A new season brings new dimensions and old ones as well. Nowhere is this more apt than in the North London Derby.
As Andre Villas-Boas continues in a first ever second season in his senior management career, Arsene Wenger is partaking of his 17th at Arsenal. The two are quite similar, with vast differences dividing them.
Villas-Boas is probably the epitome of a youthful Wenger – stubborn but visionary; weird but revolutionary; experimental and intelligent. There is a way in which both men analyse a game, pointing out things not seen by the naked eye; using tactical jargon to full effect. Confusing, but communicating nonetheless.
And both espouse a style of football that is quick, vertical in nature, built on possession and full of intensity. There is as much similarity between Villas-Boas’s best side (the Porto of 2011) as there is with Wenger’s best (the Invincibles). Precise counter-attacks, magical football, admired by all.
Yet, while AVB has been a managerial nomad, traversing Academica, Porto, Chelsea and now, Tottenham Hotspurs ; flirting with Internazionale and Valencia; mentioned alongside Barcelona; all within the space of a mere five seasons; Wenger has finally found the place to call home at Arsenal after his early managerial days in France and Japan.
If Wenger was the one who ushered in the breed of foreign managers in the Barclays Premier League, it is Villas-Boas who is benefitting. The style accompanied by different training ground methods and a wide network of international scouting has been used by the Portuguese man, who in the off season has seemingly reconstructed a Spurs side to match what he wants it to be.
Oddly, it seems to be something that Wenger himself should do. While he tarries around the transfer market; looking for a bargain, the Spurs manager has been busy. Indeed, with the imminent departure of Gareth Bale, Villas-Boas has gone about constructing a team that seems ready to move on without him. The dynamics it seems might change.
Could Wenger have done this when he lost star players in past seasons?
Maybe, maybe not. What it does provide however is a North London Derby that for a while now has shown to be a very close one. Whereas in previous years the Gunners were the undoubted kings of North London, there is currently a more than worthy clamour from the Lily Whites to claim that crown.
The gap has been closing. Five years ago, Arsenal finished 21 points ahead of Spurs in the League. In the previous two seasons, a solitary point has divided them.
It points to the fine margins to which the Derby now hinges on. Last season was indicative. The first Derby hinged on Emmanuel Adebayor’s red card. The second, on which team was able to capitalise on the other’s ridiculously high defensive line. As such, pride may be a common factor, but with no underdog or clear favourite in this, it will boil down to the tactical nuances.
It will be about which manager has the better players, and how those players are used. The flexibility, adaptability and changeability of each team’s formations and tactics. As such, it may also hinge on factors unforeseen. With such slim margins, a referee’s decision, or a player’s individual mistake will be magnified greatly in what would otherwise be a microscopic event.
It is too early in the season to conclude anything, thus this game may not matter in the overall scheme of things. But considering how close these two clubs have now come to be, it may well provide an important link in the chain process. Its crucially will only be determined come end of season. By then, it is expected that both will be aiming for a Champions League place.
As such, this might prove to set an endless narrative for the rest of the season. For two managers, their conduct will impact greatly on two different clubs who seemingly are descending into similar ambitions.
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