The North London Derby is always a special occasion but this time the stakes seem higher than ever. Could this be the most important North London Derby in decades?
Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
Date: Sunday, 3 March 2013
Kick-off: 16:00 GMT
Stadium: White Hart Lane, London
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Both London clubs are vying for Champions League football. While Spurs overtook Chelsea in third place after beating West Ham United on Monday, the top 4 (apart from Manchester United’s all but certain 20th Premier League title) is still a wide open race.
The point margins are all very tight. Manchester City (currently second) are only 5 points ahead of Spurs, whilst there are only 4 points between third-placed Spurs and fifth-placed Arsenal. Needless to say, the stakes for Sunday’s edition of the North London Derby are very high.
Spurs will be full of confidence ahead of Sunday’s derby clash. Spurs advanced to the last 16 in the UEFA Europa League last week after beating Lyon 3-2 on aggregate. Earlier this week Villas-Boas’ men clinched all three points at West Ham to continue their unbeaten Premier League run which started in November 2012.
Arsenal have had a tough time in the cup competitions lately. After being knocked out of the Carling Cup by League Two side Bradford in December, the Gunners embarrassed themselves against lower league opposition again when Blackburn clinched a 1-0 away win at The Emirates in February. In the Champions League Bayern Munich gave Arsenal a master class in German efficiency by winning 3-1 away. A realistically insurmountable advantage.
The London outfit is doing a bit better in the league, winning 4 out of their last 5 games. Still, the sense of crisis is very palpable. Not entirely surprising, given the club has failed to win any silverware in the past 8 years whilst it continues to sell its best players. Quite baffling, given the club is ranked among Europe’s big earners as it rakes in massive revenues year after year, which might have to do with the fact the club has the most expensive season ticket prices in the league.
Manager Arsène Wenger has never been under such scrutiny and pressure in all his years at Arsenal. In his infamous press conference ahead of his side’s Champions League clash with Bayern, the cracks were starting to appear. His long-term future at Arsenal seems to hinge on his side’s ability to retain their Champions League status, which seems more under pressure than ever before.
Jermain Defoe is likely to return to the fold after recovering from an ankle injury. However, it’s not clear if he’s fit enough to start.
Clint Dempsey is still recovering from a calf injury. Younes Kaboul is back in training but is still about two weeks away from match fitness. Tom Huddlestone and Sandro are both sidelined with knee injuries.
Arsenal will be without Bacary Sagna (knee) and Kieran Gibbs (thigh). Abou Diaby faces a late fitness test.
- Both teams have met 41 times in the Premier League. Spurs have won 8, lost 16 and drawn 17 of those fixtures.
- Spurs haven’t lost to Arsenal at home in the league since 2007.
- The North London Derby is the highest-scoring fixture in Premier League history with 121 goals.
- Spurs have won 55%, drawn 25% and lost 20% of their last 20 home games.
- Arsenal have won 50%, drawn 30% and lost 20% of their last 20 away games.
- In their last 4 away games against higher ranked teams, Arsenal have won 0, drawn 2 and lost 2.
- In their last 20 home games, Spurs have only lost once when they scored 2 or more goals.
- Spurs have scored exactly 1 goal in 35% of their last 20 home games.
- Arsenal last failed to score away from home 7 games ago.
- Spurs have scored first in 11 of their last 20 home games, going on to win 9, draw 2 and lose 0 of these matches.
- Spurs have kept a clean sheet in 30% of their last 20 home games.
- Arsenal last conceded more than 2 goals away from home 22 games ago.
- Spurs have scored first in 55% of their last 20 home games.
- In their last 20 home games, 41% of the 37 goals scored by Spurs have come from forwards, 32% from midfielders and 22% from defenders.
- Santi Cazorla has scored 23% of the Arsenal goals in their last 20 away games.
Total Tottenham prediction
Obviously this will be a game full of passion and emotion played at a roaring White Hart Lane. It seems that the influence of form, confidence and belief take a back seat in derbies. It’s all about pride and honour, which brings both the best and the worst out of players.
It will be key for the Spurs players to keep their cool when Arsenal try to rile them, which they will most definitely attempt at one point in the game. Whether it’s trying to berate the referee in numbers or trying to cause a bust-up after a foul on one of them, they know all the dirty tricks in the book to swing the game.
The team that won against West Ham only needs minor changes. Jan Vertonghen will possibly move to centre-back alongside Michael Dawson, with Benoit Assou-Ekotto returning to left-back to battle the pace of Walcott. Scott Parker and Mousa Dembélé will most likely start as the deep midfield duo again, although Villas-Boas could opt to play Lewis Holtby in place of Parker to provide more creativity alongside Dembélé.
Going forward it will be all about Gareth Bale. No surprise given his spectacular goalscoring form. Defoe seems to be fit enough to play but probably not the full 90 minutes. Therefore, Emmanuel Adebayor is likely to start. With Dempsey out injured, it will be either Gylfi Sigurdsson or Holtby switching positions with Bale in the attacking central position.
Although Wenger said he wouldn’t change his game plan to stop Bale, I expect him to pack central midfield, especially when Spurs are in possession. When teams leave too much space on the axis of the pitch just outside the box, Bale will punish them.
Wenger might opt for a slightly defensive midfield three with Arteta, Diaby (or Ramsey) and Wilshere. This will put enough bodies in front of their back four when defending, yet give Wilshere plenty of room to attack when going forward. Cazorla will probably be roaming inside from the left, while Walcott will try to attack the space behind Spurs’ back four from the right-hand side. Giroud will provide hold-up play and a target for crosses.
The defensive high line Spurs play is a dangerous tactic against pacey players like Walcott. On the other hand Hugo Lloris has proved to be an ideal keeper for this tactic since he’s so quick off his line. I expect us to sit a little bit deeper, but not too much as it will open up space between defence and midfield for both Cazorla and Wilshere to make their forward runs.
Offensively we should be attacking their full-backs as they are Arsenal’s obvious weakest links. Jenkinson lacks match rhythm, whilst Monreal has yet to be tested against a pacey player like Aaron Lennon. Arsenal’s offside trap is also pretty suspect, with both Vermaelen and Mertesacker prone to taking a step back during crucial moments in the game. This should be something either Holtby or Sigurdsson should be looking to exploit by either putting through-balls towards Adebayor or making their own runs in behind Arsenal’s back four.
Final score: Anyone’s guess.
This game is too difficult to call really. On current form you’d fancy Spurs to win, but it’s a derby game. Anything can happen. I don’t expect either team to keep a clean sheet though.
We often leave it until the second half to score at home. Hopefully we won’t leave it that late. If we can play like we did at The Emirates before Adebayor got sent off I’m confident we will have the upper hand throughout the game, but we’ll need to be very clinical in front of goal to make that dominance count.