We catch up with north London legends Tony Adams and Ledley King to discuss Sunday's derby at the Emirates between Arsenal and Tottenham, and dissect both clubs' respective transfer policies
By Alex Dunn - @skysportsaldunn
Last Updated: 30/08/13 1:21pm
Sunday's north London derby seems to have become almost an afterthought given the amount of unresolved transfer activity at both clubs, but on a purely footballing level how important is it to lay down an early marker?
Ledley King: Obviously Tottenham have spent a lot of money and with that comes a lot of pressure. You need to go there and achieve the right kind of result. The players that have come will want to show what they're all about and demonstrate they can help take the club to the next level. To get one over your rivals, to show you mean business is always on your mind but at the same time, anything can happen in a derby.
Tony Adams: Both managers will try to play it down and say it's just three points like any other but from an Arsenal perspective, this has been a fixture they've dominated in recent years. The team Harry Redknapp built, that at one point looked like it might push for the title - before the England thing took over - has closed the gap between the two teams and Arsenal have dropped off a little. That said, Arsenal don't change. Whether it's the third game of the season or the third from last they'll prepare in exactly the same way. Arsene's training methods are exactly the same regardless of the occasion. My criticism of Arsenal of late is that they're far too open. They all bomb forward at the same time and there's no-one in their side that looks to lock it up. If the left-back goes forward there should be a holding midfielder who drops in. I think the job Michael Carrick does for Manchester United is what we're missing. I don't see that at Arsenal at the moment.
It's obviously massive for both sets of fans, but as players do you feel added pressure going into these games?
LK: I think you do feel it yes; it's definitely a different mood in the build-up. With the Sky Sports News channel and the papers it's always there. Everyone is talking about it so it's only natural that it gets into the minds of the players. It can have an effect, I can't deny that, so it's important that the players keep their cool and stay focused. It is the biggest game of the season for Tottenham, there's no doubt about that.
TA It's certainly changed from my first one when Stewart Robson took great delight in kicking Glenn Hoddle all around the pitch. In those days you could have a right good scrap but this was in a time when most of the players came from London. The importance of the fixture with the foreigners that have come in has lessened it to a certain extent. The fans will always keep it alive though and for them I'm absolutely certainly it's the biggest game of the season. They can't wait for the fixture.
Was Arsene Wenger aware of the intensity of the rivalry when he joined the club in 1996?
TA I think we told him and he's a very quick learner! Arsene now is of course red and white so knows all about the history and I'm positive people will let him know just what the situation is with regards bragging rights, given he lives in north London. It would be fair to say though his philosophy, regardless of whether it's Tottenham or West Brom or Manchester United, will be exactly the same. It's a real strong facet of his management, his preparation and recovery is second to none. I was in such a great condition when I played under him. I'd come off the pitch without having even sweated. He's the best conditioner of players I've ever seen.
What would represent a decent result for your respective sides?
LK I think not losing is a good result away from home in a derby. The last two results at the Emirates have been 5-2 to Arsenal so there's obviously some work to be done. A draw would be seen as a good result for Tottenham and to be honest I don't think it'd be bad for Arsenal either. The way the two sides play I can't see it being really cagey; it won't be like the Manchester United-Chelsea game on Monday night. The way they're set-up, I can see both sides going for it. I'm not sure they can play another way.
TA The only thing I care about is that they keep a clean sheet. I'd love to see a really solid defensive performance. Of course you're going to commit players forward but they must be conscious of not getting done on the counter-attack. I really must stress the need for whoever plays in the back four to get together and say 'right lads, today we're going to keep a clean sheet at all costs'. Arsenal have enough firepower going forward, they will always score goals. The one thing for me is that it's always 'you score, we score' with Arsenal these days. I must be the only person in the country (with the exception of Roy Hodgson) who did somersaults after watching Monday's game - I thought it was incredible. I was doing back flips over Cahill and Terry and Vidic and Ferdinand. Carrick, who was exceptional, wasn't bombing forward trying to score goals - he was doing his job screening the back four.
Do you have a favourite personal memory from a north London derby?
LK I scored in a couple down the years, which is always nice but obviously more fun when you get the right result. I scored when we lost 5-4 (in 2004) but it meant more when I bagged our goal in a 1-1 draw at home in 2005. It felt pretty special that one.
TA I remember the semi-final in '93 at Wembley, that was great. Funnily enough I can't remember the one where Gazza scored, that escapes me but I think it might have been at the same ground. It's always a fantastic occasion and to be honest I loved playing in every one of them. I loved playing at the Lane too, the more they booed me the better I tended to play. To play at Highbury in the fixture was pure joy but I remember in the early years Spurs enjoyed a bit of success on our patch. It can be quite nerve wracking because you did know how important it is to the fans. You didn't want to let anyone down and sometimes fear did get the better of you. More often than not in those years Tottenham would turn us over, while we'd often go to the Lane and get a result there.
