North London braced for decisive derby

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LONDON, April 13 – Any meeting between Tottenham and Arsenal carries an extra edge but Wednesday's latest edition of the north London derby has become a season-defining fixture for both sides.Arsenal’s crushing defeat to Barcelona at the Camp Nou last week brought an end to their Champions League ambitions, ensuring the Premier League title now represents their last chance of ending a five-year wait for a major trophy.

Tottenham, meanwhile, suffered an even more unexpected blow when they were beaten in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final by a Portsmouth side who had been relegated into the Championship 24 hours earlier.

That meant there is no chance of new silverware appearing in the Spurs trophy cabinet this season and the club’s primary aim now is to finish fourth and claim a place in next season’s Champions League.

Defeat for either side at White Hart Lane could all but end their respective hopes of ending the season on a high, while a draw will suit no-one.

There’s little doubt, though, that Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp faces the bigger job in trying to lift his players following a painful defeat.

By the time the derby kicks off, Arsenal will have had more than a week to get over the lesson handed out by Lionel Messi and the rest of his Barca team-mates.

For Spurs, though, the shock of failing to secure an FA Cup final meeting with Chelsea will still be raw.

Redknapp insisted the Arsenal clash was the ideal game for them after the shock of being humbled by Portsmouth and his task is to make sure that message sinks in to his squad.

While Spurs were on cup duty, Manchester City were tightening their grip on fourth place, beating Birmingham 5-1 to extend their advantage over Redknapp’s side to four points having played a game more.

"We are all very down because we expected a lot from the FA Cup," Tottenham defender Sebastien Bassong said.

"We are still in the race for fourth spot and this will be a big game against Arsenal, which we need to win.

"Obviously this game is coming straight after the defeat to Portsmouth which means we can get that result out of our minds very quickly.

"We know it will be difficult but we have been strong at home this season and must believe that we can get a result."

Arsenal face similar pressure, sitting in third place three points behind leaders Chelsea, who face Bolton 24 hours before the north London grudge match.

Gunners goalkeeper Manuel Almunia has no doubts about the need for victory and believes the atmosphere Arsene Wenger’s side will face at White Hart Lane will be even more intense than in Barcelona.

"It’s a crucial game," he said. "We have five games and if we drop points we are out of the race.

"That’s how we have to approach the game against Spurs. We must have in mind if we lose or draw we are out. It’s final.

"I’m convinced that the other two teams (Chelsea and Manchester United) are going to drop points. You have to be convinced that if we win the five games we have a chance to win the title.

"At Tottenham it’s going to be tougher and harder. Barcelona’s stadium is massive and there are lot of people in the crowd but there is not the same pressure.

"The people are more gentle and they love to watch football and enjoy their team. But the rivalry with Tottenham switches the people on and it’s more serious.

"The atmosphere is tougher at Tottenham but we have played them many times and we know what to expect."

Spurs will be without midfield anchorman Wilson Palacios, who is suspended for two games after picking up his tenth booking of the season at Wembley, while creative midfielder Niko Kranjcar is out with a leg problem.

Arsenal, meanwhile, will definitely be without injured trio Cesc Fabregas, William Gallas and Andrey Arshavin.

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