Monday 04 March 2013

Overmars: If you are not focused, you will lose

Former Gunners star previews Sunday's match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal

Marc Overmars made 142 appearances in his successful three seasons at Arsenal

The North London derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal always has a special place on the Barlcays Premier League calender but Sunday's clash at White Hart Lane has more riding on it than most.

There will not only be bragging rights at stake as this contest could play a crucial role in determining who will finish in the top four of the Barclays Premier League.

Spurs, under the guidance of head coach Andre Villas-Boas, lie in third with 51 points while Arsenal, who are on a run of three straight victories in the Barclays Premier League, are four points behind in fifth.

Premierleague.com caught up with former Arsenal winger Marc Overmars, who won the Double in his time with the Gunners, to get his thoughts on this weekend's eagerly-anticipated contest.

What are these matches like to play in?
It’s like the Ajax v Feyenoord match in Holland. You are not allowed to lose and it's that kind of feeling you have to have as a player. You have to understand the situation and read the minds of the fans. You have to think about whether to live or to die. You have to focus and you have go onto the pitch and say: 'We have to win.'  Every match is important but there is something inside that you can’t control and that gives you a little extra. Derbies always bring something special.

Is your preparation any different when it is a derby?
The preparation is exactly the same as any other match but if there is a big game coming up, the build-up begins 10 days before. Every day on television you see all the old matches and the old goals. You first have to play two other matches and then the big one is coming. You build up a kind of pressure. You have the same preparation but the intensity is a lot more.

As a player, can you enjoy these matches?
The more the pressure, the better I played. That's the pressure I put on myself. When you go onto the field and even if you hear the boos, it makes you feel great. I was lucky to have that kind of feeling. Of course you have pressure, of course you have to perform but even if I played away, it didn't matter to me. I did not have any problems, the more noise the better.

As a player from the Continent, did you have an idea of the importance of the match when you joined Arsenal?
I knew before I joined. A journalist told me: 'Be aware of this game.' The problem for a London club is that you play a lot of derbies in the season. In derbies it is always more difficult so it is more difficult for a London club to win the League than for clubs like Manchester City and Manchester United.

How different is it playing in a derby compared to another match in the League?
You have no time in a derby but it is tough in every match. I was always playing in teams that other clubs wanted to beat. If you play against a club that are lower in the league, they focus 100% to beat you and that's a problem. If you are 97% focused then you will lose. If you are not mentally that strong and you can’t bring that kind of power every week, that’s when you drop points.

How pivotal is Sunday's match going to be?
It's going to be crucial because Arsenal are four points behind, which will suddenly go to seven if they lose. I remember when we played Manchester United at Old Trafford in 1998, when we won the Double. Going into the match we were nine points behind so by the end the gap was either going to be six or 12. It's a big difference. So this match is crucial. Arsenal have to win it. And I think they are going to do it.

Why do you think Arsenal will win?
The pressure is on them. They are on a good run with three [League] wins in a row and now the players have to perform. They have got no choice.

What do you make of Tottenham's man-of-the-moment Gareth Bale?
He is one of the biggest talents in England at the moment. I compare him a little with former Arsenal forward Thierry Henry. He is the same height, he is as athletic and has the same speed. I was good over 10, 20, 30, 40 metres but they can pursue speed after 30, 40, 50m. They have that little bit extra.

How should Arsenal approach the match?
I don't like it when a team drops back and lets the opposition play. Most teams when playing away will drop back but the problem is when you do that and you try to play counter-attacking football, most of the time the opposition will play in your half. You don’t want them to do that. When you play that way, the pressure will keep building and you will lose. You have to go out and put the opposition under pressure. How well Arsenal do that on Sunday will be crucial.

Where will the match be won or lost?
These kind of matches are decided on small details. There are those times when you have that great day that you win 3-1 or 4-1 but if you look at the results it’s normally very close. It can be decided on whether a shot hits the ball on the inside or the outside of the post.

What is your biggest memory?
My main memory was that it was very difficult to get results against them. They had players like Sol Campbell in the team and their defence was always quite tough and the results tell everything about how difficult it is to win there.

Arsenal have not won in the League at White Hart Lane since 2007, does that play on the minds of the players?
Even if they say it doesn't, it does!  The players switch on the TV, they read the paper, and look at the internet and social media. It's in the back of the mind.

Join in the conversation on Twitter with @premierleague and @BarclaysFooty using the hashtag: #northlondonderby.

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Key Points

  • Former Arsenal winger Marc Overmars previews Sunday's North London derby
  • Tottenham take on Arsenal at White Hart Lane
  • Match could have big say in who finishes in the top four of the Barclays Premier League