They say that, in derbies, form goes out the window. Well, for this one, both sides have to hope that form–at least league form–doesn’t.
Arsenal have won five on the trot in the Premier league, tallying 3 clean sheets and a 16 to 3 goal difference. Wow. Spurs have won three and drawn two in their last five in the league, scoring 14 to their opponents 6. Not too shabby, either.
Moreover, Mauricio Pochettino’s team has recovered from a very slow start in the league–an opening day loss to Manchester United was followed by three consecutive draws–to the point that the not-so-quiet whispers about his managerial tenure have turned into a much stronger belief that the club is on a good footing with the Argentine at the helm.
Much of that, however, has to do with the return to fitness of playmaker (and free kick specialist) Christian Eriksen and the return to form of front man Harry Kane. Injury has cost them the one player who was scoring in the early season, Nacer Chadli, but his loss has allowed the emergence of 19 year old Dele Alli as a real force in midfield. Erik Lamela has also benefited from more consistent match time as has Moussa Dembele who scored a late winner on Thursday in Europa League play vs Anderlecht. All told, their attack should be buoyed by their recent form and believe they have a good chance to travel to the better part of North London and get goals and a result.
Spurs resurgence in attack has been matched by greater stinginess at the back. Intriguingly, Pochettino has gone to a group of smaller players who rely on quickness and recovery pace rather than positioning and physical dominance. Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier, Jan Vertonghen and Kyle Walker have all played most of their careers at full-back. Keeper Hugo Lloris, not the biggest at his position, is one of the best for being extremely quick and decisive when coming off his line.
This, however, could play into Arsenal’s hands. With our paciest players, Theo Walcott, Hector Bellerin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out with injuries, Arsenal have had to rely on the big presence of Olivier Giroud up front. He’s taken the opportunity, scoring in all but one of his last six matches. His hold up play should also help bring in the likes of wide attackers Alexis Sanchez and Joel Campbell or midfielders Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin. Giroud could also be a boon at set-pieces where Arsenal have been looking increasingly dangerous.
The smaller Spurs defenders, however, should be wary of putting too much focus on Giroud given the likely return to the line-up of center-back Laurent Koscielny who has scored in each of last two appearances. Rested for the midweek trip to Bayern Munich, his return should give our battered team a real lift.
We might need it after the dismantling we received out there. With our depleted squad and heavy schedule we needed to play a near-perfect match and have a little luck. We got neither and suffered our worst defeat in Europe, losing 5-1. We must shrug that one off and take the pitch with the confidence of the team that, in our three most recent home matches, blitzed Man United 3-nil, beat Bayern 2-nil and dominated Everton in winning 2-1, only conceding a deflected goal.
Turning our home stadium into a true fortress, in my opinion, will be essential if we’re to have a real run at the league title this season. Those recent matches have reversed the stumbles we’ve had at home against lesser sides. Losses to AS Monaco and Swansea last spring stand out, as do similar results this term vs West Ham United and Olympiakos. In the NLD a year ago, Spurs scored first and only a late goal from the Ox allowed us to save face with a draw. Nothing would validate the turnaround in our home form more effectively than sending sulking Spurs supporters north up the Seven Sisters Road.
So, extending our fine run in front of the home support–plus the usual bragging rights–are the reason this one means more than just the points on offer. With a few players including Bellerin, Aaron Ramsey and the Ox expected to return to the squad after the International break, taking this one would show that this Arsenal squad–even when reduced nearly to bare bones–has the toughness, togetherness and resiliency to overcome real adversity and a very demanding schedule of matches.
We’re not quite there yet. Only Koscielny, Captain Mikel Arteta and back-up goalkeeper David Ospina are newly available for this match so the team more or less picks itself. This is how I see Wenger setting out the team.
Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Chambers, Gibbs, Flamini, Arteta, Iwobi
To my mind it’s critical we start well, withstand the high emotion the derby always brings and allow our superior quality to show as the match moves on. While both teams have tightened up at the back, the NLD is often full of goals, and, if either team gets one early on, it could get wild. I’ve got a feeling that this one could turn on set-pieces. Arsenal’s size advantage should help if we earn them, but Eriksen’s left foot effectively expands the penalty box meaning that we’ll need exceptionally clean defending and the tidy teamwork we’ve seen amongst the defenders in those recent home victories. Coquelin and Cazorla need to continue nipping in and touching balls away from attackers so that our back line can remain as barriers with their backs to our goal.
Going forward, Alexis has had a couple of quiet matches so perhaps is due a goal (or three). Joel Campbell should be buoyed by his goal at Swansea and that he didn’t look woefully out of place at Bayern. His work rate and combativeness have impressed and he’ll need continued focus helping out the man behind him, Mathieu Debuchy, who hasn’t done much to make Gooners not miss Bellerin. Both need to keep alert and work together to prevent Lamela dribbling into our penalty area and to prevent crosses into Kane or pull backs for Eriksen. Ozil, Alexis and Cazorla, along with Giroud will be the obvious focus of our attack, but Campbell could endear himself further by being in the right place at the right time and taking a chance against the old enemy. This also wouldn’t be a bad spot for Coquelin to get his first Arsenal goal or for Santi to notch his first of the season.
Regardless of individual heroics, I believe we can win this one by showing our superior quality and teamwork in all parts of the pitch. We’ll also need to remain calm, confident and committed no matter what happens in the match–not to mention in the stands and terraces.
As always, however, that’s just my take on things. What say you, fellow Gooners? Are you confident or worried heading into this one? Do you like the line-up or might you continue with Gabriel at the back or find a spot for the guy who put Spurs to the sword in the most recent derby: Mathieu Flamini? Is it one to analyze or have I wasted a thousand words when I could have just said, “They’re Tottenham; We’re Arsenal…”?