Like everyone connected with Tottenham Hotspur, Les Ferdinand knows the timing and opposition tonight is ideal for the club. The empty feeling associated with losing Sunday's FA Cup semi-final to Portsmouth will be replaced by fire in their hearts as they prepare for the visit of Arsenal, close neighbours and historic rivals.
Ferdinand said it is still the biggest game of the season for the fans, players and staff, particu-larly those who have witnessed Arsenal's 11-year derby dominance. It was 1999 when Spurs last beat them in the league and there would be no better moment than tonight to end that run. As much as victory would put Spurs back within sight of Manchester City in fourth place in the league, it would also damage Arsenal's hopes of a first title since 2004.
"I expect there to be a bit more of a fiery atmosphere in our dressing room," said Ferdinand, who spent six years scoring goals for the club and is coach to today's group of strikers. "Don't get me wrong, Arsenal will be fired up, but this is the biggest game of the season for Tottenham. "I just don't think it's the same for the Arsenal players anymore. They have got a lot of foreign players who maybe don't understand the rivalry.
"We have still got people who have been at this club a long time and know what it means to everyone." For Ferdinand, a place in the Champions League next season could lead to even better times for Spurs. "If we can prove we are capable of taking that fourth place and add to what we've got, then people will see us as serious contenders for the title," he added. "Everton managed to break the top-four monopoly, but couldn't capitalise on that. We are now in a position that if we did it, I think there would be fresh investment and we would be able to sustain that. People are starting to take notice of Tottenham again and everyone is pulling in the right direction."
One player who will have noticed the Spurs revival is Sol Campbell. He left for Arsenal in 2001 as they struggled in mid-table and he wanted trophies. Taunts of "Judas" continually followed, and he will face further fury on his return to White Hart Lane. But Ferdinand, a former teammate, said: "He's had to cope with the baptism of fire before and sometimes that brings an edge to your game. "Like everyone, I was surprised Arsenal took him back, but Arsene Wenger knows what Sol can bring. He provided stability and he's got that winning mentality."
The latter will be the key to the outcome of the title race, according to Ferdinand. It's a subject he knows something about; he was a member of the Newcastle side that finished runners-up in 1995-96, when they frittered away a 12-point lead. And despite the aspirations of tonight's North London rivals he expects Chelsea to go on to win the Premier League. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org