Asked in the summer if Arsenal could win the Premier League this season, Arsene Wenger was in optimistic mood. "We want to and we have a desire to," he told the club's official website. "We are up for it and what we want is to come out of the season and know we have given our best. I feel we did that last year, finishing third with the start we had.
"The first target is to do as well as we can in every single game and see where we stand at the end of the season, but of course we want to fight for the championship. We are in a much stronger position now because last summer we lost (Samir) Nasri and (Cesc) Fabregas, and on top of that we lost (Abou) Diaby and (Jack) Wilshere. We lost four players at the start of last season and that is not the case this time."
Wenger's opposite number at White Hart Lane was also talking up his side's chances of glory upon his appointment as Tottenham boss. "We go into four competitions next season and we go into them with the maximum ambition of trying to win them," Andre Villas-Boas told Spurs' official website. "I think taking this step is something very decisive, shows straight away our commitment towards winning titles and creates the right winning mentality towards the future to take the club forward."
Eleven games into the new campaign and a little of that hope is beginning to dissipate as the reality of familiar problems hits home. On Saturday lunch-time the north London derby will be the battle between the seventh and eighth-place teams in the Premier League.
|Arsenal - PL 2012/13|
|Spurs - PL 2012/13|
Arsenal supporters will recognise the same old flaws. The Gunners continue to control the midfield on the assumption that chances will come. But too often the incision has been lacking. With Wenger's men dominating possession, the opposition chances are restricted - but when they do arrive, the brittle defence invariably does not do enough to prevent the ball finding its way into the net.
Tottenham showed plenty of character to beat Manchester United in September but, despite the talk of a new mentality, what followed will have been grimly familiar to Spurs supporters. There was a 1-0 home defeat to Wigan, as in 2010, and a last-gasp defeat at Manchester City in a repeat of the disappointment at the Etihad Stadium in January.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. As a result, this could still turn out to be the battle for fourth and the reward of UEFA Champions League football. Clearly, it's still a big game. But perhaps not for the reasons the managers would like it to be. The loser of Saturday's clash will surely find himself under significant pressure.
"I have big sympathy for Villas-Boas," said Wenger when the Portuguese coach was on the brink at Chelsea last winter. "I like him, personally. I think he is intelligent, competent. You can only think that he'll get it right. He is at the start of his career. Age can be a handicap on both sides. When you are young, they say you are too young. When you are old, they say you are too old."
With the ambitious talk of competing for the Premier League title already looking far-fetched, it seems likely that the final-whistle focus will be on 'old man' Wenger or 'too young' Villas-Boas when the Sky Sports cameras visit the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.