Former Arsenal and Spurs boss feels FA Cup clash is close to call
All eyes are on north London on Saturday when Arsenal and Tottenham lock horns in the FA Cup for the first time in 13 years.
Meetings have been rare at this stage of the competition – apart from Spurs’ 1-0 victory at White Hart Lane in 1982, you have to go back 65 years for the last time the two sides clashed in a third round tie.
Arsenal, who remain top of the Premier League after their 2-0 win over Cardiff on New Year’s Day, are favourites to progress. But one man, who is in a select band of people to have managed both clubs, believes it will be a tight game.
George Graham won the FA Cup as both player and manager at Arsenal before guiding Tottenham to the League Cup in 1999 – and he is looking forward to the big game.
“Nearly all derbies are tight and I don’t expect this one to be different,” says Graham.
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“I think the way Arsenal are playing this season has surprised everyone – they are serious contenders for the Premier League.
“I am particularly impressed with Arsenal’s defence this season. They have a strength and resilience.
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“I think their two centre-halves have been absolutely outstanding all season, while Wojciech Szczesny is clearly a goalkeeper who has regained his confidence – he has been playing very well indeed.
“Add to that the fact you have either Mikel Arteta or Mathieu Flamini sitting in front of the back four, being disciplined and offering them protection, and you have a very solid base.
“These things do not come by accident. They come from hard work, lots of hard work back on the training ground, and that is clearly paying off.
“But this is a cup game and a big, big game at that – Arsenal versus Tottenham always is, regardless of the competition. I think it will be very close, this one.
“Even though Spurs have had their problems this season and are not quite at the heights they want to be at yet, they will be very tough opponents for Arsenal.”
Graham, who managed Arsenal to six major trophies in nine years between 1986 and 1995 – and was the last Gunners manager to field an exclusively English side – is delighted that their bitter rivals have opted for a home-grown manager following the dismissal of Andre Villas-Boas.
And he knows new Spurs boss Tim Sherwood well.
“As a great supporter of the LMA (League Managers’ Association), I have sometimes been left a little frustrated when clubs have opted for a foreign manager when a British one could do the same job,” explains Graham, who was White Hart Lane boss from 1998 to 2001.
“I actually signed Tim for Tottenham in 1999 and I have to say he was a very good man to work with.
“Tim has his own strong opinions and, for me, was a very good captain for Spurs.
“I like him a lot as a player and a person and I think it is encouraging that Tottenham decided to give him a chance, even if it is an unusual route from youth team development to first-team manager. I wish him luck.”