White Hart Lane, London
March 3, 2013; 16:00 GMT
So, we are officially into that part of the season when Arsenal begins to close their gap with Tottenham Hotspur in the points table. Last season, this match proved to be the turning point in the fortune of both the teams. The Gunners won this fixture (the 2nd derby of the season at Emirates) and eventually beat Spurs to qualify for the Champions League.
This season, the gap is much smaller, but Tottenham are looking a far better side under Andre Villas-Boas. Moreover, they have someone by the name of Gareth Bale, who is in the form of his life and is currently considered to be the third best player in the world. So Arsenal will find it harder this time around to turn the tables, in fact according to many pundits, Arsenal go into this clash as the underdogs. But it would be foolish to write off this Arsenal side and a manager like Arsene Wenger, who has done it time and again.
The Gunners are currently fifth in the table and four points behind Spurs. With the tie against Bayern Munich already looking ‘done and dusted’, qualifying for Champions League remains their only target for this season. Despite being knocked out of the FA cup against Blackburn and heavily losing the first leg against Bayern in Europe, Arsenal have been in good form domestically. They have lost only three of their last 17 Premier League fixture, but they have also drawn quite a few.
Tottenham, on the other hand, have lost only once in their last 15 matches in the domestic league. They have also qualified to the next round of the Europa league, where they will face Inter. But Spurs’ prime concern this season will be to qualify for the Champions League. They have played some brilliant football with AVB finally settling-in in England. A win against Arsenal will not only extend the gap with their arch rivals Arsenal, it will also mean that they will jump back to the third spot above Chelsea and will be just two points behind Manchester City (who will play Aston Villa tomorrow) in second place.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Andre Villas-Boas has no new injury worries to contain with before the derby. Jermaine Defoe will be fit and available for selection in this match. Tom Huddlestone has recovered from his knee injury and will make it to the bench on Sunday. Clint Dempsey, who missed the match against West Ham, is expected to be out for one more week at least. Sandro is the only other long term injury concern for Spurs at the moment.
AVB will have a choice to make, as to who starts upfront against Arsenal. Although Defoe has recovered, it might be a risk to start him straight away in such a high-profile contest; on the other hand, Adebayor can let the occasion get better of him, as proved by the red card he received in the last fixture against his former club.
The midfield of the team is pretty settled and picks itself. Lennon, Holtby and Bale will start behind the frontman and the three will be interchanging positions throughout the match. Bale might start out on the left with Holtby through the center, but the Welshman will drift inside to cause headache to the Arsenal defense. The most potent weapon of this trio is their pace and against Arsenal, who holds a high defensive line, they will find lot of space in behind the defence to run onto.
Dembele has been in good form off-late and he will make his customary forceful runs through the midfield, while Parker will look to negate the threat posed by Cazorla and Wilshere. It will also be interesting to see the back four that the Tottenham manager selects for this game.
Walker and Vertonghen have been the only consistent name in the defense for the last three matches. Against Lyon, AVB started with Gallas and Vertonghen as the center backs with Assou-Ekotto as the left back, but against West Ham, Dawson and Caulker featured as the central defenders with Vertonghen starting as the left back. But this center back pairing conceded two goals against West Ham, so AVB has a choice to make.
Considering the pace in the Arsenal line-up, and Gallas’ lack of it, Dawson and Vertonghen should start this match, with Assou-Ekotto slotting in at the left-back. But questions might also be raised as to how well Assou-Ekotto will handle Theo Walcott on the right. The Tottenham wingers will have to track back diligently when Arsenal have the possession to help out the defence, especially in tracking the runs made by Arsenal’s marauding full-backs.
Possible Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Lloris (GK); Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto; Parker, Dembele; Lennon, Holtby, Bale; Adebayor
Abou Diaby received his customary injury against Aston Villa in the last match and that is the only new concern at the treatment table for Arsenal at the moment. Full-backs Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs are still out and no return date has been set for them yet. Diaby will undergo a late fitness test, but the Frenchman is highly unlikely to feature in this match.
