When Tottenham Hotspur host Arsenal at White Hart Lane in a north London derby of such great importance in the race for the Champions League places, there is a strange sense of déjà vu about the meeting of these two bitter rivals.
Cast your mind back to this time last year. Arsenal were in the middle of being given a good seeing to in the Champions League (for Bayern Munich see AC Milan), had been knocked out of the FA Cup in abject fashion (for Blackburn Rovers see Sunderland) and were out of the top four in the Premier League, behind, you guessed it, Tottenham amid cries that the Gunners were in crisis and Arsene Wenger should be replaced.
Meanwhile, at White Hart Lane, Champions League football looked like a certainty with Gareth Bale winning plaudits for his performances and Harry Redknapp’s side sitting pretty in third with a ten-point cushion to Arsenal.
It took an extraordinary north London derby for everything to change. Trailing 2-0 after 20 minutes at the Emirates, Arsenal’s season looked over: by the end of 90 minutes, they had stormed back to win 5-2, which brought about a late-season Spurs capitulation that ultimately cost Redknapp his job when the Gunners overtook Tottenham in May.
So with that fresh in the minds of all at both clubs, the psychology of their latest collision on Sunday is as intriguing as the football itself.
These games hardly ever disappoint – there have been an incredible 53 goals in the last 11 meetings between the teams – but apart from anything else, a win for either side would do so much mental harm to the other that I am tempted to say it is season-defining.
Should Spurs win, they will open up a seven-point gap to Arsenal and in the process give them the belief that, 18 years since they last achieved it, they can actually finish above Arsenal.
Yet a win for the Gunners would put them within a point of Tottenham and, with Chelsea imploding, give them every confidence they can secure yet another year of Champions League football – an achievement that has looked highly unlikely for much of their erratic campaign.
As far as the 3Way odds are concerned, Spurs are 13/10 to win, with the draw at 23/10 and Arsenal at a pretty-big looking 2/1.
These games notoriously difficult to call, and with Andre Villas-Boas’ side on a great run of just two defeats in 21 games in all competitions and Wenger’s men boasting a fine away league record of just three defeats on the road all year, there is an element of ‘anything can happen’ on Sunday, as there often is with this fixture.
So what I am going to do is make a play on the one thing that seems a certainty at the moment – Gareth Bale to score at any time at 7/5.
New customers to bwin receive a free £20 bet and placing this on the Welshman to breach the Gunners’ occasionally ponderous rearguard would return £48 f successful and there is every reason to think that he willl.
I mentioned before that Bale was winning plaudits this time last year, but that pales in comparison to the widespread adulation he is currently receiving as he continues to turn in brilliant performances with match-winning interventions on a weekly basis, and we have to be with him while the going is this good.
Bale’s two goals in the 3-2 win at West Ham on Monday – the second of which was that incredible 90th-minute winner – took his tally to 15 Premier League goals this season, and 23 in all competitions for club and country, and his form at the moment is as good as Cristiano Ronaldo’s.
The former Southampton man has nine goals in his last seven games for Tottenham and Wales, and he looks like he is going to score every time he picks up the ball within 40 yards of the opposition’s goal.
There is plenty of hype about him, but since Christmas he has been sensational and he can add to his four career goals against Arsenal on Sunday.
At 7/5, we just have to be getting on it.