Lee Dixon: With Arsenal's fragility, it's Adebayor's latest chance to put one over his old team

The Weekend Dossier
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A few years ago, with the influx of foreign players and the fundamental fact that Arsenal were ahead of Tottenham, the north London derby wasn't the fixture of old.

For the fans, of course, it counts each and every time, but over the last couple of seasons, with the teams now competing at the same level, it has recaptured that feeling of being a game that carries real weight.

Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham are the three I see competing for fourth place and, at the moment, I put Spurs marginally ahead of Liverpool with Arsenal trailing both. Liverpool are having a rocky run but they have the squad to deal with it. Tottenham are showing signs of getting into their stride and with the arrival of Emmanuel Adebayor and Scott Parker, and Luka Modric sorting himself out, have plenty to offer.

When I arrived at Arsenal most of the squad were British and several of them were from north London – like Paul Davis and David Rocastle – and they made sure we all knew exactly what was at stake before derby games. The intensity and passion of the whole occasion was special, ferocious even, and it put some players in a different state of mind – it has an effect, on players and the decisions the referee makes. As a youngster it's easy to get caught up in it and go flying into tackles and that's when you need the experienced ones – like Mikel Arteta, who has played in the Merseyside derby – to harness the aggression whipped up by the fans.

It was inevitable with the mass arrival of foreign players that some of the on-field intensity would disappear, at least for a time. I was from the north of England and had to have exactly what the derby meant laid out to me in no uncertain terms by the local boys – they pinned me up against the dressing-room wall at White Hart Lane to make their point – so players from abroad will be even less aware of what this fixture means.

Now that it's neck and neck over who will finish higher in the Premier League, that helps bring back an on-field edge. And the fragility in the Arsenal team makes me feel more nervous about the derby than I have done for years. How will they start? How will they deal with set-pieces?

If I was a Tottenham forward going into this game, I would be relishing the chance to get at that Arsenal defence and nobody will be relishing it more than Adebayor. He is the type of character who will want to get one over on his old team and that adds another edge to the game. He has always been at his best when he first arrives at a club, when everything's fresh and new – he's loved by everyone and there's no baggage around. He has started well, at times he is unplayable with his pace and awkwardness and he will be flying tomorrow.

In the past I get the impression people have been scared to stand up to him. He's a big character and can be overly dominant in a dressing room, but Harry Redknapp is the right man to handle him. He will not shy from confrontation, or equally putting an arm around the shoulders. Per Mertesacker will need to keep a cool head against Adebayor and he certainly has the know-how to do so having played in plenty of derby games in Germany and with all those international caps to his name as well. But he needs to translate that into a calming influence on the pitch in the Premier League. In a way it needs the experienced players to rise above their own performance – they have to keep guiding and advising their team-mates no matter how well or badly they are playing. If you're having a shocker you can't retreat into your self.

The major problem with Arsenal at the moment is that I cannot see them holding their opponents at bay for 90 minutes. They have improved since the new players arrived but only in fits and starts and I am yet to be convinced that they have the squad to push on for fourth. The Blackburn performance was a huge pointer that something is still wrong and will take time to fix. They have to work out what they do when they don't have the ball. That's an ethos in the team that has to change. Tottenham look better equipped and you would expect Harry to have another go in the market after Christmas. Can Arsenal keep pace with them? Everything can change over the course of the season, but from what I see they look frail at times and the Premier League – or the Champions League – is no place for frailty.

Adebayor in England

From hero...

*Adebayor joined Arsenal for £7m in January 2006 and scored on his debut in a 2-0 win over Birmingham. He scored 30 goals in 2007-08 and was named in the PFA team of the year.

...to zero...

*Argued with Nicklas Bendtner during Arsenal's 5-1 loss at Tottenham in a Carling Cup semi-final in 2008.

*After signing for Manchester City in 2009, he started impressively and scored against his former employers before inciting uproar by sprinting the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of Arsenal supporters.

*Survived a machine-gun attack while travelling with Togo at last year's African Nations Cup in Angola: "People got shot two seats in front of me. I could have been in a coffin."

*Spent second half of last season on loan at Real Madrid before returning to City, where he felt "insulted" at being asked to train with the reserves.

And back again?

*Joined Arsenal's rivals Tottenham on loan in August and started well, scoring three goals in his first three games.

How will Adebayor celebrate if he scores tomorrow? (Odds from Unibet.com)

Normally with team-mates: Evens

Kiss the Spurs badge: 2-1

Run to Harry Redknapp: 3-1

Wave the corner flag to the fans: 14/1

Knee-slide in front of Arsenal fans: 20/1

Knee-slide in front of Arsenal bench: 30/1

Five Asides

1. Kick Carlos out of English football

Horrible, stupid, embarrassing, outrageous – where do you start about Carlos Tevez and what he did – or didn't do – in Munich? I felt sorry for Roberto Mancini. I sincerely hope Manchester City don't back down and find some sort of compromise because when a player does that to his team-mates – forgetting for a moment the wider club and the fans – he should not play alongside them again. If he had done that in some of the dressing rooms I played in there would have been a long queue of players waiting to have a word with him afterwards. I have no time for Tevez and don't want to see him in English football again.

