When Arsenal and Spurs meet on Saturday both teams will be looking to put a bad run of form behind them and kick off the weekend with a derby win. The North London Derby is one of the most hotly contested fixtures of the Premier League season and in recent years it has not disappointed…
Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur
Date: Saturday, 17 November 2012
Kick-off: 12:45 GMT
Stadium: Emirates Stadium, London
Referee: Howard Webb
When Arsenal and Spurs meet on Saturday, both teams will be looking to put a bad run of form behind them, secure vital points in the league and kick off the weekend in style with an important derby win. The North London Derby is one of the most hotly contested fixtures of the Premier League season and in recent years it has not disappointed.
Curiously enough, the last two times the teams have met at the Emirates Stadium, the team which has gone in the lead first has gone on to lose. The season before last, Spurs came from two goals down to win 3-2 and, last season, Arsenal came from two goals down to win 5-2. The omens look good for Spurs, however, as Arsenals last 2 games have seen them lead their opponents by two goals and still fail to win (2-2 with Schalke, and 3-3 with Fulham). Of further comfort to Tottenham is the fact that they have also picked up 9 points in 5 games on the road this season while Arsenal have only picked up 8 points in 5 games at home.
Style of play:
Strengths: Arsenal will try and pass the ball around their midfield triangle of Santi Carzorla, Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta, hoping to bring Spurs forward, create space and then free Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott to beat Spurs’ offside-trap/high-line with through-balls to run onto. This style of play combined with their more offensively-minded midfield means that they are very likely to dominate possession, especially early on and late, as the crowd’s energy waxes and wanes and energizes them accordingly.
Weaknesses: Despite a solid start to the season, Arsenal’s defence has looked shaky as of late. They are very susceptible to through balls being played through the gaps of their back line. Jermain Defoe should look to play off the shoulder of the last defender and beat the offside-trap while Emmanuel Adebayor should similarly look to hold-up play and play Lennon and Bale in from an advanced position. Catching center back Per Mertersacker forward or out of position at all should prove a fruitful tactic as his recovery pace is severely lacking.
Set Pieces: Arsenal are not a very big or particular defensive team. Their bigger defensive players are actually not that strong even if they have some height so set pieces are an area in which Tottenham hold a clear advantage. William Gallas, Steven Caulker, Gareth Bale and Adebayor should be more than able to cause havoc in goalkeeper Vito Mannone’s penalty box. I personally believe that Tottenham’s best chance to score will come from set piece opportunities.
Game Plan: Away at the Emirates will always be a tough game. It is very likely that Spurs will have a significantly lower percentage of possession. As such, taking advantage of set pieces will be crucial to their efforts. With Moussa Dembelé out, central midfielder Tom Huddlestone should retain his place in the squad. He can take charge of set pieces and use his distribution abilities to find suitable aerial targets. His ability to hit any player, with any type of pass, from any range, will be critical in executing the break and finding Bale and Lennon, especially from deep when Arsenal’s fullbacks have cheated forward and been caught in transition. Sandro will be similarly critical defensively in tracking Cazorla as he will look to spirit around the box and find space to shoot from distance. Fullbacks Kyle Walker and Jan Vertonghen will likely need defensive help from Aaron Lennon and Bale as the Arsenal fullbacks like to get involved with offensive buildup play.
Key Opposition Players:
Thomas Vermaelen: A great defender who can tackle well and is very good in the air, he has been slightly out of form lately but on his day is one of the best in the league. He is very good on the ball as well and will likely look to get forward and participate in the attack, perhaps even arriving in the box late to provide the occasional aerial threat.
Santi Cazorla: the tricky Spaniard has enjoyed a great start to his Premier League career with three goals and three assists to his name already. He will be the key playmaker for Arsenal and will need to be closed down at every opportunity.
Theo Walcott: While he may not be the consistent star that many in Arsenal thought he would be and hope he will still can becom, he continues to show up against Tottenham. With three goals against Tottenham in his last two seasons, the pacey winger already has eight goals and four assists to his name this season. You can bet he will be looking to increase his totals as he secretly pleads with manager Arsene Wenger to give him a run of games as an out and out striker.
Spurs will be again without influential midfielder Dembele, whom continues to be sidelined with a hip injury. Alongside him are long term injury absentees, midfield enforcer Scott Parker and steady fullback Benoit Assou-Ekotto. These injuries should see Vertonghen move to left-back ahead of the inexperienced Kyle Naughton, with Gallas likely to partner the rising star of Steven Caulker at center-back. In central midfield, coach Andre Villas-Boas will likely partner Sandro with Huddlestone although it is possible that young creative midfielder Tom Carroll will get the call.
A large number of the Arsenal squad are apparently suffering minor knocks following this week’s international matches, though it seems likely that they will all start in a game of such unquestioned importance, both in terms of league position and history. Midfield maestro Wilshere will return after a one-game suspension which is sure to bolster their distribution through midfield.
- Tottenham and Arsenal have faced each other 150 times in the league since the first fixture in 1909.
- Spurs have won 48, drawn 41 and lost 61 of these league encounters.
- Spurs were the victim of a 5-2 away defeat at the hands of Arsenal last season despite leading 0-2 at one point. Spurs won the corresponding home fixture (2-1) after an astonishing Kyle Walker striker from 30+ yards.
- Arsenal have won only 2 out of 8 of the most recent Premier League clashes with Spurs.
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- Arsenal have only won 55% of their last 20 home games.
