Spurs well placed to pile on the misery for Arsenal

Former Villa stalwart Mellberg pinpoints defensive frailties as Redknapp prepares to unleash derby firepower

The inscription at the players' entrance to the Emirates Stadium reads: "The deeper the foundations, the stronger the fortress". It is the sort of maxim that George Graham might have had tattooed on the oak thighs of his back four. Alas, as applied to Arsenal's current defence, it has a hollow ring. The fortress has been too easily breached for some time now, which means Tottenham Hotspur are confident of some enjoyable pillaging at White Hart Lane this afternoon in the 167th north London derby.

For many years, whatever the result, Arsenal's style seemed to be the one that dictated the pattern of these meetings. Under Graham, they were low-scoring affairs, occasionally goalless draws, which had never existed for the first 76 years of the fixture. Then, as Arsène Wenger and his philosophy bloomed and Tottenham responded with their natural sense of adventure, entertainment flourished, resulting in some of the most enjoyable games since the 4-4 scorelines of the late 1950s and '60s.

The past decade has produced encounters such as Arsenal's 5-4 win at the Lane in 2004, the 4-4 draw four years later and last season's portentous trio: Arsenal's understudies romping to a 4-1 away win in the Carling Cup, before the first team had their championship credentials undermined by twice losingtwo-goal leads in a 3-2 defeat and3-3 draw.

Encouragingly for neutrals, though hardly for their supporters, Wenger's defence has yet to settle this season in terms of personnel orresults. For last Wednesday's game at home to Olympiakos, the central defensive partnership of newcomer Per Mertesacker and midfielder Alex Song was the fourth different one in as many Champions' League matches.

The Greek side could easily have scored more than the one goal handed to them with a free header following a short corner, and their own centre-back Olof Mellberg, who as an Aston Villa player scored the first competitive goal at the Emirates, was scathing in comparisons to the Arsenal of old.

"I felt overall they were not as good as they've been when I played them here," he said. "Especially a few years ago back when we played at Highbury they were unplayable at times. They were the Barcelona of England, you never had the ball, basically. In that aspect it was different as well. They didn't threaten as much as they used to and they were probably a little bit nervous defending, and they looked a little bit shaky on set-pieces.

"Having conceded a few goals on set-pieces you lose a little bit of that confidence. We knew that having conceded quite a lot of goals at the beginning of the season, to score two goals and then to concede one affected them a little bit as well."

Even after studying videos, he admitted, Olympiakos were uncertain whether Arsenal would be marking them man-for-man or zonally at those crucial set-pieces. It turned out to be the former, their goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny revealing that after a close-season and then half-a-dozen matches employing zonal marking, the system had been abandoned following the concessionof 12 goals in two away games, at Manchester United and Blackburn.

"Personally I prefer zonal marking," he said, "but it's the manager's decision which we're going to do and I really don't mind as long as it works. We worked on it in pre-season and didn't concede at set-plays in pre-season so it was working. We conceded a stupid goal at Blackburn and we decided to change it since then. But it really doesn't matter what you do as long as you do it correctly and it works for you."

Chopping and changing defenders as well as suffering from a lack of height among midfield players has not helped, and Spurs will believe that it is an area they can exploit, notably with the accuracy of set-pieces by Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart or Luka Modric aimed either at team-mates or the goal. Those three players were among those left out for Thursday's Europa League game against Shamrock Rovers, as was Emmanuel Adebayor, who will be a central figure against his old club today.

Jermain Defoe played 72 minutes, which gave him some valuable game-time but suggested that using Van der Vaart behind Adebayor will be Harry Redknapp's plan of attack, just as it was in the 2-1 victory at Wigan last weekend. Attack they will, and Wenger says Arsenal will respond.

Part of the reason for the goals and excitement, he suggests, is that in Redknapp he recognises a kindred spirit:"We are different characters, but we share the same passion and commitment for the game. Harry loves the game and he loves his teams to play football. This is what we have in common, we both want our teams to play good football, so this is why everybody looks forward to when Arsenal and Tottenham play each other."

His opposite number, it is not often realised, was brought up as an Arsenal supporter, going to games at Highbury with his father, yet training with Tottenham from the age of 11 before switching to West Ham. Having spent most of his career in London, apart from a period experiencing the passion of South Coast rivalry between Portsmouth and Southampton, he knows as much as anyone about derby days, but says he would trade three points today for a better finishing position in May.

"Do we have the edge over them? Last season perhaps but it's finishing above them in the League that's more important to me," Redknapp said yesterday. "I would lose the game at home if it guaranteed me that. I think we are closing the gap now as well and this is probably the best chance we have of finishing above them."

The acquisition of Adebayor and Scott Parker has encouraged him in that belief. Parker, finally receiving the recognition he deserves, should prove even more valuable during the absence of Tom Huddlestone, who has had another operation, providing a perfect foil in central midfield for Modric.

Parker's work ethic and approach particularly appeal to Redknapp, who says: "He's a good old-fashioned player with good old-fashioned values. The other day we were out training and I've got players wearing red, purple, yellow, white and green boots. And out comes Parker in a good old-fashioned pair of black boots. Old school. He carries that on to the pitch."

As for Adebayor, the manager was delighted with his two goals in the team's outstanding 4-0 win over Liverpool, and will not be too concerned if his striker again becomes a little carried away should he score against his old club: "He was full of remorse after what happened against Arsenal when he was playing for Manchester City. But I'm not going to stop him from celebrating, why should I?"

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on