams can use as inspiration. In the greater scheme of things, we still have a lot of catching up to do, let's do it the Tottenham way, gloriously.
Team selection and shape... I want 4-4-2 with Bale holding his position on the left wing with a bit more discipline than we've seen since his stellar performance through the middle against Norwich, I'd select vdV to partner Adebayor ahead of Defoe and Saha. Otherwise, luxuriously, the team picks itself. That bit's easy but motivation is key. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and van Persie are all possible threats, but our back four should be more than capable of handling them if their mindset is right and the Tottenham that turn up take nothing for granted. One big-time Charlie moment from anyone in lily white and I will turn apoplectic. I may even spill some beer.
Tomorrow's NLD isn't just about pride, or who finishes where and above who this season, nor is it about the credentials or reputations of the two managers. It's not about the players, the fans or bragging rights. It's not about tactics, passages of passing play or moments of genius mixed with discipline, steel and graft. It isn't about the inter-twined history of two great clubs and the future balance of power in the game in London. It is neither more nor less than a matter of life or death. It is not delight or despair. It's not even about the glory. It's all those things and more but, most of all, it's a game of football.
To paraphrase the recently late, great Frank Carson... win, lose or draw, I hope it's a cracker.