Match Preview: Arsenal v Tottenham; North London Pride Is On the Line
The North London Derby – those three little words illicit a plethora of memories and feelings for Arsenal and Tottenham supporters alike. It is, if some in the punditry profession are to be believed, the time when Tottenham are supposed to show that they can for once finish above Arsenal – except it never turns out that way (even if they manage a positive result.)
But the Derby in some respect has lost it’s luster. Some of it is based on the global growth of the game. With supporters coming from all necks of the woods and crags of the world, the ‘locality’ of football has changed. If you are North London born and raised, there is no more important match on the calendar. Bragging rights are everything.
However, for those often born outside of Arsenal’s North London stomping grounds matches versus Chelsea or Manchester United are bigger affairs. The price of football’s expanding global footprint is that the derby’s as high-charged as they can be lack the grit of yesteryear.
Additionally, the players’ mentality around the derby also has changed. It wasn’t too long ago that you’d never see an Arsenal or Tottenham player, shake hands or swap shirts or even be friendly towards each other. Sadly the international makeup of squads these days means that the appreciation of the derby may be lost on some of the players. Sure, there are quotes by players who stress how important the match is. Some you think genuinely feel that way. But when you watch the match sometimes you wonder – do they get it?
In the end it’s left to the match going supporters to carry the torch. The vocal sword fight that goes on in a derby match is melodic prose to my ears. It makes the feeling of the match come to life. And for those of us that cannot be there but who still know what this match means, it does a lot to at least imparting the feeling that all hope is not lost for football.
Still, there is a match to be played and when you look at both teams, the come into this match in fine form. Tottenham come only losing twice in their 14 and Arsenal have won 12 of their last 15. Both are neck and neck for the hunt in a champion’s league spot.
The question is which one will have enough to see off the other. Both teams should come in well rested with no action in the midweek. Tottenham have a team without injury so Mauricio Pochettino can call on all his available players. Arsenal see Danny Welbeck return to the side while Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez are considered short for the match. However, in today’s pre-match press conference, Wenger did mention that Sanchez is literally begging to play and that he is fit to play. This will be a game time decision and given the almost maniacal way Sanchez plays, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if he is at a minimum on the bench for the tie.
Arsenal are in fine fiddle heading into this tie. The win versus Manchester City showed a determined side willing to sacrifice its swashbuckling style to grind out a win against a big side. The win versus Aston Villa showed what can happen to a team if they decide to play Arsenal with a timidity and lack of effort.
Tottenham have rode the backs of Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane to their success. I don’t buy much into the articles that tell us “Where would this team be without (name of player here).” One such article said that without Eriksen and Kane, Spurs would be in the drop zone. Those articles however ignore the fact that in the absence of certain players other players may shine.
As is the case with Alexis Sanchez. Alexis has shown in the last few weeks that even though he wants to play every minute of every match he does have physical limitations. Against City he was hungry and persistent and his presence on the pitch forced City to pay attention to him. However, against Aston Villa, with Sanchez out of the squad, 5 different players took the performance yoke and turned it on.
The adage that Arsenal were a one man squad with Sanchez carrying the load, was proven false with stats that show that heading into the Villa match, Arsenal had 18 different scorers this season. That only grew against Aston Villa.
The problem with Arsenal at least until recently had always been its defense. And a consistent defensive pairing can go a long way to stabilizing things. It’s likely no wonder that things have solidified in the back with Mertesacker and Koscielny playing alongside each other consistently. Last year they were part of the defense that kept 16 clean sheets in the league. They are part of unit that has kept high scoring champion’s and their lethal attack off the board. But the effort isn’t just down them.
In the City match, Francis Coquelin, sitting in front of the back 4 was able to create a triangle with the two CBs thus limiting the ability for anyone to make a pass to a striker trying to run off the shoulder of either of the CBs. The rise of Coquelin and his laying a stake to the DM position is a blessing. He is a player who unlike some of the other players we have is more than happy to just sit back and break up play. He will need to continue to be just as outstanding against Spurs and helping to break up the service to Kane.
Finally, the defense seems more stable as David Ospina has brought maturity and focus to the goal keeping position. While there is still hope that Szczesny can develop into an amazing keeper, his lack of maturity means he won’t displace Ospina until Ospina shows a reason on the pitch to be taken out.
Whatever the side selection of each time, it is likely to be an energetic affair. What will be interesting is to see if Arsenal employ the same set up against Tottenham as they did against City. City offer more danger in the attack then Tottenham and you could make a case that we have more than enough to handle the Tottenham attack. However, we’ve shown in the past that regardless of the strength of the opponent we can kill ourselves by making stupid defensive mistakes as we go forward looking for goals.
The punditry class are already saying that the outcome of this match will derail someone’s season. If anything has been proved the last few seasons, is that the outcome of this match in this time of year has very little bearing on where the team’s finish the season.
In the end, it’s Arsenal v Tottenham – the North London Derby. If this match where in March or April it’s significance on either teams’ placement might be important. In early February with lots of football to play, with either group of supporters but it likely won’t have a big bearing on where the teams end up.
That being said – it’s Tottnum – and we always want to beat Tottnum.
Players to Watch Out For:
Arsenal. Francis Coquelin. He has been a revelation since his recall from Charlton. He likely stalled any need for a DM until the Summer. If he keeps playing this way for the rest of the season, he might do it permanently.
Tottenham. Christian Eriksen. All talk has been about Harry Kane and the need to compare him to Alexis Sanchez (don’t even try) but it is the Dane who came from Ajax who is their lightening rod and worries me every time he gets a free kick around the 18 yard box.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin), Wilshere (ankle), Arteta (calf), Debuchy (shoulder) Sanchez (late fitness test)
Tottenham: no one injured
Head to Head:
Referee: Martin Atkinson (19M, 76Y, 3R)
Assistant Referees: S Child, H Lennard
Fourth Official: A Marriner
UK: BT Sport: 12.45 GMT
US: NBC Sports Network 7:45AM, EST
Tottenham 1 – 2 Arsenal
Match Facts (Courtesy Opta via FourFourTwo.com)
- Spurs have lost just one of their last six Premier League home games against North London rivals Arsenal (W3 D2 L1).
- Theo Walcott has scored four and assisted three goals in his last six Barclays Premier League appearances against Tottenham.
- Emmanuel Adebayor has scored more goals in North London derbies than any other player (10 – eight for Arsenal, two for Spurs). Adebayor is one of only two players to score for both sides in a North London derby along with Jimmy Robertson.
- Spurs and Arsenal have drawn 18 times in the Premier League, making it the most drawn fixture in the history of the competition.
- Tottenham have kept just one clean sheet in their last 32 Premier League matches against the Gunners.
- Arsenal have not managed back to back away wins in the Premier League this season and have only managed it once since January 2014.
- Tottenham have conceded the most penalties in the Premier League (6) while Arsenal have won the most (6).
- Olivier Giroud has scored five goals in his last six Premier League appearances.
- David Ospina has as many clean sheets in the Premier League this season as Wojciech Szczesny (3).
- Spurs are unbeaten in their last six Premier League home matches (W4 D2).
What are your thoughts on this match? Can Arsenal take all 3 points at on the road to Spurs? Who should start? What do you think the score will be? Let us know.