What about the toughest opponents you faced in the fixture?
LK When I was playing against them, when they were really in their pomp, Thierry Henry was unbelievable. They were so difficult to play against, the way they moved the ball about. They could almost walk it into the net and in Thierry they had a player who was really something special. Players like him, it was impossible to keep him under control for the whole game. You might think you'd got him but he'd drift all over the pitch, onto the wings, and cause havoc. He was without doubt the best striker I ever played against.
TA Teddy Sheringham. He was a fantastic player the way he'd pull you all over the pitch. Though to be fair, it's difficult to say just one. Gazza was a phenomenal player but I rarely played directly against him as he obviously played a lot deeper. Gary Linker was quick and played over your shoulder but overall I think Teddy had the edge as he both made and scored goals. He gave me the most problems with his intelligence. For me, him and Peter Beardsley are two of the best no.10s England has produced. Bloody hell, if you go far enough back, Clive Allen was a good player. They used to play with just one up under David Pleat, and they had a super team back then, but runners would come from deep and pose real problems. Allen would sit between myself and David O'Leary - one season he scored 50 goals or not far off. They've had some super players over the years, but just not quite as good as The Arsenal.
Both Andre Villas-Boas and Arsene Wenger have described their sides as title contenders - do you agree or is it again going to more of a fight for a top four finish?
LK I think there's a lot of new players at Tottenham who first must learn about the Premier League and what it's all about. Give it to Christmas, in December and January when the weather is really cold and some of them will be used to having a winter break, it could be really tough for them. The games come thick and fast and you have to be prepared for it. The new players will have to learn what it's all about, so I think it might be more next season, or the one after, when Tottenham really start to push. It's definitely heading in the right direction though.
TA I can't agree with Arsene on this. I think Arsenal play too open. If they can get a couple in and I think they need Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to have a good season, you never know. If Thomas Vermaelen was to step forward and do a job in midfield and they become tougher to beat, you don't know, but I just can't see it. I saw two teams on Monday who'll be competing for the league and on the opening weekend I was very impressed with Manchester City too, though I don't think they'll win it. They're going to miss Vincent Kompany as they did against Cardiff because their understudies aren't in the same league. Whenever I won the league with Arsenal we always had three top class centre-halves; myself, O'Leary and Bould; myself, Bould and Keown; then Sol came in with Martin and me.
I think Arsene believes he can win by attacking as one and likewise, defending in the same way. It's something I disagree with him on. We had a squad in '94 that if we had opened up and played expansively we probably would have got relegated but instead we won the Cup Winners' Cup. With respect, with players like Ian Selley and David Hillier, we made the best of what we had. I don't see Man City with Gael Clichy bombing forward and Pablo Zabaleta doing the same on the other wing. When one goes, the other tucks in with a midfielder holding so they don't get done on the counter-attack.
Of Tottenham and Arsenal who do you expect to finish higher?
TA Of the two I think Arsenal have that little bit more quality. It's going to be difficult for Tottenham with the Gareth Bale thing, it's the equivalent of when Robin van Persie left Arsenal. That and whether the players they have brought in settle quickly is a gamble. Youth team players at Tottenham aren't going to be happy that's for sure. It's difficult for the manager to control all these variables so it could be a bit of a transitional year for them. Hopefully, from an Arsenal perspective, it doesn't all click into place but they've certainly started well with a couple of clean sheets. I'm very biased, but I think Arsenal will be okay and finish above Tottenham.
LK The thing is, I've been saying forever that 'this is the season we'll finish above Arsenal' but we've never done it. It hasn't happened and it hovers over us but, as I say, the club are doing all the right things to try and make it happen. The money that has gone in you want to see a difference and hopefully at the end of the season we'll see that it's all been worth it. The difference between finishing fifth and fourth, even third, could be the money that has been invested. I certainly think that if Tottenham finish above Arsenal they'll be playing Champions League football the following season.
A win on Sunday would be a good start...
LK The two clean sheets we've kept so far in the league bodes well. If we can keep it tight at the back and not let emotions get the better of us we should be fine. The atmosphere can get to people and makes you do things you might not normally do. The Tottenham players will be feeling good about themselves though and confidence is high. With these two teams I think the midfield area is really important. Both tend to have three in the middle and both sets of players are doing well at the moment. Whoever can get hold of the game in this area could be key. That's where Spurs need to control and dictate the game from.
It looks to be only a matter of time now until Gareth Bale completes his move to Real Madrid, as someone who knows him well what's your take on the situation? Has it surprised you?
