Gunners and Spurs evenly matched these days, says Jamie
Tottenham travel to Arsenal for Saturday's North London derby and I expect this encounter to be every bit as exciting as recent matches between these two sides.
We've seen some really good North London derbies in the last few years and, with both Arsenal and Spurs fairly evenly matched and both going for a top four spot, there's a lot at stake.
When I was playing for Spurs Arsenal were a long way ahead in terms of quality - they were better in every department, really. That was the era of Arsenal's Invincibles, when Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and players of that calibre were firing them to Premier League titles.
However, now the gap between the two sides has narrowed considerably to the extent that it would be fair to say they are equally good. Looking at both squads on paper, each has its pros and cons but, whereas in the past Arsenal had individuals who would walk into the Tottenham XI, you can't really say that anymore. Gareth Bale is perhaps the only player who stands apart in the two squads.
So, the real question for these sides this season is who can push on and take that coveted fourth spot. Of course Arsenal were third last year, one spot ahead of Spurs, after turning around a ten point deficit. That earned them a Champions League place, while Spurs missed out because Chelsea won the competition.
This year, though, I feel Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea just have a bit too much about them and will leave Arsenal, Spurs and Everton fighting for fourth. (West Brom, by the way, have been fantastic so far but I think they will eventually fall away - although that is no disgrace).
The North London derby at the Emirates last season played a key part in the fortunes of Arsenal and Spurs. The hosts' 5-2 win really inspired them and Spurs struggled to respond. It was a big moment in the course of the season. And there's a lot riding on the match this year, too.
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Theo Walcott bagged a brace in that win and Arsenal will need him or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fit to beat Spurs this weekend. Without that pair they lack pace and creativity in wide areas. However, with them in their ranks they can really take on Spurs' full-backs Kyle Walker and Jan Vertonghen.
There are also promising signs for Arsenal supporters that Olivier Giroud is starting to find his feet. At the moment he is continually being compared to Robin van Persie and it must be driving him mad. He's not as good as Van Persie and can't do what he does. He's also yet to decide a game for Arsenal this season - but if he can do that against Spurs that will give him a huge lift. It's a game which could be the making of him.
However, Arsenal's problems remain at the other end of the field. At the start of the season there was a lot of talk that Steve Bould had come in and transformed the Arsenal defence, but three goals conceded at home to Fulham shows it is the same old story with them.
I actually thought the talk about Bould was disrespectful to Pat Rice, who did a great job there over many years. People were saying because they had a new coach everything was going to change, but it hasn't. They're still conceding goals from set-pieces, making mistakes at the back and that is still their Achilles heel.
Spurs, meanwhile, are in a sticky patch themselves and seem to me to be lacking a bit of confidence. They've produced some brilliant football this season - particularly for 45 minutes against Manchester United, at Newcastle and at home to Aston Villa - but for much of the time they seem to be playing within themselves.
When you think of Spurs you think of counter-attacking football, with pace through Bale and Aaron Lennon, but this season it seems as though they're playing with the handbrake on.
You want to say to them: 'go on, you've got all these really good attacking players' but they seem to be concentrating so much on what to do when they haven't got the ball they don't want to go and express themselves when they have it. That's something Spurs fans have enjoyed over the last few years but at the moment they look a little tentative.
Once you've got your foot on a team's throat in this league you've got to push it down; you can't let teams off the hook. I think that could stem from the philosophy of the manager. In some leagues in Europe you can get a goal and sit on it, but that's a dangerous game in the Premier League. If you get one you have to push on and put teams to the sword.
Players feed off their manager, though. If they make a defensive tactical change players naturally retreat, where as if a forward comes on you get the signal to push on. Villas-Boas has perhaps been guilty of sitting back at times this year and Spurs have lost six points this season conceding in the final ten minutes of matches. It's an unforgiving league.
In terms of a prediction, I can see this one ending in a 2-2 draw - and I think that will suit both managers. Arsene Wenger will be a little nervous about Spurs because of the quality they possess; while Villas-Boas is desperate to end this sticky run they're on. Either way, it should be an exciting game to kick off the weekend's action.
Check out Jamie Redknapp's Red Hot Tips each week at Sky Bet.