A bare three points are at stake at White Hart Lane today, the same as in any match from the Premier League to the Kent League, but for Martin Jol a Tottenham victory would mean much more than that. Jol is widely regarded as history, his board's recent meeting with Seville coach Juande Ramos rendering his position untenable with the Dutchman only being retained until a suitable replacement is found.
A defeat of Arsenal would, though, strengthen his position immeasurably. No Spurs manager has achieved that cherished feat since the millennium. That the last man to do so, in 1999, was George Graham only makes the bitterness worse. Stroller is forever associated with the team from the red side of Finsbury Park.
Jol cannot, though, approach the 19th meeting since that 2-1 win (goals by Steffen Iversen and Tim Sherwood) with any reason for confidence. Arsenal have eased smoothly into the season, level-top, unbeaten, and with the departure of Thierry Henry already behind them. Spurs, in a season that promised so much, are stumbling along with one victory in five matches, their plight deepened by an injury crisis as well as the boardroom machinations.
The treatment room has, at least, largely emptied. Ledley King, such an important influence, remains absent but Michael Dawson is back and so, probably, is Aaron Lennon. The winger hasn't played in the first team this season and may struggle to pick up the pace of a north London derby. "Lennon is looking good, although he lacks a bit of match fitness," said Jol. Darren Bent is also fit, but unlikely to start. "He did everything in training. He looked in good form."
That Tottenham can leave a £16m player on the bench underlines the ambition of chairman Daniel Levy, and the backing he has given Jol. But it means Bent is as much millstone as matchwinner for the big Dutchman. Alongside him in the dug-out will be £7m Jermain Defoe while Tottenham's likely starting XI cost £60m.
Ranged against this expensively procured side will be Arsène Wenger's collection of luminous youth products and shrewd acquisitions, estimated cost less than £30m, much of which is covered by the recent sales of Henry and Patrick Vieira. Such a comparison only adds to the stresses on Jol though he insisted: "There's no pressure. We want to get back to winning ways, that is our main focus. I would say that for me there are no worries. I'm looking forward to the game." Indeed, with his team beginning to look more like his preferred first XI, he was able to say: "I feel it's an exciting time for us."
Wenger exudes similar optimism, with rather more justification. "We needed a good start, we needed confidence," he said. "When you are young you don't know how good you are, you discover that through life. You want to be the best but you think 'am I good enough to do well, to win, to win at the top level that is demanded at Arsenal'. Every win for a young team is very important."
And winning, said a man who is more associated with stylish football than the pragmatic pursuit of results, is the main thing.
"I agree with the coach who said, 'The victories, they slide over you, every defeat lives overnight with you'," Wenger said. "I read somewhere that I do take defeat well but, frankly, if you take defeat easily in my job you will be nothing. It has to really hurt you. If it does not you cannot survive. This is with the players as well. I always feel terrible when we lose, a defeat in a club is a crisis."
Wenger added: "You always think you can do better and improve. We could have won the championship ten times and the Champions League ten times, but we did not do it so you think you could have done better. That is the target you have to set yourself. You want to be successful on every front."
Looking at this season, Wenger said: "What has impressed me most is the togetherness of the team. I could never say there was not a good spirit in the side, but last year after three games we were seven points behind Chelsea and we knew we had a mountain to climb so the spirit cannot be the same."
Wenger said he signed his contract extention in part to remove any distraction the issue might have been to his team's progress. "I did not want it to become a disturbance, one that could have a negative weight on the course of the season. At some stage, you stay or you go – if you say you go, the last season is very difficult, because the club has to turn to the future, the players think 'do I stay, go or extend?'. You cannot make decisions any more. I just wanted to put this club into a position where we could have a successful season."
As to who will be in the shake-up, Wenger said: "It looks to me that Liverpool will be there, I think Arsenal too, Chelsea and Man United will come back and it will be an interesting race, more so than last two years. When Aston Villa can beat Chelsea and Reading draw at Man United this year can be really exciting."
Unlike the beginning of the season, Spurs did not get a mention. For them the campaign is already about rescuing the season, beginning today. For all Jol's sangfroid Chris Hughton, his coach, revealed the reality at Tottenham when he said: "This match means everything. Arsenal are still our biggest rivals. While we're playing well enough results could have been better so it's a very big game for us."
Gunned Down: Jol's parlous record against Arsenal
Tottenham have played Arsenal eight times since Martin Jol took over at White Hart Lane and are yet to record a victory home or away:
Spurs 4 Arsenal 5
Arsenal 1 Spurs 0
Spurs 1 Arsenal 1
Arsenal 1 Spurs 1
Arsenal 3 Spurs 0
Spurs 2 Arsenal 2
Arsenal 3 Spurs 1 (aet)
Spurs 2 Arsenal 2
Spurs wins: 0
Arsenal wins: 4
Draws: 4Reuse content