So, I got in from work last night at about 9.00 and switched on the television to watch some of the League Cup semi-final. Spurs were winning 1-0 and were completely outplaying Arsenal in every area of the pitch. “Aha”, I thought to myself, “I know exactly how this is going to finish up”, and so it came to pass. I watched about twenty minutes of it, and wandered off to potter about, doing other things, and when I checked back for the full time score, there it was, as predictable as the changing seasons: Arsenal 1-1 Spurs. Spurs had missed a mountain of chances, and then Theo Walcott had fluked an equalizer in off the outside of his ankle. So, it’s all back to White Hart Lane for the second leg in a fortnight, and then the pressure will really be on.
The last time that Tottenham beat Arsenal was 1999, and the psychological block that Spurs now have is one of the biggest in English football. One gets the feeling that Arsene Wenger could dress eleven penguins in Arsenal shirts and put them out onto the pitch against Spurs, and the penguins would still nick it in extra time. This has become something of an obsession for Spurs fans. Draws against their biggest rivals are already celebrated as if they are wins, and one suspects that Spurs are not going to be able to take their “great leap forward” and seriously challenge for a place in the top four until they have beaten Arsenal. This doesn’t seem to be case in terms of other derby matches. Everton beat Liverpool as recently as 2006, and Manchester City have won notable matches against Manchester United over the last three or four years, so what it is it with Tottenham?
The obvious thing to say is that Arsenal have obviously had a better team than Tottenham for the last fifteen years or so. Every time that Spurs have looked like turning a corner and building a team that is actually capable of doing something, they’ve managed to make a mess of it, somehow. I rather suspect, however, that this particular block runs a little deeper than this. In Tony Cascarino’s autobiography, “The Secret Life Of Tony Cascarino”, the former Chelsea striker talks candidly of his periodic crises of confidence and the voices in the back of his head telling him that he was going to miss when he was running through on goal. Spurs’ players give the impression of playing like a team of Tony Cascarinos whenever they play against Arsenal. It’s there in the performances of late. Spurs led 2-0 in last year’s League Cup semi-final first leg, yet failed to hold onto the lead, ended up pegged back at 2-2 and then lost the second leg. Earlier this season, Spurs matched Arsenal ball for ball at Ashburton Grove, missed a penalty at 1-1, and lost 2-1.
In a fortnight’s time, Spurs have a golden opportunity to at least go some of the way towards breaking the hex, and they’ll have another one when they play Arsenal at White Hart Lane in the Premier League later on this season. It’s not overstating the case to say that Tottenham Hotspur need to beat Arsenal in a competitive match, perhaps more so than they need to win a major trophy at the moment. Until they do, the “Cascarino Effect” will continue to fester in the back of the minds of everybody at White Hart Lane, and they will continue to be unable to challenge for any major trophies. To that extent, English football needs Spurs to beat Arsenal, if only to open competition up a little in the Premier League.