ONCE UPON A TIME IN NORTH LONDON
Once upon a time, we could call Spurs v Arsenal “Spurs v Arsenal” or, at a push, the “north London derby”. Well, not any more. Now, it’s the “NLD, shown live on your TV, in super UHD, costing bare GBP” … at which point the Tinie Tempah tribute has to stop, because we’ve not yet invented a catchy acronym for “battle for fourth place that’s like winning a trophy”. Soon, friends, soon.
But in the meantime, here we are. This game was, of course, originally scheduled for January, but then one of Arsenal’s ballboy’s hamsters got Covid and Omar Rekik went to Afcon, meaning Mikel Arteta’s brave young heroes weren’t allowed out to play. So Sky cogitated and deliberated for four long months, eventually alighting on tonight as the only conceivable day between then and now capable of staging so momentous a contest. In so doing, they may also have manipulated the fixture list at a crucial stage of the season for their own avaricious ends, but that’s a total coincidence and, on the plus side, at least they haven’t compromised the integrity of the competition, having helped divest it of that many years ago. Swings and roundabouts, as they say.
The thing is, if we exclude those petty concerns, they were absolutely right to do what they’ve done, because the NLD has, over the years, established itself as the Premier League’s most reliably exciting fixture, full of goals, excitement, and all the things that “NO ONE” – apart from EVERYONE – “wants to see”. Or, in other words, football’s biggest problem is that it’s too expletive good.
However, much as we’re all looking forward to enjoying the thrills, spills and aggravation, as connoisseurs of the beautiful game, we’re just as excited by the managerial battle of wits. Will Antonio Conte’s ersatz, remorseless, counterattacking style have the measure of Arteta’s sharper and more natural inclination? Or will the Arsenal man’s grooved uniformity hold sway over the Italian’s wild and emotional fluctuations?
But enough about their hair. In just a few hours’ time, a football match will take place and both men are desperate for glory, their toil and sacrifice taking these grand old teams right back to where they belong: sometimes competing for fourth. Or, as we now call it, “the BFFP that’s like WAT”.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Someone from Inter walked past and kicked me. I got angry and quite rightly the referee sent me off” – Massimiliano Allegri looks back on a fractious Coppa Italia final on Wednesday night.
Andy Brassell gives you the lowdown on Erling Haaland.
A New Formation: how Black British footballers shaped the modern game. Tickets are still available for the live event on Tuesday 24 May, featuring Jonathan Liew, Andrew Cole and Hope Powell.
MOVING THE GOALPOSTS
The Fiver has a new sister email, folks! You don’t need to be told that it’s smarter and wittier than us – so sign up. The latest edition from Anita Asante has been sent whistling into inboxes but you can get a taste here.
“It’s unfair to laugh at Dirty Leeds for piling up red and yellow cards despite being exposed to the teachings of Gandhi (yesterday’s Fiver). Surely Jesse Marsch’s lads are playing in the finest traditions of the Mahatma by offering passive resistance” – Mark McFadden.
“Re: the ‘beef-we-didn’t-see-coming’ at Forest Green (yesterday’s bits and bobs), can I be the first of 1,058 pedants to point out that you’re very unlikely to find any beef at the New Lawn” – Jack Stokes (and 1,057 others)
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
West Ham are spreading their wings and preparing to swoop for Rennes defender Nayef Aguerd.
Aston Villa have agreed a €20m deal for a bloke who spends most of the game doing very little, but sometimes does something brilliant out of nowhere. What could possibly have attracted Steven Gerrard to Philippe Coutinho?
Kevin De Bruyne is reaping the benefits of his selfish streak, reckons Pep Guardiola.
STILL WANT MORE?
Chelsea have their eyes on a Cup double this weekend – Karen Carney takes a gander.
Kevin De Bruyne sets Manchester City standard Erling Haaland must match, writes Nick Ames.
Antonio Conte is ready to show Arsenal how far Spurs have come since September, writes David Hytner.
Fifa believes it can make great sims without EA – but it should heed the fate of Championship Manager, reckons Keith Stuart.
Shaul Adar has written a book about Beitar Yerushalayim, the most (depressingly) political club in the world. Learn something here.
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