Diaby is the only change expected in the starting line-up that was fielded against Aston Villa last weekend. The only question that remains is who will replace Diaby in the midfield. That would ideally depend upon how adventurous Arsene Wenger will be for this match – will he go for a safer option and pick Ramsey or shall he start with Podolski?
If Ramsey starts, he will do so alongside Arteta, which will allow Wilshere to move forward, while Cazorla will move to the left. Whereas in case Podolski starts, Wilshere will have to drop deep, while Cazorla starts in-behind Giroud. Given that Arsenal are playing away from home and against a Spurs side which possesses great attacking threat, in all likelihood Wenger will start with Ramsey.
But Ramsey’s inclusion will lend a great deal of freedom to Wilshere and Cazorla. The Spaniard, who scored a brace against Aston Villa last weekend, showed exactly how effective he can be from the left side of the attacking trio. Wilshere on the other hand also enjoys the free role with Ramsey and Arteta behind him.
The only thing that might be pointed out is the fact that Arsenal’s attack becomes very narrow at times with both Cazorla and Walcott drifting inside. The full-backs will have to provide the width, but they will also be cautious about leaving space in behind the full-backs, for the likes of Bale and Lennon to run into. Moreal will be the more adventurous of the two full-backs and Jenkinson will need to cut his attacking instinct to maintain the shape of the team, and helping in forming a back three as Moreal pushes forward. Pushing both the full-backs at the same time, could be a recipe for disaster against a team that contains lightning pace.
The bigger worry for Arsenal is the fact that neither Cazorla nor Walcott tracks back well enough defensively. This added with the fact that the Gunners lack a proper ball-winner/defensive midfielder in their ranks, means that the back four is left exposed far too often. Ramsey and Arteta will have a crucial role in this match, ahead of the defence.
Possible Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny(GK); Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal; Ramsey, Arteta; Walcott, Wilshere, Cazorla; Giroud
- Tottenham have lost only one of their last seven Barclays Premier League home games against rivals Arsenal.
- 12 of the last 13 league matches between Tottenham and Arsenal have gone over 2.5 goals.
- There have been 121 goals between these sides in Premier League history, only Everton v Man Utd games have seen as many.
- Tottenham have scored 11 goals from outside the area, more than any other Premier League side this season.
- No ground has featured fewer first half goals this season (10) than White Hart Lane.
Player(s) To Watch Out For
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Jack Wilshere has hogged the lime-light since his return from injury this season. His drive and passion in the midfield is invaluable for the Gunners. He has been the leader for them, on the pitch, even without the armband. Arsenal desperately needs to get something out of this match to continue their chase for the Champions League spot. It is in a match like this that Wilshere will need to rally the team around him. Whether he is able to outshine Gareth Bale, might very well decide the outcome of this fixture.
Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
What can be said about this man, that already hasn’t been said in recent times? He has almost single handedly carried Spurs on his shoulder this season. Bale is having the same kind of influence on his team as Robin van Persie had in his last season for Arsenal. While their are lot of speculations regarding Bale’s future at Spurs, their is no doubt in the fact that the Welshman loves this club. He has already scored 15 goals in the league this season and his ability from set pieces is second to none in England at the moment. Wenger’s defense surely has a task in their hand in containing him in the match.
Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 2 Arsenal
Tottenham and Arsenal perhaps provides the most entertaining and open derby in all of England. There is hardly a dull moment when these two London sides go head-to-head and this match will be no different. Expect goals and plenty of them, with both team’s strength lying in their attacks. With bragging rights and Champions League qualification spot on the line, it could also turn out to be a heated occasion. So don’t be surprised if either of teams ends up playing with just ten men on the pitch.
Both the teams have been in great form in the League. Expect Tottenham to take an early lead in this match as they come out all guns blazing, but Arsenal will fight back with their customary good second half performance. It is too close to call and sitting on the fence is the best option.