Arsenal and Tottenham will face each other on equal terms on Saturday, but things will be very different for the two managers.
It would take a heart of stone to deny that the North London derby has produced some brilliant spectacles in the past few years. The mythical and clichéd 'purists' who are alleged to dislike goals, attacking play, and fun are the only ones who could deny that it's a classic, and yet the problem remains that even in recent years, it's an encounter that's rarely taken place on even terms. Both clubs being notoriously crisis-prone, it's usually been an encounter where one side has been in a state of total disarray, fighting for their lives or reputation.
Yet at last, on Saturday, it will finally happen. The stars and planets are in alignment, and Tottenham and Arsenal have both decided to enter disaster mode at the same time. Both sides are perceived to be underachieving, both sides are struggling to find fluency in their play, and both sides are regularly getting booed off by their own fans. It's perhaps not the ultimate showdown they'd dreamed of, but it'll be a fair fight. Likely a nasty, bitter, win-at-all-costs scrap, Kilmarnock rules, but a fair one nonetheless.
Of course, neither team is really in a crisis. Or at least not by the dictionary definition of it, more the British tabloid style guide definition. Tottenham are understandably playing poorly because their key players are injured. With their best midfielders in Sandro, Tom Huddlestone, and Moussa Dembele fit, Tottenham's fourth-place ambitions are not only realistic but easily at the level that befits the quality in their side. Without them, however, they're a rabble, a disorganised mob that can only win by hoping the attacking talents they have shine bright enough to overcome the myriad disasters that will befall them in all other areas of the pitch.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are a different beast. This is probably their fourth or fifth 'crisis' of the season, first realising that signing two decent strikers wasn't an acceptable replacement for the departure of a world-class one, then looking like they might get away with it, but Mikel Arteta going out of form, Laurent Koscielny joining him, and finally the traditional goalkeeper injury. The much-ballyhooed early defensive solidity has abandoned them, and the 'Steve Bould revolution' is now looking more like the Gunners brought back Pascal Cygan to be their defensive coach.
Despite these level terms for the teams, however, the same cannot be said for the managers. Of the two, André Villas Boas is struggling the most to convince his supporters that he is making progress, despite having far more reasonable excuses (the midfield injuries, the Joao Moutinho deadline-day fiasco) and achieving a victory at Old Trafford, a venue where Spurs have in the past contrived to lose by any and all means possible. Notably, it was a defeat to Arsenal that effectively did for André Villas-Boas' Chelsea career, sowing the seeds of doubt in his reign which eventually grew into something more fatal, and here, he has the opportunity for the reverse, a victory that will give him some breathing space and show what he is capable of delivering. Or, of course a defeat that leaves him hanging on by a thread again.
What does all this mean? Well, one of the two teams is almost certainly going to be booed off at half-time, there'll be more than the usual amount of technical area collar-adjusting, and we'll get a game in which tactics and discipline likely go out of the window within the first five minutes and the match descends into either unmissable anarchic brilliance or unwatchable anarchic rubbish. Defeat for either side will spell total disaster, a draw would be mutually destructive and unsatisfying, and a win would be a relief and little else to shout about. In other words, it's going to be exactly like every local derby that's ever taken place since football began. It could be the making or breaking of Villas-Boas, but likely it'll be the same thing it is every time: largely insignificant but supremely compelling viewing. Let the competition for tallest dwarf in North London commence.