Category Archives: Arsenal

Have we embarrassed ourselves enough yet? Another NLD defeat!

I’m a bit out of practice with all this but I come back in with the same score line that left me, like some of our players, so mentally scarred that I couldn’t bring myself to write about it. A shame really as the previous home game against Newcastle had been such a great night of emotion that I really should have shared some thoughts with you about it.

So why am I back? After all there is a big Tottenham community out there sharing news and views with you so you probably haven’t missed me for a single minute. I need to write this for the reason I started doing it in the first place – to get a few things off my chest. I’ve sat through quite a lot since my last piece but have stayed in touch with people’s views via my twitter timeline making occasional comment about this and that but where the club sits at the present time cannot be dealt with in 140 characters. Well it can, but you need to expand on “utter shambles” to get people to understand where you are coming from.

Those of you who read me before will know that I liked a lot of things about our previous manager but there were some things I didn’t. I loved the entertainment he brought after the Ramos experience and the climb to the top of the hill but his ability to not stop talking was often a downfall. I expected him to be put in prison and still can’t believe the poor case put up by his prosecutors and it was then odds on that we would be the next England manager.

From that Arsenal game our season fell into free fall and I well recall suggesting to my brother that “if H wasn’t going to England that his job would be under threat so poorly were the team playing.” Never more was that shown up in the FA Cup semi final at Wembley where Chelsea tore us apart in dramatic fashion and we conceded another 5 and it could easily have been 6 and for me that was one of the most disappointing days as a Spurs fan but we still toughed it out till the end.

Leaving Wembley that day to stand in line for a train surrounded by delirious Chelsea fans was pretty hard to take but we did the best we could whilst trying to understand how a team including all the marquee players could go down so badly. That game showed that Harry couldn’t lift his players or on that day change it with any positive effects. Like yesterday a lot was made about one incident – in that case the goal that never was – but we were overrun and without any answers just as we had been when Arsenal had scored 5 unanswered goals to hammer us at The Emirates.

The scars of both games run deep and I still can’t watch the goal where Ledley was marking Kaboul leaving the whole of the right side open to attack. By the season’s end we were had returned to our place as the whipping boys at the hands of our London rivals and the Chairman decided to make the change.

Was I sad about this? In some ways I was as I felt getting a better man was going to prove difficult. We’re not the club with all the cash so securing for the long term the most expensive players is not going to be possible. As a result all the top names are likely to dodge us because they need unlimited funds to assemble themselves a squad to take on the financial clout of the Manchester’s and Chelsea so it’s a no go without Champions League year on year. Add to that the financial burden of building a new stadium – and we can see from our neighbours how this affects the transfer budget – and it’s a “not at the moment” call.

Having said that the heavy defeats that I saw last season showed just how difficult it was going to be to push the side on from there and our form in 2012 full stop has been miserable to say the least. So we come to appointing a new manager in the close season and it clearly proved to be a difficult job.

In asking our previous man to leave our Chairman was making such a serious statement of intent that any appointment he made had to be the right one. He had to be certain that the right man was lined up and ready to take over keeping the existing squad in place and adding important signings to provide the back up we were missing last season to keep the squad fresh and bench packed with talent.

For me Andre Villas Boas was not that man. His tenure at Chelsea had been a disaster upsetting the squad and his removal saw dramatic change in their fortunes with reinstated stars carrying them to victory in the FA Cup and Champions League final. Speaking to Chelsea fans that I know and on the way back from Wembley few of them had anything positive to say and my own impression was of a man who quickly adopted a siege mentality hiding behind a beard and talking a lot of nonsense in post match conferences.

