Merson: North London Derby is the biggest in 25 years

By Richard Johnson

Saturday’s north London derby is the biggest for 25 years, says Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson.

Second-placed Tottenham Hotspur entertain third-in-the-table Arsenal at White Hart Lane with the two city rivals separated by just three points ahead of kick-off.

However, for only the fifth time in Premier League history, it is Spurs who head into a derby played after January 1 in front of Arsenal in the standings.

And with both sides still within striking distance of surprise leaders Leicester City as we approach the season’s finale, this game takes on even greater significance according to the former Arsenal forward.

“I think the FA Cup semi-finals in 1991 and 1993 would be bigger,” Merson told this week’s The Fantasy Football podcast. “They were massive games, although they are always big.

“When I used to be on holiday prior to the season, in pre-season before the fixtures came out in June, I would always ring my dad and say: ‘When is the Tottenham game?’ Always, the rivalry is that big.

“But now, this is probably the biggest it has been for many a year because both teams could win the league.

“You know, let’s be honest, Tottenham have not been in the title race for a long time. And that is not being disrespectful, it is fact. Tottenham have not been top of the league this side of Christmas since 1985, so that tells you everything.

“When I was playing for Arsenal, you were there not to like Spurs. It was the big game and you always got that feeling when you drove into the ground and felt the atmosphere, for both teams home and away.”

Looking ahead to this weekend’s showdown, Merson – who played for Arsenal between 1985 and 1997 – thinks that with so much riding on the result, it will be a cagey affair in the capital.

“I do think that both teams will be too scared to lose and it will be a big win if either side wins,” he said. “At the moment Arsenal are chasing two teams down and you want to be chasing one, you do not want to be chasing two.”

However, whatever the outcome, Merson believes that the rise of Mauricio Pochettino’s team this season can only be good for the Gunners in the long run.

“I think it is great watching the way Spurs play at the moment and I think it is great for Arsenal as well, as it puts a lot of pressure on them, the board and everyone else as Tottenham are up there,” he said.

“If they were not up there, then it would be like it does not matter, it is Arsenal again, but this time the pressure is on and fair play to them.”

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