Spurs vs Arsenal: stakes high for 'biggest derby since 1971'
Can demoralised Arsenal rekindle their title push against high-flying Tottenham at White Hart Lane?
If there's one man who knows a thing or two about north London derbies it's Sol Campbell, and the former England defender has labelled tomorrow's clash between Tottenham and Arsenal at White Hart Lane as "massive".
Campbell spent a decade with Spurs before making the controversial move to Arsenal in 2001, and his five years with the Gunners brought him two Premier League titles and three FA Cup winners medals.
Since Campbell left Arsenal in 2006, they have failed to win another league title and their hopes of success this season have taken a terrible turn for the worse over the past week. Successive defeats to Manchester United and Swansea have left the demoralised Ginners trailing Premier League leaders Leicester by six points with second place Tottenham by three.
If they lose tomorrow Arsenal it will surely mean the end of Arsenal's title hopes and could mean there will be no St Totteringham's Day celebrations (held each year to commemorate Arsenal finishing above Spurs in the league) in Islington for the first time in a generation.
But in an interview with 888 Sport, Campbell believes that despite the Gunners' recent woes they still have the edge over Spurs. "If you're looking at quality then Arsenal's quality of football has been superior," said Campbell. "You have to look at it over five to ten years to see how consistent they are and Tottenham have really come into their own this season."
Describing tomorrow's lunchtime fixture as "massive", Campbell added: "This is the business end of the season and it's a three-horse race. The players know that now and it's all about who gets the job done."
But despite his faith in Arsenal, Campbell joined the growing chorus of former Gunners who have accused the current side of failing to improve in recent seasons.
"They need to step it up because if Chelsea or Manchester City were moving and grooving Arsenal would still be in the same position. They need to go beyond their average to make the difference."
And Campbell singled out Wenger's handling of Theo Walcott as one example of how the Arsenal manager has struggled to get the best out of his players in the last decade. "I don't think it's fair," he said of the way Wenger often plays Walcott out of position. "He (Wenger) needs to set the team up and explain to Theo where he wants him on the pitch. What is his best position? As a centre-forward or out wide coming in? That conversation needs to happen between the manager and player and it needs to be a frank and honest conversation."
But if some former players are pointing the finger at Wenger - whose odds for the sack have now been slashed from 100/1 to 40/1, notes The Sun - former managers are blaming the players for Arsenal's predicament.
Writing in the London Evening Standard, Harry Redknapp admitted he was baffled by the performances of so many stars in recent months. "The form of Alexis Sanchez has gone through the floor," commented Redknapp. "At the moment, he is nothing like the player we all thought he was. Olivier Giroud can't buy a goal. Theo Walcott is suffering from a lack of confidence."
All of which, believes Redknapp, is another contributory factor to why Tottenham - the club he managed between 2008 and 2012 - have a wonderful opportunity of winning their first title since 1961. "Next season will be much more difficult. Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool will all strengthen and improve," explained Redknapp. "The pressure is on but it will affect players more than managers... they have to perform when they cross that white line."
Ranking tomorrow's derby as the most important since Arsenal and Spurs clashed in the final game of the 1970-71 season in a match that the Gunners won 1-0 to clinch the title, Redknapp said: "White Hart Lane is going to be a cauldron... and the big question is whether Arsenal will stand up to it."