So if Spurs appointed him he had to have learnt lessons from that period of not trying to bring in too much change too quickly or ask players to try and play in a style that they are not comfortable with or exposes their weaknesses. The other big question mark is over his age. Was his experience of management of sufficient longevity to be given another go in the Premier League after a poor experience so recently? Would another period abroad provide him with greater tools to return to the Premier League later and show us all how wrong Chelsea had been to let him go too soon?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of it he was duly appointed and immediately talked about playing a high line and a pressing game. My thought on the day of appointment? If this doesn’t work Levy has to take ultimate responsibility for another serious mistake by standing down on the day he is dismissed. Why? Because it’s not AVB’s fault that he was given the job and he can’t be blamed for being appointed. That is another man’s job.

AVB had every right to apply for the post or agree to have his name put forward for it. It was up to our Board to look through the CV’s received and select the best man and if AVB was really the best man then the previous decision was maybe made too hastily or without sufficient understanding on the potential quality of the interested parties. That’s a serious error of judgement and you cannot ignore that.

If, like me, Levy didn’t like Harry talking in public on anything he was asked about when keeping his trap shut would suit everyone better then they needed to talk about it but was it a reason to dismiss? Both men played a game that has ended up as a car crash and we the fans are now feeling the full brunt of it. Certainly both parties has an ego and it appears that they were too big together for one house so if one has to go and it turns out it was the wrong one that went then shouldn’t the other soon follow?    

There is already form for me in this regard. Glenn Hoddle was a popular choice when he returned as manager with George Graham sacked after a brilliant away win in the FA Cup at West Ham providing him with a semi final against Arsenal. That change was well supported as George, being an ex Arsenal man, not the most popular man with the fans but it set us back a long way. Then there was the circumstances surrounding Martin Jol’s dismissal and the Ramos period after our Wembley win which was absolutely dire. In both those situations it was hard to see where the next point was coming from and for me we are already reaching that point again. 

So it looks like making appointments is not the Chairman’s strong point and onto this we must add all the nonsense over sales and signing of players. My impression is that he is a man who cannot decide when he has struck a deal. The Lloris deal showed this up with the French talking openly of renegotiations on previously agreed points and his last minute activity in every window compounds this. So is it really Daniel or his big boss man telling him he hasn’t done it right leading to these re-visitations? Whatever, it will no doubt make us be viewed with suspicion throughout Europe and that doesn’t bode well for the future.

Whether he should ultimately fall on his sword or not I doubt it will happen but I can’t believe I am the only Spurs supporter that worries about what’s behind the fence covered in photographs of Modric 14 and Keane 10 depicting Daniel’s images of how the new stadium will look. It’s a big piece of land already cleared to provide this new stadium of only 20,000 extra capacity at no doubt huge cost to build which if he is not careful could turn out to be the biggest disaster in the clubs long history. Only time will tell but it’s remains a concern for me.   

So let’s talk about the performance so far this season. In 2012 I think from memory I’ve attended every home game apart from QPR and was at Wembley, as I said earlier and also went to Old Trafford. Of the other away games if they’ve been live on Sky I’ve seen them and always watch at least extended sky highlights or a stream of the game.  Why do I mention this? Well because on the twitter timeline I see lot of criticism for Spurs fans doing this or that at the game and hear about things being disrespectful.

I don’t boo if we play badly and I do stay to the end. I don’t believe in walking out on your team if you’ve decided to make your way to the stadium and I think its important to say this because you get a much more objective view of the game from the stands than you ever can watching a stream or a game live on TV. From North Upper I could see against Wigan that Clint Dempsey was having a mare of an afternoon, that Bale wasn’t getting into the game and that Defoe had no service to speak of at all and no chances to score.

Every single person in the upper stands could see that the change was Dempsey for Adebayor and yet Defoe was taken off. I don’t agree that you can tell this sort of stuff at home as well as you can in the stadium so you have to give some credit to those who have paid and travelled to go. Booing might not be the answer but that is only frustration coming through at a poor decision from the coaching staff.   

