Cast your minds back a year to the end of October 2008. A thrilling game was played out at the Emirates Stadium between two fierce local rivals, ending in a draw after eight goals were shared between the two teams. The home team were flying high in the Premier League and the visitors were rock bottom after a nightmare start that had already cost the manager his job. Arsenal sat fourth, a point behind surprise package Hull, whilst Tottenham were bringing up the rear with just five points from nine games. On the day, there was little to choose between the two, but like a cup tie, a local derby so often levels the playing field and sees the form book thrown out of the window. Fast forward a year and the two teams prepare to do battle again at the same venue with little more than the thickness of a Rizla paper separating them in the league table.
Not for a long time have Spurs gone in to a derby game with so much reason to feel they warrant coming away with all three points. It is a week shy of a decade since the white side of North London were last victorious over their red rivals in a league match but there is renewed reason for confidence this time round. Much like the Manchester derby, where City could feel genuine contenders to United for league position as well as on the one-off matchday, Spurs go into this game as the Gunners’ equals, not as an inferior neighbour who might raise their game for one day of the year. Arsenal may possess a 100% home record this season, but statistically Tottenham are the best team away from home. Five games on the road this season has yielded 10 points for Harry Redknapp’s men, with their sole defeat coming at Chelsea. The only teams to match Tottenham’s three away wins are the Blues themselves and Manchester United, but both have lost twice and have nine points from their travels each.
One man who is particularly looking forward to the match is Jermaine Jenas, previously a key player in the Spurs line-up but now bidding to emerge from the periphery where he has spent chunks of this campaign. In part, this has been due to a calf injury, but he must also face up to no longer being an automatic pick when everybody is fit due to the emergence of Tom Huddlestone as a regular and the recent purchases of the impressive Wilson Palacios and the talented Nico Kranjcar. Jenas was a scorer in the 4-4 draw a year ago and is keen for another chance to earn his side their first league win over their hated rivals this millennium. “It’s one of the biggest games of the season, if not the biggest,” he said. “It is a completely different game, a completely different atmosphere. I can’t wait for the game, it is exciting.”
Goals have not been in short supply in the North London derby in recent years, with the 4-4 draw even trumped by a 5-4 victory by the Gunners at White Hart Lane five years ago. Jenas did not become a Spurs player until nine months after that game, but current team-mates Ledley King, Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe all started for the Lilywhites. Also involved as an unused substitute was Jamie Redknapp, son of current Tottenham boss Harry. Jenas has paid tribute to the exciting football offered up in games between the two sides, such as the nine-goal thriller, enthusing: “It’s our local derby. We all enjoy it and it is between two good footballing sides as well. A lot of good football is played in these games.” With 38 goals scored in the last 10 meetings, the game is sure to be an open affair, and the England midfielder believes his side have a real chance of coming away with a result. He said: “We expect big things of ourselves. Maybe there was a time when we would just hope for a result but we expect now no matter where we go. We expect to get results and Arsenal is no different.”
There may be no guarantee for Jenas that he will feature in the starting XI on Saturday, but if he is given the chance, he will be as determined as anyone to bring the points back to N17. With a good personal record against the Gunners and with a quality set of players lining up alongside him, the former Nottingham Forest and Newcastle man could well be celebrating this weekend, and it will be a double celebration at that. Not only will his team have achieved something they have failed to do for ten years, but Jenas himself will have reasserted himself as the main man at the Lane.