Tottenham Hotspur-Arsenal Preview
LONDON (SE) - Both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have learned the hard way recently victories can only be earned with full-out effort for the full time on the clock.
The two sides collide Saturday in a North London derby at the Emirates, hoping to gain three needed points that could jump-start a run to the upper reaches of the Premier League.
Both squads are on the outside looking in at the top four entering this weekend, with Spurs (5-2-4) eighth on 17 points, one point and one spot ahead of Arsenal (4-4-3), who lead Fulham on goal differential for ninth. Both teams, however, were left ruing opportunities in which they lost ground to the table's frontrunners.
In the case of Arsene Wenger's side, the recurring problem of squandering leads reared itself in Saturday's 3-3 draw versus Fulham. The Gunners blew a two-goal lead for the second time in a week's span - also doing so in their Champions League draw at FC Schalke - before Olivier Giroud pulled them level in the 69th minute with his second goal of the match.
Arsenal then had a chance to steal the three points late, only to see Mikel Arteta's penalty saved in the match's dying moments.
"It was frustrating because we had the opportunities to win,'' Wenger said. ``We were caught in a bit too comfortable of a position because we did the most difficult thing - we scored two goals to go 2-0 up. At that moment we lacked urgency defensively.
``The positives are that we can score goals now. The negatives are to concede three goals at home of course, and the chances we gave away, defensively it wasn't an historic performance.''
The draw continued Arsenal's worst start since gaining 14 points from the first 11 matches of the 1982-83 season en route to a 10th-place finish. A defence that conceded only six goals in the first nine league matches has surrendered five in the last two.
That defence, though, may get a welcome jolt as first-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny may be match-fit after missing the last seven league matches due to an ankle injury. Theo Walcott, who had a second-half brace in last season's corresponding fixture, is trying to overcome an injury to a buttock muscle, and midfielder Jack Wilshire will return after serving a suspension versus Fulham.
While Arsenal at least salvaged a point despite their issues, Spurs were not as fortunate in a 2-1 loss at reigning champions Manchester City. Steven Caulker gave Tottenham a first-half lead, but was defensively liable for the equalising goal before Spurs allowed a late winner by Edin Dzeko in the 88th minute.
"The players showed real desire, we believed we could get something and in the end it was disappointing," manager Andre Villas-Boas told the team's official website. "We tried to adapt and hold onto the result but we couldn't in the end."
Caulker's run of good fortune on offence continued Wednesday when he became the youngest Spurs player to score in an England international match, tallying in the first half of the 4-2 loss to Sweden. However, the central defender - much like most of his Three Lions teammates - were run roughshod by Zlatan Ibrahimovic's four-goal outburst.
Spurs' season came unravelled at the Emirates last February, losing 5-2 after scoring the first two goals of the match. That triggered a nine-match dip in which Tottenham recorded only one win and heavily contributed to scuttling their Champions League hopes.
Arsenal have won 19 of their last 20 home matches versus Spurs across all competitions and 10 of the last 13 league home matches.