2. Doing it the Pard way is paying off for Newcastle

When Newcastle lost Joey Barton and Jose Enrique it looked a serious blow – they are two good players. But quietly Alan Pardew has gone about sorting things out and now they sit fourth – 12 points from six games is a good start. It looks like he's started from the back as they have conceded only three times, the fewest in the Premier League. After today's game with Wolves they play Tottenham and Wigan at home and with that start behind them they will have the confidence to look at these games now and expect to win them all.

3. I'm telling you, Chester versus Wrexham was a real derby!

It's derby weekend in the Premier League with north London (Spurs versus Arsenal) and Merseyside (Everton v Liverpool) going head to head. It's difficult to compare if you've not played in each one but there's something special about any derby at any level. I played for Chester v Wrexham and that could get ferocious. We'd usually get around 1,800 for a home game which would go up to 5,000 for the derby. Instead of the one old bloke standing in his usual spot shouting at you, there would suddenly be a thousand. It lost nothing in ferocity compared to Arsenal v Spurs.

4. Back in the saddle

It's time to dig out my bike this week because I need to get seriously fit. Next April I've agreed to go on a ride with Lawrence Dallaglio again. Last summer I did a few days, enjoyed it and so was up for another – but didn't expect to find myself riding across Europe. It's Olympia (Greece) to Olympia (west London) – and nipping back to Manchester at weekends for Match of the Day (and trying not to fall asleep on the sofa). Luckily I'm getting some advice from the guys who help out the British cycling team to sort out a fitness programme.

5. Sports Personality? Cavendish should walk it

Talking of British cycling... how can Mark Cavendish not win Sports Personality of the Year now? He shouldn't need his bike either – he should walk it. What he's done this year, in the Tour de France and now at the worlds, is awesome. But that whole team performance in Copenhagen last Sunday was brilliant, particularly the last 10km by Bradley Wiggins. It's a brutal sport and these guys are some athletes. How could anyone possibly vote for Rory McIlroy now?

Lee Dixon's verdict on all the weekend action

Everton vs Liverpool

Odds: Home 21-10 Draw 9-4 Away 7-5

Kick-off: Today, 12.45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Team news: Everton hope to have Tim Cahill fit to start up front, just behind a returning Louis Saha. Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger remain out for Liverpool, while Steven Gerrard may again start on the bench.

Aston Villa vs Wigan Athletic

Odds: Home 4-7 Draw 11-4 Away 5-1

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Team news: Jermaine Jenas could make his Villa debut after recovering from a thigh injury. Darren Bent and Emile Heskey may also feature. Wigan have Steve Gohouri suspended and Hugo Rodallega injured.

Blackburn Rovers vs Manchester City

Odds: Home 11-2 Draw 11-4 Away 4-7

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Team news: Michel Salgado and Scott Dann are major doubts for Blackburn. Carlos Tevez has been suspended by Manchester City, while Edin Dzeko may start on the bench. Nigel de Jong returns in midfield.

Manchester United vs Norwich City

Odds: Home 1-6 Draw 6-1 Away 16-1

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Team news: Manchester United welcome back Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Jonny Evans from injury. The visitors are without James Vaughan (knee) for four months, while Ritchie de Laet is ineligible.

Sunderland vs West Bromwich Albion

Odds: Home 5-4 Draw 12-5 Away 11-5

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Team news: Titus Bramble has been suspended by Sunderland, while Sebastian Larsson is doubtful. The visitors welcome back Gabriel Tamas from suspension, although Gareth McAuley may retain his place.

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Newcastle United

Odds: Home 6-4 Draw 9-4 Away 15-8

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Team news: Richard Stearman (toe) is struggling for Wolves, but forward Steven Fletcher has recovered from a groin problem. Davide Santon is included in Newcastle's squad, while Hatem Ben Arfa could start.

Bolton Wanderers vs Chelsea

Odds: Home 11-2 Draw 3-1 Away 8-15

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC2, 10pm)

Team news: Bolton are without Stuart Holden (knee), while Gaël Kakuta is ineligible, and David Wheater and Ivan Klasnic suspended. Chelsea miss suspended Fernando Torres, but Daniel Sturridge (knee) may return.

Fulham vs Queen's Park Rangers

Odds: Home 10-11 Draw 5-2 Away 3-1

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3pm (Highlights BBC2, 10pm)

Team news: Bobby Zamora and Mousa Dembele return to contention for Fulham, although Andy Johnson may retain his place. QPR are without the suspended Armand Traore, while Danny Gabbidon (knee) may miss out.

Swansea City vs Stoke City

Odds: Home 13-8 Draw 9-4 Away 7-4

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3pm (Highlights BBC2, 10pm)

Team news: Brendan Rodgers awaits updates on Leon Britton (back) for Swansea, while Danny Graham could keep Leroy Lita out of the starting line-up. Stoke's Matt Etherington (dead leg) will undergo a fitness test.

Tottenham Hotspur vs Arsenal

Odds: Home 6-5 Draw 12-5 Away 12-5

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC2, 10pm)

Team news: Aaron Lennon (groin) is unlikely to start for Spurs, while Steven Pienaar returns. Arsenal will hand fitness tests to Theo Walcott (knee) and Gervinho (hamstring) but Laurent Koscielny (ankle) misses out.