Ex-Arsenal and Spurs boss George Graham speaks out on Sunday’s derby
George Graham has managed Tottenham and the Gunners in the north London derby - so how does he think this weekend’s showdown at the Emirates will play out?
It has been a long, long time since Tottenham travelled to Arsenal so confident in their ability to take three points back up the Seven Sisters Road.
They did it last season, of course. But to Arsenal fans that shock 3-2 win was seen as a mere blip.
But with their local rivals 10 points clear of them in third place and looking ahead rather than behind, that ‘blip’ is slowly turning into a nightmare.
Make no mistake, this is new territory for more than one generation of fans on both sides of the north London divide.
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Derby day is taking on added importance – and the last man to manage both clubs believes the onus is on the home side to make a statement.
“I see this as a great opportunity for Arsenal to get some belief back after a very, very bad week,” George Graham told London24.
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The Scotsman, who managed Arsenal to six major trophies between 1986 and 1995 after winning the Fairs Cup and Double during his playing days at Highbury, has laid into his former club this week, claiming it is in “crisis” and that the standard of players has been “slipping away” over the past few seasons.
But he still wouldn’t bet against them when Harry Redknapp’s side visit the Emirates.
“It’s up to the players to bounce back and show that Arsenal Football Club can still do things this season,” he said.
“All this criticism is part and parcel of football – we’ve all had it at some stage in our careers, even Sir Alex Ferguson, and you have to deal with it and show what you are made of.
“I don’t see these players except in match situations, so I don’t know them personally. I don’t have that day-to-day access to them. But I know enough to know that they are capable of winning this game if they want to.
“They started this season in horrendous fashion but then went on an absolutely great run. That shows they are capable. Now they must re-group, concentrate and focus on a very big game against their local rivals.”
And while calls for Arsene Wenger to change his policy – with some even calling for him to step down after 16 years – have been heard loud and clear in the run up to the big game, high-flying Tottenham continue to push the two Manchester clubs in the race for the title.
Graham, who controversially managed the White Hart Lane club between 1998 and 2001, winning the 1999 League Cup, believes that Spurs have what it takes to take the title back to N17 for the first time in 51 years.
“Why not? Tottenham have shown their colours this season – they have been a joy to watch and have been consistently winning games,” adds Graham, 67.
“They have the quality. They will certainly finish in the top four now – I can’t see that changing.
“But their ambitions should be even higher than that. It may be tough with the quality of those above them, but Spurs really do have an outside chance of winning this Premier League title – that should not be discounted.
“There are a lot of big games coming up for them – starting at Arsenal on Sunday – but they have shown time and time again this season that they are up for the challenge and they have the quality in their squad to keep going. I don’t see them falling away badly.
“Harry (Redknapp) has done an exceptional job for the club. If the title is out of reach this season then next season I’d expect them to challenge just as strongly.”
Back at the Emirates, Spurs’ success is merely magnifying Arsenal’s problems.
A defiant Wenger, whose side produced staggeringly lame performances in Milan and Sunderland in their last two outings, said this week: “We have to take the criticism on board, stay together and face the critics.
“It’s very difficult to say where it leaves us and what we will do. The only response is to stay united and fight.
“We must focus on the next game, finish well in the league and fight, even if it’s a small possibility, to go through to the next round in the Champions League.”
When Graham took over the Arsenal hot-seat in 1986, Spurs were enjoying greater success and the Gunners had failed to win a trophy for seven years.
Fast forward to 2012 and the two clubs find themselves in virtually identical situations. Never has an Arsenal win been so badly needed. But does Graham expect Wenger’s side to win?
“No,” he replies. “They are up against a very good Tottenham side who are in great form. “But they certainly can win and, at the very least, I do expect a reaction after the last two games.”