Exclusive: Arsenal need leaders like Tony Adams to overcome Spurs, says former Gunners star
07:06 04 March 2016
Former Arsenal enforcer Steve Williams says Saturday’s north London derby will be the “biggest in living memory”.
The Gunners travel to White Hart Lane desperately needing a win following back-to-back league defeats against Manchester United and Swansea.
And despite the manager’s assertion earlier this week that “the team is the leader”, Williams says individuals must battle for every ball against their bitter rivals.
“This game is massive, I never played in a bigger north London derby certainly – and I played in a few,” says Williams, a combative midfielder in the Gunners engine room who became a fans’ favourite after signing for the club in December 1984.
“It is as big a derby as I can remember in the past 30 years or more, probably the biggest since Arsenal won the title at the Lane back in 1971.
“Arsenal have to win this one, but then so do Tottenham. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that whoever wins this game can go and win the title – knocking their biggest rival out of the race along the way. It is THAT big.”
And Williams has also urged the Gunners to “do it for the fans”.
He added: “Arsenal fans – or any fans, for that matter – will forgive a defeat if they know the players have worked their socks off.
“These Arsenal players have to stand up and be counted. They need leaders in there pulling their team-mates through and chasing every ball and cause.
“They need the likes of Tony Adams and, dare I say it, me. This Arsenal side can go and win any game they want to – we all know that.
“But we also know they need to get stuck in, right in Tottenham’s faces, and they need to understand that sometimes a scrappy 1-0 will do.
“Tottenham have been very impressive this season but now it is getting to the business end of the season, how will they cope?
“Arsenal have more experience and knowhow and that could play a decisive role on Saturday and over the final quarter of the season.”
Williams also – characteristically – is not shy to point out he knows what he is talking about when it comes to success in the north London derby, claiming he was never beaten by Spurs when he was a Gunner.
“I grew up an Arsenal supporter and had little time for Spurs, so when Arsenal came in for me from Southampton I actually signed in double quick time so I could play against Spurs two days later – only for Don Howe to put me on the bench,” says Williams, who played 121 games, scoring five goals, for the Gunners before moving to Luton in July 1988.
“I still can’t get over that. He signs me and plonks me on the bench – and then with two minutes to go, with us 2-1 down, he throws me on expecting me to turn it around for him.
“But I don’t count that because I was barely on the pitch and only got the one touch. If I’d been on longer…
“But after that I never lost to Spurs, not once as an Arsenal player. I fought hard in those games and never gave them an inch.”
To illustrate this point, one piece of footage on YouTube shows Williams getting booked at White Hart Lane – and giving Osvaldo Ardiles an earful into the process – after some overzealous tackling on his opponents.
Williams – who also made his debut for Southampton as a 17-year-old in a 1-0 win at their closest rivals Portsmouth and remained unbeaten in Hampshire derbies – added: “I loved derbies.
“I always wanted to win them, especially when I was at Arsenal, either at the Lane or when they came to us – and I did a few times. I just wish I was out there this Saturday.”