Arsenal v Spurs: Where the north London derby could be won and lost
Arsenal correspondent Ben Kosky and Spurs reporter Ben Pearce give their verdicts on today’s showdown at the Emirates.
Ben Kosky, Arsenal reporter:
If local pride were the sole factor in determining the success or failure of a campaign, Arsenal fans could have few complaints about last season.
Not only did Arsene Wenger’s side defeat Tottenham home and away – and a third time on the first step of their run to FA Cup glory – but they did it without even conceding a single goal.
But the Gunners’ defensive performances so far this season, coupled with their limited options at the back, suggest they may struggle to repeat that achievement.
Arsenal’s back four have at times looked uncomfortable against players who get into wide positions and run at them, as Jesus Navas and James Milner did recently for Manchester City.
A key factor on Saturday could be the level of support given by midfield players tracking back to help out their full-backs against the likes of Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli.
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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, if he starts, offers plenty of that, as does Jack Wilshere. Less so if two of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla are occupying the wide roles in midfield.
The good news is that Tottenham have major problems in front of goal at the moment – and they will be more concerned about how to counter the Gunners’ attacking threat.
Sanchez has quickly found his feet in English football and, refreshed after sitting out last weekend’s win at Aston Villa, he is more than capable of bamboozling the Spurs defence with his skill and speed.
Together with Ozil, Wilshere – if fit – and Danny Welbeck, who showed at Villa that he is becoming an effective link in the chain of quick passing that Wenger favours, the Chilean can do some damage to a cumbersome Tottenham rearguard.
Mauricio Pochettino will become the 11th Spurs boss to line up against Wenger in a north London derby – and not one of the previous 10 has succeeded in consistently getting the better of the Frenchman.
Nor will Pochettino – not yet, anyway. Arsenal to win this, 3-1.
Ben Pearce, Tottenham reporter:
Danny Welbeck may have been brought in to replace the injured Olivier Giroud but he is a very different type of player.
It still seems that Arsenal, like Tottenham, have failed to strengthen their front line enough. Admittedly the issue has not been exposed yet, but it will be interesting to see how they cope against a well-organised team who set up to play for a draw.
If sides like Hull, West Ham and West Brom sit deep, pack the centre of the pitch and deny the Gunners’ creative players time and space, is there a Plan B?
Who will now score that last-minute equaliser at Everton last month, when Giroud leapt above the Toffees’ centre-backs to head home?
Chelsea exploited Liverpool’s lack of height at Anfield in April, defending the centre of the pitch, giving the Reds the wings and inviting them to cross the ball – knowing that they had the beating of their nippy but diminutive opponents in the air.
Similar tactics might work against Arsenal. But would Mauricio Pochettino set his side up so negatively in his first north London derby? Probably not. It would suggest a sense of inferiority which would not sit well with the Spurs fans, and it probably doesn’t suit his philosophy either.
It is also highly debatable whether the Lilywhites would be able to play out a goalless draw even if they wanted to, given their defensive frailties – especially against the top teams – so there would be a real risk of a gutless-looking defeat.
Harry Redknapp opted for caution in October 2009, picking Wilson Palacios, Jermaine Jenas and Tom Huddlestone in a 4-3-3 formation, but it left Peter Crouch isolated and the Lilywhites lost 3-0.
The same thing happened when Andre Villas-Boas selected a 4-3-3 system at the Emirates last September – although the margin was only 1-0.
Both managers also tried a more aggressive approach with a 4-4-2 formation – but both of those games ended 5-2 to Arsenal.
And, when the cavalier Tim Sherwood went for the same tactics in January’s FA Cup tie, his side were outnumbered in the centre and lost 2-0.
Tottenham managers have wrestled with this tactical problem for years and, whatever the approach, the result is generally the same – Spurs have lost their last four games at the Emirates and will probably do so again today. In fact, after the chastening 3-0 home defeat against Liverpool, a similar scoreline could be on the cards.
But, if they are happy to simply avoid defeat this time, it would be worth studying Chelsea’s victory at Anfield.