Back to my thoughts. I think we all knew that Luka Modric would not be a Spurs player for the season ahead and at the end of last season I was happy enough to see him leave the club after giving his best for us so we needed to replace him. My thought process was that Rafa would come more into his own in 2012/13 and he himself was saying as much during the summer. Some of you will point at his lack of stamina or tight hamstrings but wouldn’t you agree that 60 minutes of the man and a win, or Bale and Lennon being involved in a game, is better than nothing now that Dembele lies injured?

I think it is the Chairman who says “We don’t sell our best players” so can anyone explain why Rafa went so quickly. Yes the money might have made us a profit but had he been convinced that he was to be our main creative player in 2012/13 would he really have wanted out? The first game at Newcastle saw Rafa on the bench because Sigurdsson had been with the squad more on pre season so it was an easy decision for AVB to make.

Only until we went one down and then Rafa was introduced and helped get us back level before he helped concede a penalty for 2-1. Three points lost, but could it have been three points won if he had played 60 minutes? Pure speculation on my part but I would rather have seen that. As a Spurs fan I go to be entertained. I know Rafa does that, so far Sigurdsson has not and he is now on the bench.

It was around this time Tommy was being offered to Stoke and Daws to QPR so potentially that makes 3 players who had been quite involved during Harry’s reign who were being pushed away. Question 1: Had the errors we saw in AVB’s game regarding keeping top personnel onside been eradicated? My view on this – in a word No.         

With Modric on his way out a replacement needed to be found. Dembele arrived from Fulham and here we have a player of ability, some strength and appearing better in the tackle. He also got on the score sheet straight away which was a bonus. Some light at the end of the tunnel but with Rafa then being let go we weaken ourselves only to fail with the long talked about move for Moutinhio. Everything to do with that was pure Tottenham. We started late and unprepared maybe not realising that he had third party ownerships and then missed out.

We did secure Clint Dempsey who I had quite fancied at the end of last season but missed out on Berbatov if an opportunity existed to nick him but we did eventually get Adebayor. This added to Vertonghen who has looked a decent acquisition but at the end of the window my perception was that we were weaker than before. The games have shown this and after Dembele went down injured for Belgium we have not been able to get back on course.      

West Brom was our first home game and an extended delay on the M11 allowed only 20 minutes of action to be viewed and it was pretty dire with West Brom looking the better side to me. Norwich showed more of the same so at this stage three games produced two home draws against sides we should defeat and a loss at Newcastle which maybe could have been avoided. The worst thing about it was that in the home games we had not played well at all (in the bit of West Brom I saw).

This might be because we missed Luka and Rafa which we clearly did but were the new players gelling with their team mates? Vertonghen was doing ok and Dembele when introduced but we didn’t get going at all and were too easy to stop. We went to Reading and won 3-1 annoyingly giving up the clean sheet right at the end. A better performance but Reading were awful and we should have scored more goals – our old enemy from last season returning to frustrate us.

Against QPR a hideous first half was overturned into a 2-1 victory and we then went to Old Trafford looking for our first win forever. I had been mocked by colleagues when I suggested that AVB would win here because he couldn’t win anywhere else and so it proved with a fantastic first half performance providing us with a sufficient platform to hold out for the win. That first half saw another brilliant performance from Sandro who has been our best player so far this season and a great goal from Bale.

We then made it 4 wins on the trot beating Aston Villa 2-0 but again with them down to 10 after making 3 subs and then suffering injury we then played keep ball instead of finishing them off with another couple of goals.

Chelsea followed and we were lucky to go in only 1 down before playing brilliantly for 15 minutes to turn the game around 2-1 in our favour only to let them retake midfield, split our defence to go back 2-3 ahead before Walker’s mistake made it 4. Unfortunately Walker’s form has been poor to the point that when he came off against ManCity I was hoping he would sit out a couple of weeks to get his breath back. The loss of Bale just prior to the kick off was a disaster for us and had he played we would have given them more problems but at the end we see another bad defeat against our London rivals but a better performance than at Wembley.

