LONDON, October 30- Robbie Keane couldn't have teed up this weekend's north London any better than he did when claiming Tottenham Hotspur now have a better squad than Arsenal.
The striker has always worn his heart on his sleeve – a trait that means he is loved by Spurs fans and fills the role of pantomime villain in the eyes of Arsenal supporters whenever the two teams meet.
Keane’s comments summed the growing belief at Tottenham they are finally in with a chance of closing the gap that has existed between the two clubs ever since Arsenal emerged as Manchester United’s main rivals in the late 1990s.
A glance at the Premier League table shows just why this Saturday’s meeting at the Emirates Stadium is so important, even when local rivalries are put to one side.
Arsenal currently sit third in the standings, ahead of fourth-placed Spurs on goal difference although the Gunners have a game in hand.
But if Tottenham are to leap-frog their near neighbours this weekend, they will have to do something they haven’t managed in the league since 1993 and win in Arsenal’s own backyard.
Arsene Wenger’s side haven’t lost to their local rivals in 19 league matches, a run Spurs must bring to an end if they are to harbour realistic chances of effecting a shift in the balance of power in that part of London.
Both teams go into the game on the back of impressive victories to claim a place in the League Cup quarter-final, with Spurs comfortably beating Everton at home while Wenger fielded a youthful side in the 2-1 win over Liverpool.
The changes routinely made by Premier League teams in that competition hardly make it an accurate barometer of form though, and the outcome of this weekend’s meeting could be determined by whether Arsenal can overcome their worrying habit of failing to kill teams off after dominating play.
A loss in concentration allowed AZ Alkmaar to score an added time equaliser in the recent Champions League group game and days later Wenger’s side threw away a two-goal lead against a struggling West Ham in a match which showcased the best and worst of the Gunners.
Tottenham and England striker Peter Crouch recognises the two sides of Arsenal’s game. "You saw at the start of the (West Ham) game when they went 2-0 up that they play great football, as they always do," he said.
"Hopefully, we can keep that to a minimum and, as West Ham proved, you can come back and you can score goals against them. Hopefully, we’ll be tight at the back and get a good result."
Arsenal have surprised a number of people with the way they recovered from away defeats at Manchester United and Manchester City that left an early dent in their title hopes.
But Tottenham have also made an early case to be considered top four contenders by continuing the outstanding form they showed during the second half of last season.
"I think we’ve also surprised a few people by the way we’ve started," Crouch added. "We’re in the top four at the minute and we want to stay there as long as we possibly can."
The corresponding fixture last season produced a thrilling 4-4 draw that helped kick-start Tottenham’s transformation under manager Harry Redknapp.
For this meeting, Wenger must decide whether to stand by young goalkeeper Vito Mannone or recall the experienced Manuel Almunia while Redknapp’s main selection dilemma is likely to be whether to start with Crouch.