Thursday, January 25, 2007

Carling Cup Preview

Spurs v Arsenal Preview
Carling Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg

Now that all the wrangling about tickets and prices has been resolved, it’s time to look at this much awaited match which throws up a number of dilemmas:

Should the heart or the head rule when assessing the game?

Which Arsenal team will turn up – their Carling Cup youngsters or their Champions League side?

And more importantly, which Spurs side will appear? – the one that battled with pride and passion against Chelsea and that has imperiously swept aside all that Europe’s best UEFA Cup teams could throw at them or the side that has shown so little enterprise away from home and brought such fear and lack of ambition to their home game against Liverpool that for an hour they tried to contain and ultimately paid the penalty.

Only if Spurs show passion, determination, commitment – all of those words – will they achieve any success against Arsenal. They showed none of them at the beginning of December when making their first appearance at the Emirates Stadium. They must not make that mistake again.

Many criticize Martin Jol for his failure to get the tactics right but on occasions he has shown an awareness and got the tactics spot on – in Europe, home and away, both games against Arsenal last season, against Chelsea both last season and this, at Old Trafford on a couple of occasions – the team has been well prepared and up for the game. He certainly needs to get it right on Wednesday night and that should mean getting among the Arsenal players to deny them time and space, to put them under pressure and on the back foot so that Spurs can dictate the tempo of the game.

Spurs’ overall record in League Cup semi-finals isn’t great, although no-one will ever forget the 5-1 defeat of Chelsea in 2002. Spurs have reached 11 semi-finals and progressed to the Final on five occasions, winning three of them. They have met Arsenal in two previous semi-finals and on both occasions went out to late goals.

In 1968, a late goal at Highbury in the 1st leg gave Arsenal the advantage and a late equaliser at White Hart Lane gave them a draw and aggregate win.

In 1987, David Pleat’s team won at Highbury with a Clive Allen goal and another Allen goal gave Spurs a first half lead in the 2nd leg. Arsenal scored twice in the second half, the winner coming in the final minutes. A third game saw Allen put Spurs ahead again but when Arsenal scored their second in the last moments of the game, it was the first time they had been ahead on aggregate over the three games – a great opportunity missed by Spurs.

Spurs haven’t beaten Arsenal in the League since November, 1999. Goals from Iversen and Sherwood gave them a 2-1 win but in a number of those games Arsenal were relieved to take away a point while Spurs felt they had deserved more. The fight that was shown in those games is what is needed – Arsenal don’t like teams that get among them as Bolton, Fulham and Sheffield United have shown to good effect – so Spurs need to find that inner resolve to compete and give Arsenal nothing. If they can find that inspiration and commitment, accept whatever goal-scoring chances are on offer and get a little rub of the green, then Spurs could set themselves up for a very interesting return game in a week’s time.


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