We went to Southampton, failed to put the game away before half time and then looked likely to hand it to them in the second half and we then blew up badly away at Norwich to exit the Capital Cup with a decent side involved.

That brings us to November and the Wigan game. Having heard AVB telling me after Chelsea that the season doesn’t rest on one game and we have 30 more to judge it on we then get bad day at the office and we are entitled to one or something similar. Sorry to say that no one is entitled to one of them and the entertainment provided by the Tottenham team that day was non existent. Maybe Wigan were good but we were just so bad it was untrue and with Dembele still sidelined we had no tempo in midfield no way of getting Bale or Lennon into the game for any extended periods and we just couldn’t do anything. It was so bad our money should have been refunded.

If we played like that at ManCity we would get hammered and if Sandro wasn’t back it had to happen. Thankfully he was and was excellent and City were poor for the first half but we gave up the game once again from a winning position and Defoe, fresh from his hat trick, eventually came onto the field of play. This was another decision I couldn’t really see.

Dempsey has been struggling with his form and the formation as he tries to settle in but got the nod once again. He had a bad game. The manager once more talks about equalisers being pivotal moments but our lack of possession proved once more our undoing. Every ball hit across to Lennon left the playing surface. We were poor. If we can’t pass we certainly can’t score and so it proved with Caulkers goal coming from a first half set piece.

And so back to The Emirates. Scene of the 5-2 humiliation last year. On that occasion most of the 60,000 present felt Spurs would win and the relief when they started firing bullets and scoring was evident both on and off the field. This time around probably half those present felt it would go Spurs way if they played well and we opened the scoring before Ade was sent off for a silly challenge.

I’d love to say that the game fell by that decision and I agree that I certainly did not help but as a Spurs fan I know that when you go to Arsenal you have to be ready for that period in the game when they get their tails up and really go for it. At that moment if you are not up to the test you concede goals and quick goals and yesterday we did it again just as we always do.

Even in the game we won 2-3 at half time we were two down conceding under pressure and looking to have no answers. We also had the 3-0 when they scored direct from the kick off while we brushed our kit down, a three nil in 2006 where we were very poor and the 4-4. I was at that match, it could have been 8-4 to them but we didn’t give up a lost cause that night and escaped from 4-2 down.

Yesterday was no better than last year. Naughton at left back was ridiculous and Bale not assisting him was worse. Naughton should have been at right back and Vertonghen left. If Dawson the man who can’t play PL football can be introduced at 3-1 down he certainly could have started with Gallas. Like Rafa at Newcastle go to Daws when the chips are down and the position is practically impossible.  

Yes we might have made a better fist of it in the second half but we still lost it by only 2 goals to 1. I like the idea of a back 3 but I don’t believe you can suddenly go to it at half time as it surrenders too many substitutions. The space that it opened up for Arsenal could have made it an even worse defeat and to stick on Tom Carroll instead of someone with more experience like Sigurdsson or Livermore suggests we’ve reached rock bottom. Then there is the goalkeeping situation. Granted Lloris made a couple of good saves yesterday but he let in 5. Can you choose between them?      

But worst of all is the nonsense spoken after the game by AVB. Controlled the game? He always talks about this and in periods we do but for question 2 I’d ask: Is this control resulting in enough goals to allow us to have the periods when we don’t even get close? I’d say No by reference to the goals scored and points won so therefore we need to wake up and smell the coffee.

We play West Ham next week who have been playing well and will relish a game at White Hart Lane. We follow that with Liverpool, a side like ourselves who made a managerial change in the close season and are learning to adapt. If we lose both of those games it’s “no points November” the sort of thing we haven’t done for quite some time. That means we need to win a lot of games on the bounce to get ourselves in touching distance for Europe next season and securing some of our star names wanting to stay on our books.

