EXCLUSIVE COLUMN, PROGRAMME v MANCHESTER UNITED, MARCH 4
You have to enjoy the good times in football and our last game here at White Hart Lane was certainly one of them.
The players came out, got on with the job in hand and played some great stuff.
We felt it would be a tough game but we started so brightly. Emmanuel Adebayor and Louis Saha were unplayable in that early period and it set us up nicely.
The all-round team performance was top-class. Every time we played a forward ball we caused them problems. The goals came early and it put us in a great position.
You hope for a start like that, but you can't expect it. The chances came along and we put them away.
The atmosphere was fantastic throughout and once again I want to say how much I appreciated the reception you all gave me.
We have been in great form and we have been difficult to beat which is why it was all the more disappointing for everyone the manner in which we lost at the Emirates last weekend.
We knew it would be a tough game and at 2-0 we couldn't ask to be in a better position.
I felt we needed to stay solid and get to half-time with our lead intact but we failed to do that.
Arsenal seemed to get stronger once they scored while we seemed to buckle which is unlike us.
It was a disappointing game but that's football. We have to keep going now, that is the key.
We need to bounce back from this in a similar fashion to the disappointments we suffered at the start of the campaign.
We have a tough run of fixtures coming up with trips to Chelsea and Everton, while they don't come much tougher than today's visitors as we welcome Manchester United to the Lane.
This is a massive game for both teams. Alex Ferguson is the most successful man in our business. What he has done and continues to do is amazing. He gets the best out of his players year after year and they are once again up there challenging for the title this season.
This is certainly a game to look forward to. It is going to be tight at the top all the way to the end but we have put ourselves in a great position.
We want to finish above Chelsea and Arsenal and secure Champions League football next season. I have said all along that Champions League football is key.
We have not finished above either side in a long time but we have given ourselves an excellent opportunity. We are seven points clear in third place and it would cap a terrific season if we could secure our highest finish in the Premier League.
Enjoy the game.
MAIN INTERVIEW, PROGRAMME v UNITED, MARCH 4
Saha, so good!
French striker Louis Saha has already experienced a few ups and down in his fledgling Spurs career…but he’s hoping for one very big high with victory over his former employers today. By Jon Rayner
Louis Saha made a dream start to his Spurs career by scoring twice on his debut against Newcastle United, only to see it turn into a bit of a nightmare at the Emirates last weekend.
But the French star insists we have a great opportunity to inflict defeat on his former club Manchester United this afternoon and put the memories of that North London derby well and truly to bed.
Signed from Everton during the January transfer window, the 33-year-old wasted no time in endearing himself to our fans as he scored after six minutes of his full debut against the Magpies and followed that up with a second just 14 minutes later. One of the most interesting stats that emerged from our 5-0 defeat of Newcastle was that Saha scored twice in 20 games for Everton this season, only to then score twice in 20 minutes on his home debut in our colours.
He thought he’d added to his tally in the FA Cup fifth round tie at Broadhall Way against Stevenage, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside after it hit Scott Parker, standing on the goalline, on the way in.
But then Louis did notch his third Spurs goal last Sunday, striking early once again to fire us ahead against Arsenal with a deflected shot after just four minutes.
At that stage, not even Saha could have dreamed his first few weeks as a Spurs player could have gone so well, but we were then dealt a major setback as Arsenal fought back to win comfortably, with Louis subbed at half-time as Harry Redknapp changed formation and tactics for the second period.
While he was naturally disappointed with how events panned out at the Emirates, Saha says he can still look back on the last couple of weeks with a lot of positivity and that mentally, we are still strong enough to bounce back today.
“As soon as I arrived here I felt straight away the right atmosphere and spirit, from the stadium to the training ground,” revealed the former Everton, Fulham, Newcastle United and Manchester United forward. “Everything has been enjoyable. From the first minute I felt so confident. There is so much quality here and the desire is unbelievable.
“Obviously the Newcastle game was like a dream. I knew immediately that things were clicking and going the right way, so that was great. To score after six minutes was a brilliant start.
“Newcastle are a difficult team but it was an open game and we scored goals early, it was great to be on the end of a good move. We played some terrific football, especially in the first half, while they tightened up in midfield after the break and it was harder, but a good result for us.
“We then had a difficult game against Stevenage and the key in those sort of games is just make sure you don’t lose,” added Louis. “It was a hard match but the FA Cup is always special, we are still in the competition and we want to go all the way.”
Sunday’s short trip down the Seven Sisters Road to N5 was always going to be a test of character against an Arsenal side which had suffered back to back defeats to AC Milan and Sunderland.
Confidence appeared fragile in Arsene Wenger’s side and we seemed to take full advantage as Saha burst through the middle before firing a shot which hit Laurent Koscielny, looped up over Wojciech Szczesny and bounced over the line with just four minutes on the clock. When former Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor blasted home from the penalty spot to make it 2-0 on 34 minutes, Spurs fans were in dreamland but the moment was shortlived.
Arsenal hit back in devastating fashion with a five-goal blast that turned the game on its head and inflicted only our third defeat in 24 Premier League matches. It was a painful result, but one Louis insists we shouldn’t dwell on for long.
“Of course, it was always going to be a difficult game,” he said. “We started well, went 2-0 up and had good chances to score more, it was an open game at that stage. But we started to drop back too early in the game and that’s what allowed Arsenal to start their game plan and they are good at it.
“They made it 2-2 by half-time, the crowd were up and that helped their team. It was a difficult day. They grew in confidence and by the final whistle, it was one to forget. Let’s move on.”
And what better way to do that than to welcome reigning Premier League champions Manchester United to White Hart Lane this afternoon !
Listening to most football pundits, it would seem Sir Alex Ferguson’s side are enduring a tough campaign yet at the start of this weekend, they were just two points behind neighbours Manchester City having lost only three times all season – the same as City.
As a team who have won 12 Premier League titles, United have the know-how and the experience when it comes to winning the championship and will hunt their city rivals right down to the very last day.
Which makes today’s game a vitally important one for both teams, as we aim to bounce back from Sunday’s defeat and maintain our advantage over the chasing pack for third place.
In recent seasons, we have ended long sequences without victories over the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea, but haven’t beaten the Red Devils in the league since Les Ferdinand and a Willem Korsten double helped us to a 3-1 win on the final day of the 2000-01 season.
Saha spent three-and-a-half years at Old Trafford, scoring 28 goals in 86 league appearances and collecting two Premier League winners’ medals, and while he admits United do have that winning mentality, he says we should have nothing to fear this afternoon.
“Obviously United have quality players but they have a mental strength and fantastic spirit which helps them out of so many difficult situations,” explained Saha. “When you have that mentality to win most of your games and you are not scared about the opposition, you often come out on top.
“But as someone who has been on the outside looking in at Spurs and now seen it for myself since I joined, this club is getting that desire and ambition, everything is coming together to be like that. When you have that quality, it’s about being mentally prepared to do the right things.
“Today is a great opportunity for us. We have the confidence because in recent years we have beaten the big teams by playing well, we know we are ready to do great things here. It’s just a matter of time before we beat United…and hopefully we can do it today.”
Louis’s spell at Old Trafford was frequently interrupted by injuries, but he looks back on his time there with nothing but good memories.
“It was great, I worked hard every day and I enjoyed winning trophies with United,” he said. “You could say it was frustrating because the injuries prevented me from fulfilling my own objectives and targets but I always look at the positives in life and at the end of the day, I have no regrets from my time there.
“I have great memories…but it would be another great memory if we could beat United today!”