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Tottenham legend Gary Mabbutt: Arsenal not looking forward to derby

LONDON -- Tottenham legend Gary Mabbutt believes Arsenal are running scared ahead of Saturday's huge North London derby at White Hart Lane.

The Gunners visit Spurs on the back of three straight defeats in all competitions, the latest a damaging 2-1 home loss to Swansea -- another would leave them six points behind their neighbours, with nine league matches remaining.

Spurs, by contrast, had won six consecutive league matches before Wednesday's defeat at West Ham and know a win would see them go top of the Premier League -- albeit before Leicester travel to Watford -- and all but end Arsenal's title hopes.

The match is being billed as one of the biggest North London derbies in history and Mabbutt -- who made 619 appearances in a 16-year spell at Tottenham -- says there is a very different mood in the two camps.

"I'm not nervous at all. I've seen our youngsters at the club and they don't seem to be nervous either," Mabbutt told ESPN FC.

"They seem relaxed, they're looking forward to every game and they're enjoying their football. I've got a lot of very good friends at Arsenal and, believe me, they are not looking forward to coming to White Hart Lane on Saturday.

"The North London derby to both teams is the game of the year. No matter what you do in the rest of the year, if you beat your local rivals, the fans will forgive you. No matter how the game goes -- good, bad, indifferent -- as long as you win, nobody cares about how."

Mabbutt played in more North London derbies than any other Spurs player and he agrees with the old adage that form is irrelevant, pointing to Tottenham's 3-1 win over the Gunners in the 1991 FA Cup semifinal, famous for Paul Gascoigne's stunning 35-yard free kick.

Spurs went on to beat Nottingham Forest in 2-1 in the final -- the last time they won the famous trophy.

"Every North London derby I played in has been a one-off," Mabbutt said. "Take the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley in 1991: Arsenal had won the title and were having a fantastic run, while we were way off the pace in the league," he said.

"We went into the game and completely outplayed them. For me, they're always one-off games and you can't look at form going into them as any indicator.

The loser of Saturday's tilt between Harry Kane's Tottenham and Mesut Ozil's Arsenal are likely to bid adieu to their title hopes.
Arsenal and Spurs drew 1-1 in their last league meeting.

"Form goes out of the window. It doesn't matter how the game's being played or which individual turns the game. We've got goal scorers throughout our side. I think as a team, as a group, we have been immense this season, so it's going to be more of a team performance than an individual performance."

Mabbutt captained Spurs the last time they finished above Arsenal in the league in the 1995-96 season, adding: "Then, it was a fantastic achievement because Arsenal had been dominant and so it was an incredible season for us in that we finished above them.

"But it's different this time -- it's not just about finishing above Arsenal because both teams are perfectly placed if Leicester slip up, and that's what makes this game so exciting.

"The title is on for Leicester, Arsenal and Tottenham. If Leicester slip up, Tottenham and Arsenal are in a position to take advantage. Saturday's game will be so immense."

Meanwhile, Cliff Jones, part of Tottenham's famous Double-winners of 1961 -- the last Spurs team to win the league title -- agrees that form is irrelevant but makes Tottenham firm favourites.

"It certainly is true that form often goes out of the window but I don't think it will this Saturday. On form, Tottenham are the best side of the two at the moment. I see them winning," Jones told ESPN FC.

"Spurs are favourites for this game -- playing at home is a big plus. Certainly, it isn't going to be easy but I would edge it towards Tottenham. The North London derby means the same to Tottenham as it means to the Arsenal -- the biggest game you can play in, without a doubt.

"If you're an Arsenal supporter or a Tottenham supporter, this is mega. It'd be great for us to win on Saturday, to put us right in contention for the Premier League title.

"[Spurs boss Mauricio] Pochettino has done a great job. He's brought a pace and excitement into the side. You sense it when you go down to White Hart Lane -- there's an expectancy sweeping right through the ground and it's going to be some place on Saturday."

Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.


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