Archive for April 14th, 2010

Spurs Preview: You wait a long time for an opportunity like this

736 comments April 14th, 2010

You wait a long time for an opportunity like this.

When Sol Campbell first joined Arsenal, he was thrown in to the cauldron of his first post-demonisation derby fairly early on. Arsene remembers it well:

“I remember his big challenge, after about 10 minutes.  That’s where he showed he is a man. You always wonder what impact the pressure will have but he showed straight away he was ready.”

For the five years that followed, Sol’s decision to leave Spurs was vindicated by acclaim and trophies as Arsenal demonstrated their superiority over their rivals.

And then Sol’s career began to unravel. He found himself at Portsmouth, lacking both motivation and fitness. When Spurs games came around, he was viewed more as pantomime villain than arch-antagonist. As much as Sol must have been hurt by the reception in his early derby appearances as an Arsenal player, he must also have recognised that the burning effigies were manifestations of Tottenham fans’ bitterness and pain at losing an undisputedly great defender. The vilification was replaced by pathetic squabbling: racist, homophobic overtones masking the true cause of Tottenham angst.

In those Portsmouth days, Sol was less of a threat. He was lining up behind Sean Davis rather than Patrick Vieira. He went in to every one of those games as an underdog, knowing that whatever was inflicted upon him he no longer had the riposte of medals and league places.

When Sol signed for Notts County, Spurs fans laughed. When he then signed for Arsenal, they panicked.

Nothing scares Spurs fans more than Sol’s success. It reminds them of the gap between them and us – a gap that Campbell had the courage to cross in pursuit of his own professional goals. When Sol pulled on the red-and-white once again, Tottenham fans might outwardly have guffawed and mocked, but inside they were panicked that Sol would rise again, phoenix-like, to put one over on them one final time.

Tonight, Sol has an opportunity to stand once again before those who have baited him for a decade, who have treated him as a pariah, who have spun lies about his personal and professional lives, and show that he is still, both literally and metaphorically, the bigger man.

You wait a long time for an opportunity like this. The wait is almost over.

It’s been a frustrating season for Robin van Persie. He started it on fire, scoring 8 goals in 11 games as Arsenal averaged a remarkable 3.26 goals p/game. Since he ruptured his ankle ligaments in a friendly for Holland, he’s missed over six months of football. Arsenal have missed him too, dropping to just 1.77 goals p/game and struggling to replace his finishing finesse and link-up play.

If he had been fit, Arsene says, we would be discussing him in the same bracket as Rooney, Messi, and Ronaldo. I can see the manager’s point, but as Ifs go it’s a sizeable one. Van Persie has never looked like a player capable of escaping the clutches of strains, sprains and breaks. He’s brilliant, but he’s brittle.

He’s not a Robin reliant – he’s an impact player. When he gets a run of form together he can be unstoppable. He possesses instant control and a shot of extreme force. In those hot streaks he is invaluable, but what’s guaranteed is that they won’t last.

It’s horrible to admit but Van Persie’s career will probably never include a defining season – a year when he carries a team to success. His body isn’t capable of it. What he will be remembered for – what he’s already remembered for – are extraordinary moments.

A soaring volley against Charlton, a sliding equaliser against United, a shimmy and shot against Liverpool. In the future there will be opportunities for flashes of ability that win not only games, but trophies. The World Cup in the summer, for example. Or even tonight.

Robin is likely to start on the bench but if he is brought on he’ll have an opportunity to make an impact that could have serious implications for this season’s title race, that would be remembered for much longer.

Come On You Reds.

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