The Emirates, North London
17th November, 15:00 GMT
The last time Arsenal finished below Tottenham was back in 1994-95 season. QPR legend (current first team coach of Stoke City), Gerry Francis, was in charge of Spurs back then, while Stewart Houston was the caretaker manager for the Gunners after they’d sacked George Graham midway through the season. Then on October 1996, Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal (after a spell under Bruce Rioch) and since then Spurs haven’t managed to beat the Gunners in the points table.
Last season, Spurs were close to breaking that streak. They were 10 points ahead of Arsenal at one stage, but an awful second half of the season saw them surrender their lead as Wenger’s men made a fantastic recovery and finished third. It was the closest Tottenham have been to topple Arsenal from their perch in this rivalry. The gap has certainly been reduced; Arsenal are no longer the title challenging force they once were under Arsene Wenger. This season could finally see Spurs getting out of the shadows of their neighbors.
In the current Premier League table Arsenal and Tottenham are separated by a single point and they both have had a similar season so far; started off well, but stumbling of late. Both the teams have won just one of their last four Premier League matches.
Arsenal’s poor run of form started off with their defeat to Norwich. The Gunners then lost to Schalke at home in the Champions league and put up a lack luster display in the narrow win against QPR. They then went behind to Reading 4-1 at the halftime in the League cup before making a comeback and winning 7-5. Arsenal’s worst performance of the season so far came in the defeat to Manchester United, where the 2-1 scoreline flattered them. They have drawn their last two matches (against Schalke and Fulham), which has seen them drop down to 8th place in the league. This is Arsenal’s worst start to the season since 1982. The warning bells are ringing out loud.
Tottenham, on the other hand, saw their impressive run the league come to an end with a 4-2 defeat to Chelsea at home. Then they drew 1-1 with Maribor in the Europa League and were lucky in their narrow win against Southampton. Spurs were knocked out of the league cup at the hands of Norwich and suffered their 3rd defeat in the league against Wigan at home. In their last league match, they lost to Manchester City after putting up a hapless performance in the second half of the match at the Etihad stadium.
The outcome of this London derby can go a long way in deciding the fate of both these clubs. With Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City looking likely to hog the top three spots in the table, the 4th and final Champions League qualification spot might very well be decided by the outcome of this fixture. Moreover, a victory in the North London derby can prove to be an immense confidence booster as witnessed last season when Arsenal came from behind to defeat Tottenham 5-2. That match proved to be the turning point for both the club’s fortune. This time with Everton in the mix for the Champions League spot, Spurs and Arsenal can ill afford to lose further ground on the Merseyside team.
Team News And Tactical Brief
Finally, there is some good news for the Gooners on the injury front. Szczesny is fit and available for selection again. The Polish keeper remains Wenger’s first choice despite missing most part of the season so far. He is expected to start in the goal replacing Vito Mannone. Kieran Gibbs and Tomas Rosicky are back in training, but it is unlikely that they will feature in the match against Tottenham this weekend, although they might make it to the squad. Gervinho and Diaby are still unavailable for selection, but the pair is expected to return in two week’s time. Fabianski remains the only long term injury concern for the Gunners.
Theo Walcott and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain will also be available for selection after the duo pulled out of the England squad that faced Sweden last night.
Only two changes are expected in the starting line-up that faced Fulham last weekend. Szczesny will replace Mannone, while Jack Wilshere will replace Coquelin in the midfield after serving his suspension in the match against the Cottagers.
There have been talks in the press that Arsene Wenger might do away with his 4-2-3-1 formation. Reports in media suggest that Wenger is willing to play with five at the back in order to shore up a leaky defense. But that experiment will have to be put on hold till Gibbs is fully fit. Wenger is unlikely to take a tactical risk in such a high profile match.
After making a solid defensive start to the season, Arsenal have conceded 12 goals in their last four matches (in all competition). Gibbs’ injury and Santos’ poor performances has forced Wenger to play Vermaelen as the left back, but despite that change, they conceded three goals last weekend against Fulham. Wenger would hope that Wilshere and Arteta can provide enough cover in front of the back four against a potent Tottenham attack.