- Spurs have won a respectable 40% of their last 20 away games,
- Each of the last 5 North London Derby matches played at the Emirates has averaged 5.1 total goals per game.
- Tottenham have scored in 75% of their last 20 away matches
- Arsenal have only failed to score in 10% of their last 20 home matches
- Spurs have conceded more than three goals in 25% of their last 20 away matches.
- Spurs have only a 9% chance of winning the match if they score only one goal.
- Only one of the last 33 NLD’s total ended in a goalless draw.
- Based on recent history, there is less than a 10% chance that Arsenal will fail to score a goal.
- The current Tottenham squad has actually scored more goals versus Arsenal in their history than vice-versa.
- In Spurs’ last 20 away games 50% of the goals have been scored by midfielders.
- Arsenal exhibit a balanced attack at home- no single player accounts for more than 23% of their goal output at home.
- Gareth Bale is more likely than any other player on the pitch to score first in this game displaying both recent away goal scoring form and historical away goal scoring form against Arsenal
Total Tottenham Prediction:
This will be a very difficult match for Tottenham Hotspur. Playing away and against a team that will likely not be missing any players of significance due to injury, they will likely continue to struggle to hold possession in the middle of the park without the incisive play making of Moussa Dembele on both sides of the pitch. Arsenal have reported a large number of minor injuries, but this kind of talk is part and parcel of the weekly match run-in banter that is all-too common to typical media coverage that favors insipid sound-bytes over thorough investigative analysis. I personally believe that they will field a full strength side come Saturday.
Spurs are likely to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with a backline consisting of Kyle Walker, Steven Caulker, William Gallas and Jan Vertonghen. A defensive midfield pairing of Sandro and Huddlestone will give Spurs a size advantage but will likely limit their mobility in midfield, especially in transition situations where Huddlestone could be caught chasing fleet footed midfielders like Walcott, Cazorla and Podolski if the Spurs attack stalls and is countered with Sandro caught forward. Bale and Lennon will have plenty of important work to do as Arsenal like to feed their wide men from their fullbacks- committed defense from them could make the difference. Adebayor is likely to start given his return to health, size, impact and historical involvement in this fixture.
Behind him is the real question though where it remains to be seen if AVB will play Dempsey, Sigurdsson or Jermain Defoe. Whomever fills that spot will have an immense responsibility to keep Arteta off the ball, whom is likely to want to sit deep and dictate play. This player will also have the responsibilty of breaking forward to support Adebayor when he receives the ball in hold-up play style situations, where at the minimum he will need an option for a pass backwards, hopefully opening up some passing lanes to see through Bale or Lennon on the wings. Besides these countering opportunities, the injury situation for Spurs make me think that there will not be as many chances from open play as would normally be available with the inclusion of Dembele. Their best opportunity to score may be from set pieces where Spurs should have the upper hand due to their superior size.
Arsenal themselves will have trouble if their service from the wings and through the middle is largely cut off. Olivier Giroud has not proven able to create his own shot consistently thus far in the Premiership and as such will be dependent on service from the considerable and capable stable of Arsenal midfielders. As he also lacks man-beating pace, I believe William Gallas with his experience will be well situated to deal with him. Arsenal will probably have their best opportunities catching Tottenham on the counter and exploiting any space between their central defensive midfield pairing and the backline, where their pacy wing-forwards, Walcott, Podolski and Cazorla are a threat to exploit Tottenham’s solid but decidedly not-pacy, and, high positioned backline.
Neither team is particular deep these days, but there is plenty of potentially game changing talent available for substitution for each side. Clint Dempsey, Jermain Defoe, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll, Jake Livermore and Kyle Naughton look the most likely candidates for Tottenham while Arsenal will be able to put influential players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Andrey Arshavin, Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey into play. It remains to be seen how each manager will change their shape throughout the game, but, with score likely to head for the higher regions, I’d anticipate primarily attacking changes as both sides seek to control possession.
I am calling a 3-3 scoreline to finish this one out. Tottenham’s injury crisis and lack of creative depth and game control in central midfield will prevent them from being able to secure the win. Arsenal are weak though and will concede goals both from set pieces and on the break. Arsenal, for their part, will look to exploit the slow pace of Huddlestone and will succeed at times in playing through the middle. especially if Sandro is withdrawn due to injury, tires too soon, or either him or Huddlestone pick up early cards. I believe that Howard Webb will rule largely in favor of the continuance of play and will allow a rough and physical match to develop, rarely stepping in, if ever, only to set boundaries on the level of acceptable physicality, while being extremely cautious in actually issuing any cards. With the combustible nature of Jack Wilshere and Tom Huddlestone though, combined with the frenzied atmosphere, I can easily see either player being sent off for reckless challenges, which of course would wholly alter the complexion of the game.
Going up early could be dangerous for Tottenham as it may galvanize a nervy Arsenal side to seek reckless, impassioned retribution. Tottenham unfortunately do not seem well equipped currently to deal with a fast-paced back and forth game- a problem I believe lies with a lack of defensive range in central midfield- and also a problem that will be compounded until Tom Huddlestone has defensive support with greater defensive range, such as deeper lying wingers in a 4 man midfield rather than the current 2-3 setup. On the other hand, lacking the sublime class of Robin Van Persie, there will certainly be much less of the feeling of impending doom that was typical anytime the player lined up against Tottenham, which is sure to bode well for Tottenham’s chances on Saturday.
With each team desperate to claim the three points, all signs point toward another classic encounter.
Written by TT’s own ‘Kevin’ and independent Spurs writer David West.