André Villas-Boas hopes that Emmanuel Adebayor's determination to prove his point to a former employer can offer Tottenham Hotspur an edge in Saturday's north London derby at Arsenal.
The Tottenham manager gave Adebayor his first Premier League start of the season on Sunday in the 2-1 defeat at Manchester City, where the striker also previously played, and he admitted that the selection had been based, in part, on the extra motivation that the player would have.
Adebayor, who spent three and a half seasons at Arsenal before his £25m move to City in the summer of 2009, is reviled at the Emirates, with the club's support having accused him of being a mercenary. Adebayor cemented his status as villain in their eyes when he celebrated his goal in City's 4-2 home win over Arsenal in September 2009 by running the length of the pitch to slide in front of the travelling fans.
He can expect a rough ride from the Emirates crowd, although that has the capacity to inspire him. He played well in both of Tottenham's matches against Arsenal last season, particularly in the 2-1 home win. He scored with a penalty in the 5-2 away defeat.
"It is an important game for the club," Villas-Boas said, "and I suggest to make the most of it, we can use individuals' motivations and that is why we used Adebayor also in the game versus City last weekend. These are things that you have to count on. But hopefully, it can have a positive effect, even if it can also have a negative effect. Last season, he scored from the penalty spot and he had a good game [at the Emirates], and this is the type of motivation for matches like this."
Villas-Boas made the bold decision to play Adebayor at City ahead of Jermain Defoe, who had previously started in every Premier League game and is the club's top scorer with eight goals in all competitions. The manager's selection up front for the derby, though, stands to be made easier, as Defoe is struggling with a hamstring injury he picked up during his substitute's cameo at City.
Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon also suffered hamstring problems in the match and they, too, are currently classed as doubts, although Villas-Boas reported that Lennon had undergone a positive scan on Wednesday. Mousa Dembélé remains out with a hip injury; Villas-Boas said that the midfielder had a 50-50 chance of returning at Lazio in the Europa League next Thursday.
Adebayor, who has endured a frustrating season since his transfer from City in August, will face a test of his temperament, which has, on occasion, been suspect in emotional matches. Villas-Boas, too, must maintain his focus, having been reminded of the importance of his first north London derby for much of the past two weeks. His chairman, Daniel Levy, has been prominent among those who have told him that Tottenham must not lose. "He [Levy] keeps on mentioning it," Villas-Boas said, with a smile. "But it's normal. You can't wear red in a situation like this, not at our training ground. The meaning of the derby is special and all of us embrace it."
If further significance were to be required, it can be found, according to Villas-Boas, in that both clubs appear to be in direct competition for the fourth and final Champions League spot. Villas-Boas said that he wanted Tottenham to be genuine title contenders from the outset this season but, with the Manchester clubs and Chelsea having made strong starts, it feels as though he has reappraised his targets.
"We have to [finish above Arsenal]," Villas-Boas said. "It's obvious that Man United, Man City and Chelsea are into a big running towards the title. We want to be able to bring one of those spots nearer to us but it's difficult. It's difficult for the title [for Tottenham]."
Arsenal expect to recall the goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after ankle trouble but Kieran Gibbs (thigh) will not be fit. Theo Walcott, who suffered a muscular injury against Fulham last Saturday, faces a late test. The winger did not train on Thursday.