Redknapp says beating Arsenal will put Spurs in title contention

Tottenham manager believes his side have real chance to win 'wide-open' league
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The Independent Online

Harry Redknapp's reputation as football's alchemist was enhanced when he guided Tottenham Hotspur into the top four of the Premier League last season. If he achieves his next target there will be parallels drawn with another Harry, the wizard Potter.

Redknapp suggested yesterday that victory in today's north London derby could be the launch pad for an assault on the championship, a feat last achieved by Spurs amid the campaign to abolish the £20-a-week maximum wage.

Plotting the club's path while he travels in on the M3 each day, with assistant Kevin Bond for company on the commute, Redknapp has already passed significant landmarks in his two years at the helm.

As he reminds us frequently, the club had "two points from eight games" when he took over, so the first task was to steer Tottenham away from relegation trouble. Since then they have qualified for the Champions League, with two of the key players being Luka Modric and Gareth Bale, who were not favoured by Juande Ramos, the manager replaced by Redknapp.

Redknapp wants to establish his club as title contenders, which he believes is possible with Chelsea dropping points, and Manchester United's form stuttering. Victory at Arsenal today would send a message.

"The title's not impossible if we have a run and pick up some big wins and get ourselves in there," Redknapp said. "You have to win these games to win the championship and it's never been so open. Whoever puts a run together has got a real chance.

"We finished a couple of points behind Arsenal last year. There was nothing in it really, at the death it got very close. So if we can pick up a couple of wins there's no reason we can't make a challenge this year."

Given it is nearly half a century since Spurs won the championship such a statement is a measure of Redknapp's confidence, and Tottenham's progress under him. Redknapp is the 16th manager at White Hart Lane since Bill Nicholson led the club to the Double in 1961. Few of his predecessors have even come close to the title, with Peter Shreeves perhaps coming nearest in 1985 before a home defeat to eventual champions Everton prompted a late-season collapse.

There was a similar positivity to Redknapp a year ago when Tottenham were considered as possible top-four candidates. "It's possible," he would always say, never falling into the trap of former Spurs manager Martin Jol, whose doubts over whether his team could finish among the elite was part of his downfall.

Redknapp perhaps feels victory at the Emirates Stadium would have added significance, as it has been 17 years since Spurs recorded a victory on their rival's turf. Back in 1993 the crucial goals came from Scottish striker John Hendry, with Spurs' few home victories since often viewed as one-offs.

Redknapp feels the two clubs are now evenly matched. He has pulled off one of the shrewdest signings of the season by spending £8m on bringing Rafael van der Vaart from Real Madrid. The Dutchman has provided something extra in a squad of growing depth. With Jermain Defoe set to return following an ankle injury, and Aaron Lennon available after recovering from hamstring problems, Redknapp has plenty of options.

Van der Vaart is likely to start behind a lone striker today, with Lennon and Gareth Bale providing pace from the wings. "Arsenal play fantastic football, but I think we do as well, so it's got the makings of a great game," Redknapp said. "Samir Nasri was the best player on the pitch against England, but we have Luka Modric and Rafa van der Vaart.

"Tottenham have spent big money over the years. I think in terms of spending we've competed with Arsenal. Hopefully, with getting into the Champions League we can continue to progress, not necessarily by spending, but in becoming stronger as a team."

Given Redknapp's move from Portsmouth to Southampton and back again earlier in his career, the 63-year-old has been understandably underwhelmed by the focus on William Gallas's return to the Emirates Stadium. Redknapp, after signing the French defender as a free agent, was advised by club doctors that the 33-year-old would not be able to play regularly. Yet so far he has played 10 times, providing cover for Michael Dawson and Ledley King.

"I was surprised no one else took him when he was on a free from Arsenal," Redknapp said. "He was a great free transfer in the summer, wasn't he? It's hard to find good players."

Gallas is expected to receive a hostile reception and the security around the dugout at the Emirates Stadium is expected to be tightened after incidents of abuse towards opposing managers in the past. "I don't understand all that nonsense," said Redknapp. "It's a game of football at the end of the day. I used to go with my dad and an old player would come back and you would clap them, give them an ovation."

White Hart Lane was among the grounds Redknapp visited with his father but his first north London derby as a manager came in his first week at Tottenham. Spurs snatched a remarkable 4-4 draw at Arsenal to set the tone for his reign. If Redknapp's team can eclipse that result today he will not be alone in his contention that Spurs' first title since he watched them as a boy is feasible.

17 years of hurt

Tottenham have not won a league game away at Arsenal since the final match of the inaugural Premier League season in May 1993. Scottish forward John Hendry, who only ever made five league starts for Spurs, was the hero on that occasion with his double, after Teddy Sheringham's opener. Arsenal, under the future Spurs manager George Graham, fielded a weakened side as part of their preparations for the FA Cup final against Sheffield Wednesday four days later.

May 11 1993 (Highbury) Arsenal 1-3 Tottenham Dickov 52. Sheringham 39, Hendry 46, 78

Arsenal (4-4-2): Miller; Lyderson (McGowan, h-t), Keown, O'Leary, Bould; Flatts (Carter, 76), Marshall, Selley, Heaney; Smith, Dickov

Tottenham (4-4-2): Walker; McDonald, Van den Hauwe, Mabbutt, Ruddock; Sedgley, Hill, Anderton, Allen; Hendry (Hodges, 82), Sheringham

Where were they then?

Arsène Wenger: manager of Monaco

Harry Redknapp: assistant manager of West Ham United

Jack Wilshere: one year old

Gareth Bale: three years old

Since Spurs' last win at Arsenal

- 17 games

- 10 Arsenal wins

- 7 draws

- 30 Arsenal goals

- 12 Tottenham goals

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