Another problem for Arsenal has been the lack of width in their attack. Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski will have to maintain the width for their team. The two wide-men will also have an important job defensively as Tottenham’s strength lies on their wings. Cazorla will once again be the main creative fulcrum for Arsenal’s attack, but the inclusion of Wilshere will provide him with enough support from the midfield.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Szczesny(GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Wilshere, Arteta; Podolski, Cazorla, Theo; Giroud
Injury crisis has weakened Tottenham’s midfield considerably. Mousa Dembele will miss this match as he continues to recover from a hip injury in Belgium. Scott Parker, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Younes Kaboul are unavailable for selection as well. The big worry for AVB is that Kyle Walker, Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon had all picked up knocks during their match against Manchester City and will undergo a late fitness test before their visit to the Emirates stadium. Defoe and Lennon are expected to be fit, but there are some doubts regarding Walker’s fitness.
It would be interesting to see the tactics Andre Villas-Boas uses in this match. The Portuguese manager has mostly used the 4-2-3-1 formation this season with Defoe upfront leading the line. But in the recently concluded Europa league match against Maribor, AVB switched to 4-4-2 formation. He started with both Adebayor and Defoe upfront and it worked well for Spurs. It was a throw back to the Harry Redknapp era. Adebayor and Defoe complemented each other really well in that match as the England international scored a wonderful hattrick.
But in the match against Manchester City, AVB again switched back to 4-2-3-1 and this time Adebayor started upfront. Perhaps it was a pragmatic move against the reigning Premier League champions, away from home. Despite making a bright start in the match, Spurs faded away in the second half and lost the game 2-1 after taking the lead in the first half.
With so much on the line in the North London derby, AVB will have to make a very big call tactically. Provided Defoe is fit, Spurs might very well switch back to the 4-4-2 formation against the Gunners as it will provide a more potent attacking threat against a shaky Arsenal defense. But then again it will also have the risk of Huddlestone and Sandro being outnumbered against a three man Arsenal midfield.
But Tottenham’s greatest strength lies in their wingers. Bale and Lennon will be the most important weapon in their attacks, specially against an Arsenal side whose full backs have looked vulnerable in recent matches.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): Friedel; Walker, Gallas, Caulker, Vertonghen; Lennon, Huddlestone, Sandro, Bale; Adebayor, Defoe
- Arsenal versus Tottenham has seen more draws in Premier League history than any other fixture (17).
- The Gunners have won just two of the last eight Premier League games against Spurs (W2 D3 L3).
- In the last two meetings between Spurs and Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, a team has taken a 2-0 lead and then gone on to lose the match (Spurs won 3-2 in 2010-11 and Arsenal 5-2 in 2011-12).
- Arsenal have won just two of their last eight Premier League games at the Emirates, taking 10 points from a possible 24.
- There have been five penalties in the last five meetings in all competitions between Spurs and Arsenal, with Tottenham winning one spot-kick in three of the last four league games.
Player To Watch Out For
Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)
The Frenchman has taken his time to settle down in his new club after his transfer from Montpellier this summer. While his effort, movement and overall contribution was applauded by the Gooners, his lack of goals was haunting him. But now he is beginning to silence his detractors. In fact the only positive thing from Arsenal’s last two matches has been Giroud’s performance.
Giroud has three goals in his last two matches, which included a wonderful brace against Fulham (which was perhaps his best performance in an Arsenal shirt till date). The Frenchman is strong in the air and great at holding up play. Arsenal will once again look upto him, to unsettle a shaky Tottenham defense.
Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
“He’s an amazing, amazing talent and he’s after the Ronaldos and Messis of this world and he’s getting better and better,” – Harry Redknapp had said a few days back.
While comparing Bale to Ronaldo and Messi might be a bit far-fetched, there is no doubt in the fact that he is a world class player who is improving with every passing season. The 23-year-old has been in fine form so far and has been Tottenham main attacking threat. After the departure of Modric and van der Vaart this season, Bale has had to shoulder more responsibilities in the team.
The outcome of Bale’s matchup against Sagna might very well decide the fortunes of both the teams in this match. On paper, one of the best wingers in the world will be up against one of the best right-backs presently. A mouth-watering prospect!
Arsenal 2 – 2 Tottenham Hotspur
One thing is more or less guaranteed when these two sides come together – goals, and plenty of them. There have been 23 goals scored in the last four Premier League games between Spurs and Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium and nine of the last 10 meetings in all competitions have seen at least three goals scored, and this match will be no different.
Arsenal will need to raise their game for this match. After all the negative press they have received over the past few weeks, this one match can turn their fortunes around. It will be a wonderful atmosphere at the Emirates stadium and the fans will be right behind them. Derbies can hardly be predicted, but one gets the feeling that Arsenal will be more desperate for a victory than their opponent.
Tottenham will look to take advantage of a shaky Arsenal defense. It will be a entertaining match with end to end football and both the teams will share the spoils.