If I was AVB I would need to be proud of my players yesterday because it wouldn’t surprise me if he is close to losing the dressing room. After all he’s lost Rafa, Daws is offside but staying loyal, the keepers are unsettled, Adebayor and Defoe frustrated, Dempsey out of confidence and the man who could make a difference on the treatment table.

Yes we also have others out injured so his best 11 have not been available to him but has he really got the team ready to play in the way we need to in these circumstances to get results. Tommy looks slow and lifeless and not up to running the midfield. For a man of his size his tackling has been dreadful and his heading not much better. Yet it was he and Luka who played and kept out Arsenal and Chelsea in a few days only a couple of years ago. So he could do it so why not now?

At the end of Hoddle’s tenure I was convinced that the players did not understand what was needed from them. I had the same feeling when the Ramos reign came to a close. It looks similar to me here. When Bale broke and had a chance to cross but shot instead Defoe’s reaction to him summed it up. Bale may think if I don’t do it nobody will and at 4-3 anything could have happened.

Roles reversed and Bale would have been cursing at Defoe who would likely have done the same for the same reasons. We’re not playing as a team unit and it shows up to readily. The number of Arsenal crosses from the right wing yesterday showed a lack of responsibility from Bale to help out and as a left back surely he remembers how he moaned at a left winger if they didn’t assist him?

We’ve always been the champagne team and that make us vulnerable to conceding goals. We did fix it for a time but it keeps returning to haunt and embarrass us. Essentially football is a very simple game made difficult by particular individuals to make it seem more important. The aim of the game is to score more than you concede.

Most footballers understand this but get confused by all the razzmatazz that goes with it and the coaching instructions they receive. Simple instructions would suit our manager now but I fancy he will get evermore technical as he puts in more hours to try and fix the problem. If we gave Sandro more help to plug our midfield in the current predicament wouldn’t that help? That could be 3 at the back, Bale and Lennon as wingers and another tackler in midfield. It might be one up front.

But whatever it is please don’t continue ploughing the same furrow that has proved so futile so far this season. 12 games down and only 2 (Man U/Reading) might be considered as good performances throughout. That is just not good enough for a club looking for Champions League and a manager saying he accepted to job to achieve this – question 3: Did he mean this year?

Whilst the injuries are a problem I consider that we should and could have a stronger squad to handle this at the present time had the last window been handled better. As I said earlier “utter shambles” is how I see it and I hold Mr Levy responsible for it. As a Spurs supporter who goes to games I can say I am sick of these thrashings from Arsenal and Chelsea. We always talk the talk but we don’t walk the walk, we’ve threatened it but the last four games have been worse than what we had before. We are supposed to be pride of North London not the laughing stock.

Forget about controlling games, a disappointing result, we move on and learn. It’s total nonsense. You can put any gloss you like but anything more than 2 goals conceded is not acceptable for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. And Andre, we will see how strong the belief is if West Ham nick an early goal next Sunday  

As I said to a disconsolate and loyal Spurs fan sitting head in hands waiting for the crowd to disperse at the final whistle of the Chelsea game “we won’t win anything while Levy continues to run the Club.” I hope I am wrong but I fear I’m not.

Top Draw: Tottenham 3 Arsenal 3

The North London Derby is always a nervous night and in a “must win” situation going one down after five minutes was not the perfect start. It took a fantastic effort from Rafael Van Der Vaart to draw us level a couple of minutes later only for us to throw it away again and go 2-1 behind after 10 minutes.

When, after a concerted period of Spurs pressure, we gave up a third before half time it looked like without major reshuffling at half time Arsenal could have gone on to record a similar away win to Norwich at Portman Road last evening. But it wasn’t to be, Tom Huddlestone scored an absolute cracker just before half time to provide a lifeline and in the second half we put on a fantastic performance that saw us draw level and close to nicking the win.

At full time the draw was a fair result and those of us present had seen a fantastic match in which both sides went for the jugular in an effort to secure the three points. Typical Tottenham? Certainly, but fabulous performances from Rafa, Benny and Luka with everybody else contributing; so how did it nearly go so wrong?

