Neill: Arsenal must attack Spurs and rely on ‘fearless’ Wilshere
PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 February 2013 | UPDATED: 14:27 28 February 2013
Arsenal have to be brave and attack Tottenham at every opportunity if they are to win Sunday’s north London derby.
That is the rallying cry of Terry Neill – who managed both clubs but retains a “special affection” for the Gunners – ahead of the big White Hart Lane clash.
Arsene Wenger’s fifth-placed side travel up the Seven Sisters Road as rare underdogs with their rivals moving up to third in the Premier League on Monday.
And with all eyes on Gareth Bale, Neill says Arsenal need to take comfort from their own attacking strength – and use it to devastating effect.
“This is a massive game for both clubs and if Arsenal are to win at the Lane they have to be bold and brave. They mustn’t think too hard about the damage Bale can do and instead look at the talent in their own ranks – and there is plenty,” says Neill, who spent a decade at Highbury as a player in the 1960s before returning as manager in 1976.
“They say the best form of defence is attack and I think that in Arsenal’s case that is true. We know they have to tighten up at the back and stop all these defensive frailties. But they also have to score goals and put Spurs on the back foot.
“My advice is take the game to Spurs and show them what you have got. I honestly believe Arsenal have nothing to lose. Yes, bragging rights come into it, but Spurs are favourites because they are at home and Arsenal are not expected to go there and win – well, not by many neutrals I know!”
And, unsurprisingly, he says Arsenal’s midfield gem, Jack Wilshere, holds the key.
“I love watching this lad,” beams Neill. “He is always looking to cause damage to the opposition. Jack plays with his head up and is always looking to go forward.
“He is young and he is fearless. Jack fights for his club and, after all this criticism of the team in recent weeks, some of the other guys need to follow his lead.
“They need to step up to the plate – and I am talking about some of the more experienced players here – and stop just relying on Jack to do all the work because that is half of Arsenal’s problems.
“I want to see them inspired by Jack’s attitude and trying to replicate it. They will not have his technical ability and skills – but then few have – but they can copy his attitude and desire.”
Despite criticism from all angles, Arsenal are actually in a run of strong form in the Premier League, having won eight of their last 12 games to propel them to within four points of Tottenham, who maintained the gap with that thrilling win at Upton Park.
And Neill concedes that to make it nine wins in 13 they also have to shackle Welsh wizard Bale.
“People will concentrate on Gareth and rightly so. But you also have to respect his team-mates because the team they have got at the moment are superb,” adds Neill, who spent two years as manager at White Hart Lane after replacing the legendary Bill Nicholson in 1974.
“So in respect of Gareth you have to stop him getting the ball. When I was Arsenal boss we’d always have a plan to stop the wonderful Nottingham Forest winner John Robertson, who could destroy teams with ease.
“I would always get a player to stand between him and the player with the ball. Get right in his line of sight just to stifle him and make it difficult for him to get possession.
“Years later he told me he always had a bad game against us. I smiled and told him why. Bobby Gould and Don Howe used exactly the same tactic on Liverpool’s John Barnes when Wimbledon beat them in the 1988 FA Cup final.
“They just got Dennis Wise to suffocate the supply to Barnesy and that was a key factor in them winning. It is not rocket science, but it is hard to carry out. You need discipline and that is what Arsenal will need to do if they want to keep Bale out of the game.”
And Neill, perhaps wisely, will not be drawn into making a prediction for Sunday’s clash.
“This is the biggest derby in London still,” adds the Ulsterman, who led the Gunners to FA Cup glory in 1979. “That means this is the biggest derby in the south.
“I haven’t got a clue which way it could go but I am proud to have managed both clubs, although everyone knows I spent a lot longer as a player and manager at Arsenal and still regard the club as my second family.
“With Chelsea in poor form, I think both clubs could end up in the top four, which would be the ideal scenario for me.”