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Derby being Strictly for title hopefuls is as disorientating as Adams in sequins


IT feels as disorientating as watching Tony Adams in sequins on Strictly Come Dancing.

But on Saturday, we’ll witness a North London derby between two teams with genuine ambitions of challenging for the title.

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Mikel Areta’s Arsenal face Antonio Conte’s Spurs in the North London this SaturdayCredit: Getty
Arsenal legend Tony Adams raised eyebrows with his appearance on Strictly

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Arsenal legend Tony Adams raised eyebrows with his appearance on StrictlyCredit: PA

This is a rivalry so intense that 47,000 watched their Women’s Super League clash at the weekend.

But for the first time in six years, Arsenal v Tottenham is a truly elite Premier League fixture, rather than a local squabble of little interest north of Watford.

Last year’s derbies were two of the most one-sided home wins you’ll ever see — when Nuno Espirito Santo’s Spurs were demolished at the Emirates and Arsenal choked with Champions League football up for grabs at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in May.

This one promises to be different with Arsenal top, and unbeaten Spurs in third, after both clubs kicked a deeply ingrained habit by nailing the summer transfer window.

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Five injured after 100 German hooligans 'disguised as England fans' storm pub

Nobody could have seen this coming a year ago, during Nuno’s disastrous Spurs reign, following a laughable 76-day search for Jose Mourinho’s successor and with Arsenal still floundering under Mikel Arteta.

Yet the appointment of Antonio Conte was a game-changer at Spurs, enabling them to seize fourth spot — before the summer signings of Richarlison, Yves Bissouma, Ivan Perisic and Clement Lenglet added experience and quality to significantly bolster the squad.

And after blowing a return to the Champions League, Arsenal bought in two multiple Manchester City title-winners in Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko, who, along with returning loanee William Saliba, have improved Arteta’s team immeasurably.

Both managers have enjoyed the authority to make tough decisions which have gone against the grain — and, crucially, both are sharing a hymn sheet with their sporting directors: Edu at Arsenal and Fabio Paratici at Spurs.

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When Arteta bombed out his captain Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang, some of Arsenal’s more excitable supporters demanded the Spaniard’s sacking.

But that move was a logical extension of Arsenal’s policies of prioritising squad unity and promoting youth — an approach which reached hallucinatory extremes when 15-year-old midfielder Ethan Nwaneri made his first-team debut at Brentford.

Conte has also been able to challenge his club’s culture — though in a different direction to Arsenal.

Spurs bought early and added experience this summer, rather than their usual obsession with late bargains and resale value.

Tottenham have not been swashbuckling this season and, under Conte, they probably won’t be as thrilling as Mauricio Pochettino’s peak side, nor the under-rated Harry Redknapp team which included Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart.

But the ability to grind out results is what Spurs have too often lacked.

Richarlison is already proving to be a big hit at Tottenham

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Richarlison is already proving to be a big hit at TottenhamCredit: Rex

And in Richarlison they have a player who is all kinds of everything. A great individual talent, yet also a team player who gives them the ability to rotate their attack without a drop in quality.

He is a crowd-pleaser, flair player and a cynical irritant, loathed by opposing players and fans.

And having scored twice for Brazil against Ghana last Friday, there’s a decent chance Richarlison will be a World Cup winner by Christmas.

Especially when you consider that Brazil are strong enough to have left Arsenal striker Jesus out of their latest squad.

Jesus didn’t look such an obvious hit when Arsenal signed him from Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola was unsure of his abilities as a top-class, out-and-out centre-forward.

But Arteta had no doubts — and he’s being proved right.

Both North London managers know what it takes to win the Premier League.

Conte did it himself at Chelsea, while Arteta assisted Guardiola in back-to-back title-winning campaigns at the Etihad.

Can either of them finish above City this season? It’s highly doubtful.

But if there is a winner on Saturday, in a fixture which feels unusually significant so early in the campaign, then they must fancy their chances of at least being part of the title argument.

And that would be as unfamiliar as watching Adams do the paso doble.

SALUTE SARDAR

I’M not sure how many armbands Harry Kane could fit around his bicep at the World Cup.

The rainbow ‘One Love’ effort, which he will wear to promote LGBTQ+ equality, is a well-intentioned if largely meaningless, gesture against Qatari state homophobia.

But England kick off their campaign against Iran, whose Islamic-extremist government subjugates women to a barbaric extent.

Iran’s Bayer Leverkusen forward Sardar Azmoun bravely spoke out in favour of women’s-rights campaigners, claiming he ‘doesn’t care’ if it costs him his place at the World Cup.

Now that is a protest of genuine meaning.

GREA-T DINING

AFTER Jack Grealish claimed that Graeme Souness has a ‘problem’ with him, the great Scotsman invited Manchester City’s £100million man for a night out together.

The player has apparently accepted and he should go because sharing a meal with Souness is an enriching experience.

Grealish should expect to find a warm, decent, fascinating bloke — with far greater depth than his TV pundit persona — but also someone who genuinely feels angry when he believes a footballer is not fulfilling his potential.

He should also expect to foot the bill. And for there to be some pricey champagne on it… 

STORMING IT

YOU might consider Jose Mourinho an outdated coach.

But the fact the Portuguese appears on a new track, and video, by the rapper Stormzy — and it actually works — is testament to his enduring charisma.

No other football manager could pull that off.

JOE OVER AJ?

WHILE Tyson Fury v Anthony Joshua would undoubtedly be the ‘biggest’ fight in British boxing history, would it currently be a contest between Britain’s best two heavyweights?

After witnessing AJ’s recent struggles and Joe Joyce’s impressive KO of Joseph Parker, it’s tempting to rate Joyce as our second-best big man.

Joe Joyce produced a stunning knockout to Joseph Parker on Saturday

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Joe Joyce produced a stunning knockout to Joseph Parker on SaturdayCredit: Getty

CHEAT STORM

THERE was uproar at Lord’s when India’s women won a one-day international by virtue of Deepti Sharma executing a ‘Mankad’ run-out of England’s Charlie Dean at the non-striker’s end.

This caused a predictable outcry of the ‘it’s just not cricket’ variety by those who falsely claim the game has ever been a haven for fair play.

Sharma acted within cricket’s laws.

And whenever elite women’s sport proves that it’s not all a bit too ‘nicey-nicey’ — as with the ultra-physical Euros football final between England and Germany — it’s a welcome slap round the chops for the misogynists who want to do it down. 

HORNETS NEST

GOOD luck to the new Watford boss Slaven Bilic.

After the end of Rob Edwards’ 11-match reign, the average life span  of the last seven permanent Watford bosses — Edwards, Roy Hodgson, Claudio Ranieri, Xisco Munoz, Vladimir Ivic, Nigel Pearson and Quique Sanchez Flores — is 19 games.

At that rate, Bilic can expect to be sacked on January 28.

MIT THE JACKPOT

ALEKSANDAR MITROVIC hit a hat-trick for Serbia against Sweden and it takes the Fulham striker’s tally to 47 goals in his last 57 internationals.

That comes on top of the 49 he has scored in his last 50 league games.

Yet most bookies are offering 66-1 against Mitrovic winning the World Cup Golden Boot — get in quick.

ON THE MARK

THE appointment of Mark Noble as West Ham’s sporting director just four months after he finished playing caused some predictable sniggering.

But the long-serving former club captain has completed a Harvard Business degree and a deep knowledge of West Ham’s academy and senior squad.

If Noble wasn’t a working-class bloke from Canning Town, there wouldn’t be nearly so much sneering.





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