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Know Your Opponent, North London Derby Edition: Arsenal

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Last night, I had a chat with Ted Harwood of SB Nation's Arsenal blog The Short Fuse. We exchanged some questions about today's big North London Derby match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, and you can see my answers to his questions here. Check out his answers to my questions below.

What, if anything in particular, is to blame for Arsenal's inability to live up to their potential? With the squad they have and the slip-ups made by their main rivals, I think that they should probably be at the top of the Premier League right now.

Ted Harwood: This is a tricky question. I think it's far too easy to blame things like "mental strength" or "leadership", even as some of Arsenal's collapses this year have looked to come from moments of blooper-reel miscommunication and panic. I think part of the problem has been injuries; Sebastien Squillaci was never meant to see the pitch as much as he has this year, although he hasn't been as bad as people like to make it seem. The biggest problem has probably been the Gunners' inability to break down teams who sit deep and defend narrow; it's almost as if they've made it a matter of habit to try to break these teams down one way, and when that doesn't work, they just lob in ineffective crosses.


Does the leash on Arsene Wenger get a bit shorter every year? Two years ago, I thought the Gooners who wanted Wenger gone were crazy. Now, they still haven't won a trophy with the likes of Fabregas, Van Persie, Walcott, Nasri, and Song past the point where we can call them young players. That's a group that could be winning now. Do you think Wenger needs to be held accountable for their inability to do so?

TH: I don't think Wenger needs to be held accountable as much as the players themselves do (by Wenger, actually). Many have pointed out the flaws in his transfer decisions over the past few years, but as you say, the group he has now should be winning. Supporters are growing more weary in some parts when he doesn't call out poor performances in public and appears to always protect his players from criticism, but that's always been his style, and he used to win things. I don't think he's on a shorter leash as far as the club is concerned. I think if anyone decides when he's going to go, it's going to be Wenger himself. I would be surprised if it was terribly soon, because he will want to leave the club in as good a shape as he can.

What changes at the club, if any, do you expect to come as a result of the ownership saga that has occurred in recent weeks?

TH: In the short term, very few. I don't think Stan Kroenke will micromanage anything. He knows he has a very capable management team in place with Wenger and Ivan Gazidis, and I don't think he will do anything immediate or rash. In the long term, there could be subtle changes, but what those would be remain to be seen, and may amount to very little. Kroenke's been a sports owner who seems to be pretty hands-off as long as things are going relatively well, which they have been at Arsenal since about...forever. Relatively.

For those who don't know, you and I have other rivalries outside of this one. I'm a Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers fan, while you're a Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Gophers fan. Where does the North London Derby rank with the other rivalries for you? Do you get into the hating your rival part of these games?

TH: It's up there with Packers-Vikings for me, although lately, Bears-Vikings has felt much more real, since I live in Chicago. The Gophers-Badgers rivalry always felt pretty one-sided, and in hockey, the big rivalry for me was always UMD-Gophers (I was on the UMD side of that one, growing up in Duluth). Tottenham-Arsenal has been close to Packers-Vikings for a while, but the latter will always set off something primal in my body in a way. As for the "hate", I've never been a one to become totally irrational about it, and I have a lot of Spurs-supporting friends, so the rivalry tends to stay pretty even-keeled. Except inside me. While I'm smiling on the outside, if Spurs beat Arsenal, inside, I want to punch my own kidneys. But that's self-hatred.
Finally, I'd like your projected lineups and a prediction for the game

TH: I think Wenger will roll out his strongest lineup, which this year has been: Szczesny; Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy; Song, Wilshere, Fabregas; Nasri, van Persie, Walcott.

As both teams play pretty openly in general, I think, as do you, a 2-2 is on the cards, but with a late Arsenal desperation equalizer.