ARSENAL FC v TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR FC

The Emirates Stadium, North London

November 20, 2010, 06:15 PM IST (12:45 B.S.T)


In one of the most anticipated clashes of every season, two sides renowned for their attacking flair, battle it out on the green of the Emirates Stadium. The Lillywhites, whose impressive results last season saw them play in the Champions League for the first time, have shown that they are a much stronger force to reckon with than before; this coincides with the emergence of Gareth Bale, whose pace and goal-scoring exploits have elicited praises from the football fraternity. The Welshman single-handedly mauled Inter Milan over two games, and Harry Redknapp would be delighted if the left-winger could provide an encore against bitter rivals Arsenal. Both the sides enter this game on the back of convincing victories in the last Premiership weekend, with Arsenal revealing a new-found tenacity in their playing style away from home.

While the Gunners sit only a couple of points behind table toppers Chelsea, they must be aware of their dismal home record this season – the losses to West Bromwich and Newcastle United at London has forced Wenger to accept the need for a change of tactics at home. With Spurs being in ominous form this season, Arsenal cannot afford to let the trend at home continue, and they will need to show more of that belief which was evident in the away games this season. The most notable change from last season for Arsenal is the presence of quality on the bench and the cushion for the absence of key players like van Persie and Vermaelen, provided by an in-form Chamakh and the decent string of performances by Squillaci, Koscielny and Djourou in the center back positions respectively. With Fabianski enjoying a run of confidence, the defense looks more stable than that of last season. Nasri has been a revelation this season for the Gunners, and procured a masterclass in the England friendly on Wednesday; Gooners will hope that the young Frenchman will be equally scintillating against Spurs.

Goodison Park Everton v Arsenal (1-2) Premier League 14/11/2010 Samir Nasri (Arsenal) Photo: Roger Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom
Nasri – In dazzling form this season

Spurs have proved to be a potent force with the arrival of Van Der Vaart at White Hart Lane; the Dutchman, together with Gareth Bale, has been involved in most of the goals netted by them, ably assisted by the Croatian wizard Luka Modric. Redknapp will be banking on the midfield trio to penetrate the Arsenal fortress and prove to the rest of the world that Spurs’ victory over Arsenal last season was not just a mere blip on the radar. Former Gunner William Gallas is also in line to face the hosts, a replay of Sol Campbell’s switch to the other side of London; it will be interesting to see how he and Kaboul will fare against Chamakh, who is enjoying a very fine spell in his advanced striker’s role, adequately covering up for van Persie.

The last game between these rivals at the Emirates ended in a 3-0 victory for the hosts, with the highlight of the game being Fabregas’ second goal to effectively seal the game; Arsenal fans fondly refer to this game as the ’11-second derby’. However, Tottenham gained some measure of revenge in the reverse fixture, as a rejuvenated Gareth Bale handed the Lillywhites a famous victory over Arsenal since 1999.

Tottenham’s run this season is the exact opposite of Arsenal’s; they have been dominant attacking-wise at home, but their away performances have been rather abysmal – only two wins and a draw in six games on the road. Both sides will be looking to end the jinx, and the midfield battle will decide the outcome of the game. However, as is the case with any derby, form and class are thrown out of the window, as both teams will aim for bragging rights in addition to securing all three points. With the known history of this rivalry, it promises to be yet another engaging encounter.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Arsenal

There was no doubt that the untimely events of the International friendlies in the midweek, right before the North London Derby, would have Arsenal fans anxiously concerned about whether any of the Gunners would return from their national duty in one piece. Fortunately, there has been no fresh injury worries for Wenger, although Jack Wilshere suffered an injury scare before training for England and was withdrawn for the game. Walcott, Gibbs, Nasri, Sagna, Arshavin, Fabregas, Rosicky and Chamakh were involved in these fixtures, but only few of the players have had to travel a lot. The importance of the derby was not lost on the Gunners, with Nasri, who played the entire 90 minutes for France, voicing his opinion about the timing of the midweek friendlies. Looking at the resources available at his disposal, Wenger will be pleased to see Koscielny return to action after a two match suspension, and will also be tempted to give van Persie a substitution role, given his goal scoring exploits against their bitter rivals. Diaby and Vermaelen are yet to recover from an ankle injury and Achilles Tendinopathy condition respectively, and Wenger is uncertain about their return dates.