We weren’t helped by Arsenal starting with more urgency than ourselves. In the last couple of home NLD’s they have tried to pass themselves to death but last night they were more direct. Benny, in his only lapse, played Walcott onside and once the through ball had beaten Gallas he was in to score.

We also saw everyone in our midfield wishing to contribute up front and in the first 45 no one was keen to get a foot in. Twelve months ago we saw a fiercely competitive Huddlestone and Modric muscle out Arsenal and Chelsea in the space of a few days; last night Tommy was pretty weak throughout in the challenge and I felt too far up the pitch on a number of occasions leaving us vulnerable. His distribution was also a little a bit wayward at times but we have to bear in mind he has been out injured for a long period and the frenetic pace that this match opened at might have taken him by surprise. 

Whatever the reason his goal was an absolute peach, perfectly hit and a reminder that he should be able to secure more than 10 goals a season but Tom you can’t be beaten by Jack Wilshere in a header mate. 

If the first goal was sloppy the second was a shocker with Arsenal allowed plenty of space and no one making any attempt to track Nasri who eventually obliged in striking a shot through the crowd of players which Gomes saw late and couldn’t keep out. Keeper error? Not really it was a far better attempt than the Van Persie effort that was ruled out in the second half. If he knew it was offside he must be clairvoyant and I considered him lucky to escape.

The third goal was also poor. Billy Gallas made a mess of a throw in which seemed to bounce of his chest further than he anticipated allowing Walcott to chip exquisitely for Van Persie to score. Gomes saved the first well but couldn’t get close to the next shot. 

But it wasn’t all bad. A better opening goal would be hard to find as Rafa hit a perfect shot to beat the keeper following a great ball from Charlie. At 2-1 we had a really decent period of play where we got well on top with Luka and Rafa orchestrating things but it might well have been Bale’s withdrawal through injury that helped change our fortunes.

Quite why he was left on until half time was a strange one as he couldn’t run at all. It was a disappointing end to his night and followed a second collision with the Arsenal keeper. Frankly it looked like he went for the collision on both occasions but he landed heavily the second time. Penalties? No I didn’t think so and unfortunately they may make referees less likely to give us decisions when Gareth is involved.

His replacement Aaron Lennon started on the left and finished on the right and put in his usual good shift which included winning the equalising penalty when he forced the keeper to bring him down. It is fantastic that Gareth Bale won the PFA award but to me he currently isn’t the best player in the side and Lennon has been at least matching him in recent weeks. 

Wednesday night Rafa was our best player with Benny close behind. Having started with a flurry of goals Rafa has been much quieter but once again finished with 90 minutes under his belt and a brilliant performance to match. A brilliant strike, a coolly taken penalty, tackling back with vigour and creating some great moves with imaginative passes. 

Benny continues where he left off in the previous game. His checks inside, once a reason for holding your breath, are now viewed as solid and his distribution of the ball has been good. He also has deceptive strength which he uses to good effect. As Spurs players go this season he must be a contender in the player of the season awards.

But it didn’t stop there as we turned over Arsenal breaks into attacks of our own with every member of the side playing there part. Kaboul took over from where Charlie had left off and provided a fabulous cross which Luka hit first time only to see the goal keepers foot clear the ball. Sandro too broke into the box and hit a powerful shot that somehow managed to sit under the keeper’s legs with attackers waiting for the follow up.

So two points dropped but really a point won as we came back from a second two goal deficit against Arsenal in a season. This time we couldn’t win it but it provided a creditable result in a match many have suggested to be the match of the season so far. 

Whether this will allow us to make the top 4 is another question altogether. Our three away games loom large and the quality of opposition and current form suggests that we may have to compromise, if that is possible, on the attacking side of our midfield to try and prevent us being behind. Roll on Saturday and West Bromwich Albion.         

