The North London derby has always been a feisty affair, but with the Premier League title potentially on the line this season, Saturday’s meeting between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal takes on an added dimension.
Bragging rights in the Premier League have belonged to Arsenal over the past couple of decades, with the Gunners finishing above Tottenham every single season since the arrival of Arsene Wenger. Arsenal supporters celebrate ‘St.Totteringham’s Day’ towards the end of each campaign to laud their superiority over their fierce rivals, but things could be very different this season.
With 54 points and the best goal difference in the division, Tottenham are in second place and three points behind surprise leaders Leicester City. Arsenal, on the other hand, have 51 points and are going through a slump at the worst possible time. With three back-to-back losses, the Gunners’ supporters are furious, and some are calling for Arsene Wenger’s exit as Arsenal appear to be letting go of one too many opportunities to compete for the title.
Mauricio Pochettino vs Arsene Wenger
Mauricio Pochettino has been a breath of fresh air for Tottenham fans. Having a manager for two complete seasons — and one that seems to be doing a great job — is a phenomenon Spurs haven’t experienced in a while. With an approach focussed on getting the best out of young footballers, Pochettino has not only brought out new faces from the depths of Tottenham’s academy, but has changed the mentality of many existing players who seem to have found a new reason to perform.
Knowing the importance of this game, Pochettino’s approach would be to have a tight defence and keep the ball as far as possible. This season, Tottenham have had by far the best defence in the Premier League, and will be keen to continue their strong record against an Arsenal side that will look to attack from the word go.
He will instruct his players to continue holding a high line, and will make use of Eric Dier as a third central defender when need be. Playing Danny Rose and Kyle Walker will give him additional men while attacking, as well as much needed pace to face the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott.
As witnessed in the West Ham game, Tottenham were unable to retain possession like they did in the game against Swansea. But with Arsenal playing a more attacking game as compared to West Ham, Spurs may find it easier to play their fast-paced pressing game and break on the Gunners if they steal possession high up the pitch.
Arsene Wenger has faced a lot of criticism and insults from his own fans following recent results. Losing three games in a row, even his own players (read Alexis Sanchez) have commented that the team has no drive to win the title. If Wenger wishes to win back the support of his fans, beating Tottenham at White Hart Lane would be the ideal way to do it.
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With the knowledge of Tottenham’s high line of defence, Wenger is most likely to use Welbeck in place of Giroud as this will ensure he has three players who can make runs behind the Spurs defence. This tactic might work as all three of Welbeck, Sanchez and Campbell are faster than Dier, Toby Alderweireld and Kevin Wimmer, who will be the last resort when Arsenal plan to counter attack.
Pochettino’s team had one of their more disappointing displays of the season in midweek against West Ham, and a good performance at home is needed to restore confidence in their title dreams. A win on Saturday would take them 6 points clear of Arsenal with 9 games remaining in the season.
Lloris vs Ospina
Cech and Lloris are currently two of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League. However with a late injury to the 33-year-old, Arsenal will have to make do with David Ospina. The two goal keepers will be vital in this game that is famous for its end to end football. Lloris is the captain of the team and will not only be required to pull off excellent saves, but also motivate and lead the team onto the field. With shots coming in from all directions through the likes of Sanchez and Ramsey, Lloris will have to put up an impressive performance and ensure his team do not concede any loose goals.
Since the arrival of Petr Cech, Ospina has become Arsenal’s second choice keeper. Having featured in only two Champions League games and one cup tie against Tottenham, Ospina’s inclusion is a cause for concern among Arsenal fans. Nevertheless, Arsene Wenger has stated that he trusts his keeper and there is no reason for the team to worry.
Dier vs Coquelin
Both Francis Coquelin and Eric Dier have only recently burst onto the scene in English football. Having been discovered just a few seasons ago, the duo have broken into their respective first teams and appeared in the defensive midfield role on a regular basis.
With the ability to read the game well and making the necessary bone-crunching tackles, Dier will be vital to keep a check on the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, who will attempt to run the game for Arsenal from midfield.
Although Coquelin may not come up directly against Dier, the two players will have similar jobs on Saturday. Coquelin will be required to keep a tab on the likes of Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Erik Lamela, in order to disrupt any fluidity in Tottenham’s game.
Walker vs Sanchez
One of the fiercest battles that will likely be fought on the pitch will be that between Alexis Sanchez and Kyle Walker. The two will go head to head in the final third of the side Tottenham defends. Walker as well as Sanchez are gifted with blistering pace, and it will indeed be a pleasure to watch the two play. Their performance in Saturday’s could make or break one teams title hopes.
Sanchez has been a shadow of his former self, scoring just 6 and assisting twice this season in the Premier League. After the comment about his team lacking the hunger to win the title, Sanchez will be expected to show his drive and inspire his teammates through his performance. What better team to prove himself against than Spurs.
On the other side of the pitch is Kyle Walker, the English right-back. With fierce competition from Kieran Trippier, Walker has grown leaps and bounds when it comes to his defensive abilities. His positioning has improved vastly and this in turn has made him a more sensible wing-back both while attacking and while defending.
Blast from the Past
This game saw the arrival of Danny Rose, a player who has become vital to Tottenham from his position at left-back. Making his debut in this game, Rose scored this stunner against rivals Arsenal.