Saturday, November 17, 2012
AVB aware of derby day pressures
Saturday might see Andre Villas-Boas's first ever North London derby but that doesn't mean he isn't well aware of its importance. In fact, a very significant figure has made sure he knows full well.
Every day for the past two weeks, Daniel Levy has been down impressing on him just how crucial it is to beat Arsenal.
"He keeps mentioning it!" Villas-Boas said. "The kick-off time, what are we going to do, what is going to happen, results from the past.
"I have been getting it for the last two weeks. People have been speaking about it quite often, the staff and the chairman. This is a game where passion is extremely high. It represents three points but it means more."
All of the talk, then, seems to have sunk in. So much so that, when Villas-Boas noticed a journalist in a red jacket at Thursday's press conference, he jokingly ordered it off. "Not in this training ground!"
If the manager is now fully sure of the meaning of the match, though, both of the teams involved are quite unsure of their current standing.
Indeed, anxiety seems to be the overriding emotion in the build-up to this match. It arguably governs both sides more than any other derby in recent memory. Indeed, for once, this fixture isn't so much about defeating your biggest rivals but potentially setting your season while further skewing theirs.
Take, for a start, the form of the two sides. Tottenham have lost three of their last four; Arsenal are enduring their worst start to a season since 1982-83. Then there were the patterns some of those fixtures took. Spurs couldn't maintain momentum against Chelsea and were ultimately overwhelmed; Wenger's side buckled the moment that Fulham pulled one back at the Emirates last week.
The massive goal swings in both of those games have also been something of a trend in the derby itself. The fixture has seen a number of such comebacks in recent seasons, not least last February. Having been two goals and 13 points behind at one point, Arsenal didn't just turn the game in their favour but also the campaign. This time, it is both sides that could do with the match positively transforming their season.
"Obviously at 2-0 you believe that the game was going Tottenham's way," Villas-Boas, who was then Chelsea manager, said. "Arsenal had a big share of possession, kept on threatening the goal. This is a game powered by emotion and motivations.
"When Arsenal levelled they felt it within them to turn it around. This has been common in the Premier League for the last few years. It's a game where you can't sleep. You have to be aware all the time. Hopefully we take the lesson."
Indeed, although he generally made a point of defending Wenger, Villas-Boas admitted that the mental brittleness Arsenal illustrated against Fulham will be something he will attempt to exploit.
"You try," he said, "I think you try. You saw that at [Manchester] City when we scored and up to the moment they equalised but, as soon as they equalised, the environment turned.
"You can benefit from the [feeling] that is around people."
Interestingly, as Arsenal struggle to find form and even recover from set-backs, Villas-Boas praised their long-term mental strength.
"Last season they had a poor beginning, too, but managed to clinch third spot by obtaining points when the season gets decisive," he said.
"They are very focused and always bounce back from negative results. They have that ability to reach their final objectives in the end."
For all the talk of mentality, however, this may well be a game that comes down to midfield. Most notably, Tottenham are again missing the man who has done so much to pin Villas-Boas's nascent formation together.
It is no coincidence that Tottenham have only won one of their last four without Mousa Dembele, and that against hapless Southampton. At the same time, though, their midfield is likely to consist of Sandro and Tom Huddlestone.
That comprises significantly more steel than Arsenal and may well provide the defensive foundation for the likes of Gareth Bale to then launch lightning counter-attacks. It was the manner in which Spurs beat Manchester United and also, in turn, the manner in which United themselves beat Arsenal.
For a team that has struggled to click without Dembele, that compromised formation may actually be the key to success tomorrow.
"We are a good attacking side but we concede a lot, so we have to get better and to improve our goal difference," Villas-Boas said. "It's very difficult to predict [how the game will go]. We have only played 11 games."
It is for that reason, though, that Villas-Boas perhaps sounds the most sensible note of all amid the general loud noises of the derby.
"Both teams are not where they want to be," the Tottenham boss said. "The position in the league doesn't suit both teams but both have shown they can do better. It's very early in the league. Last year we were a little bit better by this stage.
"It's absolutely irrelevant to condemn people on a weekly basis. When you drop three points, you are condemned; you win three points and you are back. This is the nature of how the Premier League behaves, particularly when it's so tight."
Villas-Boas couldn't deny, though, that the exact dynamics of this fixture can have a disproportionate effect.
"I think, because of the power of the emotion, anything can happen," he said.
Levy, however, has greatly impressed on Villas-Boas what should happen.