Must Win: Tottenham V Arsenal Preview

Wednesday night provides an opportunity for Tottenham to do something they haven’t done since – well I had to look it up – 1992/93 and take all the points off the Arsenal in one season. That year we won at home 1- 0 and then away at Highbury 3-1 in a season ending game that Arsenal fans will claim saw them put out a weaker side. 

If we want to finish fourth this is a must win home game as having seen Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool all compete well last weekend those away fixtures may need a more competitive and less flair approach to get something out of them. Each home game G tells us during our journey that we need to win our home games to do it and this match is the highest mountain to climb. 

Yet recent seasons have seen us put up much stronger performances in the home game culminating in last season’s fantastic victory. As a consequence Arsenal may not fancy this visit too much and if we can start scoring again we may be able to take all 6 points this season. 

Games against Arsenal are always a tense and nervous affair. With the exception of the 4-5 chances are often at a premium to win so we need to be in the right place at the right time to capitalise. For some time now this has proved to be a problem for us. In a number of games we have created over 20 chances and come away with no goals or a defeat. Alvin Martin summed this up on Talksport last Wednesday when he suggested that we would not go through against Madrid because we would need to score 5 goals from maybe 7 chances.

It was a fair point and we had a couple of decent chances that were either blasted over the bar or just missed the target. I’ve been disappointed at the way Rafa has kept going on walk about trying to do all the work rather than letting others participate. If he is to play in a forward role in this game, and I suspect he will, then he must be more advanced to be available for the chances we create and also to put pressure on Arsenal defenders as they bring the ball out. 

My reason for suspecting this is that, if fit, our midfield picks itself. With Lennon and Bale both firing out wide the opposition have decisions to make in deciding who to mark with more than one man. Luka Modric has also been fantastic this season and he will be instrumental in his free role hopefully orchestrating the match with his free flowing running and passing. That leaves one slot available and it falls between Tommy and Sandro with Tommy more likely to get the nod after playing the last two games.

This promises to be a fantastic midfield battle with Nasri and Fabregas in opposition but it is one we can win if we take the game to them and make them worry about us rather than the opposite way around as it was for many years. Arsenal are not their old invincible selves any longer but they are certainly not a pushover and with the quality of Van Persie up front it won’t be an easy night.

Thankfully our defence, certainly our central defence, is better than theirs. Dawson and Gallas have been fantastic this season and I think that Daws is benefitting from having Billy at his side. This game will be a great test but after some of our Champions League opponents this year we should be dealing better with the big occasion.

That has been our trouble in the past and may account for our poor record against the big 3 and Liverpool. On occasions we have been beaten before we got off the coach but we appear to be getting mentally stronger. If we can win this match it will provide the springboard we need as we approach our three tough away fixtures. That’s not to say the remaining home games will be easy but we should be able to overcome them if we play well.

Ekotto and Corluka have both done well. Benny has been good all season and continues to grow in confidence and Charlie has kept going despite a number of knocks. His major threat may come next season from Kyle Walker who also looked good at Upton Park for Villa on Saturday.

Behind them Gomes continues to frighten having repeated his Chelsea error against Madrid. Before that he had been back on form and I felt he maybe looked away at the important moment seeking a quick throw out. In an interview he appreciates that he may well make further errors in his career; let’s hope it doesn’t occur in this match.

So importantly who to play up front? Crouch is available once more and is likely to get the nod just ahead of Defoe for no other reason than his assists for Van Der Vaart. I do expect to see Defoe participate in the game at some stage and I fancy he may well get the elusive 100thgoal if he does. He needs goal to set himself up for a big finish to the season. And so to a team:                  

                                Gomes

    Corluka       Gallas       Dawson      Ekotto

Lennon       Huddlestone       Modric          Bale

            Van Der Vaart             Crouch

Prediction: I’m hoping for another great defensive display and clean sheet with us scoring twice for a 2-0.