LK It doesn't surprise me because in football if you play at the level he's been playing at it's inevitable that the biggest clubs in the world will come in for you. What has surprised me a little is just how early it's happened for him but then I guess he's a match-winner and these type of players, as powerful as him, don't come around very often. I think if anything it might be easier for him in Spain. He'll get more space out there and Real Madrid will dominate possession in the vast majority of games, so he should get plenty of the ball. It'll be interesting to watch, that's for sure.
He might be ready as a player, but is he a mature enough character to move abroad at 24?
LK I've seen him grow up a lot in the last couple of years. When he first came to the club he was a young boy. He's matured a lot and you can see that in his game. He's got a little girl now and he's had to take on that extra responsibility. I think you can see that not just in the way he carries himself but in the way he is on the field. He can play anywhere, for him it's just about the football. His confidence is sky high at the moment and I'm confident he'll continue to play at the same level; be that in the Premier League or in Spain.
Regardless of what happens with Bale, no-one can accuse Tottenham of a lack of ambition given they're set to break their transfer record for a third time this summer with Erik Lamela's arrival...
LK If you look at our neighbours, Arsenal fans are disgruntled to say the least. The money that is there isn't being invested into the team and that's a frustration for them. At Tottenham it's a little different as there's always been strong investment and the players they've brought in seem to have settled in really well and impressed the fans already. There's certainly a feeling of real optimism at the club at the minute. From what I've seen the new boys all look to be top class players. I certainly like the look of Etienne Capoue in that holding role. I think he can play centre-half as well, so we've got real competition now in most areas. Paulinho has been great so far too, he can go box-to-box, which is quite rare these days. Then you've got Roberto Soldado who's the natural goalscorer all sides need. The most positive thing is that the balance of the squad looks to be just about right and that's not easy to achieve.
TA Our (transfer) policy isn't necessary a bad one because otherwise you don't give opportunities to the Academy kids and those breaking through. I also think there's a case to try some players in different positions. It's not necessarily all about transfers. Vermaelen in midfield might make them strong defensively - he could be the answer. We moved Emmanuel Petit further forward to shield for us and he did a fantastic job.
You've been critical in the past though of Arsenal's transfer policy, haven't you?
TA I was very critical when Robin van Persie was allowed to leave because I don't think Arsene did enough to keep him. We're all talking from the outside here, because we don't know all the ins and outs, but I would have bent over backwards to convince him to stay. Top players have walked out of the club over the years and I don't think we've replaced them like-for-like. But you move on and I think the policy of not spending vast amounts of money on players you don't need is a good one. I've got a very simple philosophy and it's one that all Arsenal managers use: you try to improve your squad. So you get players from the Academy or the reserves if they're ready or good enough. If they're not, then you bring players in from the outside. Better for me to get a younger cheaper one with potential rather than a ready made, established and expensive player who might not fit in. It's a simple philosophy and one I think Arsene shares.
Arsenal fans would argue that the organic approach you're advocating is out of touch with the modern market, do you not feel you need to spend big to compete?
TA I think there's a direct correlation between how much you pay your players and success but there's not the same correlation between success and how much you spend on the transfer market. Arsenal are spending £151million so my argument is they should be getting more success. They're paying out an awful lot of money without success, so they need to restructure that and give the better players more and get those on £50k-a-week, who aren't delivering, out of the club. To be fair, I think he is starting to do that.
If you were Arsene Wenger, who would you try to bring in before Monday's deadline?
TA More than anything, I'd go on the training pitch and try a few things. Vermaelen in midfield, make sure the full-backs know that when one goes the other stays. That doesn't cost a penny, that's just hard work. If it turns out Vermaelen or Arteta can't do it then I'd look to strengthen in that holding area. Michael Carrick was the player of the season for me and that's what Arsenal need. Maybe I would gamble on someone like Eric Dier at Sporting Lisbon, he's 19 and English. Chancy but he'd be a bit cheaper, is versatile in that he can play in a number of positions and might just develop into a top player. That's the way I would do it and stick with the policy the club has always had because I think it's a good one.
I'm guessing Yohan Cabaye wouldn't be top of your wish list then...
TA Completely ridiculous, that one's not for me. I don't agree with trying to buy Luis Suarez either. It's just not for me. I think Arsenal can score goals from all over the pitch already. That's not the problem with this team, they can open up any team, it's at the other end where there are issues.
Spurs conceded the most goals of any top seven side last season, are you surprised Ledley that they're primarily looking at forward thinking players, with the exception of Vlad Chiriches, especially given they've lost Steven Caulker and William Gallas?
LK I think Capoue can play centre-half and I wouldn't be surprised if they were looking to bring another couple of players in. Younes Kaboul is coming back as well. When you've got Michael Dawson and Jan Vertoghen, who are top class, that's not bad. I think Kaboul is a really good player too and can be important this year. He was doing a lot of training towards the back end of the season without being rushed back, but he's got that confidence in his body again and is ready to step up to the level he was.
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