Tottenham’s brilliance in offense has often been let down by their defensive slip-ups. Injuries to Ledley King, Michael Dawson and Jonathan Woodgate has forced Redknapp to rely on Gallas and Kaboul to marshal the central defense, which continues to wear an unsettled look; they will have to contend with Chamakh’s aerial prowess and the offensive brilliance of Nasri, Fabregas and Arshavin. Song and either of Wilshere or Denilson will be given the task of cramping space for Modric and Van Der Vaart alone. Gareth Bale has tremendous pace, a strong physique and excellent finishing, but it is possible to contain him as evinced by Manchester United’s Rafael’s abilities to keep the Welsh wizard quiet; Sagna and Nasri will have to double team on him and ensure that the ball is taken from him. Squillaci/Djourou will be responsible for handling Peter Crouch, or in the event of Keane starting, Koscielny will be given the task of man-marking the Irishman, who has a reputation for scoring against the Gunners. How the game goes will depend on who gains the upper hand in the midfield and how Arsenal can contain Bale on the wings. If Fabianski continues to make superhuman saves like in the last few games, Arsenal have a very good chance to go to the top of the table, albeit temporarily.

Probable Starting XI: Fabianski, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Song, Denilson, Cesc, Nasri, Arshavin, Chamakh

Tottenham Hotspur

If the defensive injury crisis was not enough for the Spurs, they were dealt a further blow when Tom Huddlestone was ruled out for three months. The Englishman has been instrumental in his box to box role, and his passing range has been commendable. His absence could see either of Jenas or Palacios or Sandro take up the defensive midfield slot. The form of Van Der Vaart and Bale has been the biggest plus for the White Hart Lane outfit, and the Spurs fans are hoping that these two stars can deliver them a back-to-back league victory over the Gunners. With Luka Modric and Lennon completing the midfield, it remains to see if Redknapp will play Robbie Keane, for his record against Arsenal, or Peter Crouch, for his abilities in set pieces. The away form for Spurs has been a cause for concern for the manager, and he will count on his players to seek a turn-around in their fortunes from the derby game onwards.

Tottenham v Blackburn, Premier League 13/11/2010 Gareth Bale of Tottenham celebrates scoring the first goal with Rafael van der Vaart of Tottenham Photo Marc Atkins Fotosports International Photo via Newscom Photo via Newscom
Bale and Van Der Vaart – the ‘hot’ Spurs!

With Arsene Wenger conceding the need to change home game tactics, and the manner of their victories in the last two games, there is no doubt that Arsenal will look to play dirty should the need arise. Alan Hutton and Assou-Ekotto need to curtail their forward runs and focus on Arshavin and Nasri respectively, while Gallas will use his experience with his former club to stop Chamakh and co from finding the back of the net.  Modric and Van Der Vaart are more than capable of providing a creative outlet for the forwards from anywhere, and Bale will use his new-found confidence and abilities to keep Sagna’s hands full and stretch the Arsenal defensive wall. A lot will depend on how the Spurs take the chances that come their way, for profligacy in front of the goal could cost the team a lot, especially when the occasion is The derby match.

Probable Starting XI: Gomes, Hutton, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto, Palacios, Modric, Lennon, Bale, Van Der Vaart, Keane

Football Fans Know Better

Key Facts

1. Tottenham’s win against Arsenal at White Hart Lane last season was the first over their city rivals since 1999.

2. Tottenham have not won their last seventeen North London derby games away at Arsenal

3. van Persie has scored three goals in his last three games against Spurs

4. Spurs have scored four goals in a match against Arsenal twice in the last five years, but didn’t win either game.

TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR

Arsenal v West Ham , Premier League 30/10/2010 Alex Song of Arsenal  Photo Marc Atkins Fotosports International Photo via Newscom
Song – Arsenal’s Indomitable Lion!

Alexander Song – The Cameroonian midfielder has been the most important player in the Arsenal midfield set up, and his new found attacking acumen has proved to be useful as well. All eyes will be on him when he squares off against the daunting duo of Van Der Vaart and Modric. If Song manages to restrict both of them from initiating attacks most of the item,  half the problem is solved; the other half depends on how Sagna copes with Bale on the left side.

TheHardTackle’s Prediction

Arsenal 3-2 Spurs The North London Derby has always been a feisty encounter, and one can expect a truckload of goals in this game. With the Spurs defense rather disjoint in the absence of Ledley King and Woodgate, a clean sheet is improbable for Spurs. The Gunners will be in the game if Fabianski continues to hold the fort between the sticks, as the quality of the Spurs midfield will procure a goal or two for the men in white.

TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST

Arsenal 4 v 4 Tottenham Hotspurs – 29/10/08