Tottenham’s latest visit to the Emirates has to potential to be an uplifting and revitalizing game but it can also, just as easily, pile on the pressure.
Wenger can pick a strong side for this one as the players have had a week to recover from the previous fixture. Koscielny and Gibbs will be given fitness tests and I have a feeling both will get into the starting line-up even if they’re on the edge. In the midfield Ramsey picked up an injury in the previous game so Song and Arteta are most likely to have Rosicky in front of them. Out wide Arsene will have to pick two out of Walcott, AOC, and Gervinho. All three have their sets of strengths and weaknesses and it’s tough to say who is better suited. I’d go with experience.
Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Song, Rosicky, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Gervinho.
Barring fitness issues, I guess the only real talking point in the side is the choice between Theo and Oxlade-Chamberlain. The thing is, it’s not hard to imagine either of them doing well but both have their set of limitations as well. A lot of Walcott’s game relies on the supply that he gets. When he sees a lot of the ball after a slow build-up and in a congested area his output is quite poor. But most people also realize he can be absolutely lethal if he gets the ball early or in behind. With AOC the positives are in his ability to dribble and take on opponents. But the youngster is still in a developing phase and his positioning, decisions on the ball, and tactical awareness aren’t always at the level needed. I guess Wenger just has to take a call based on what he has seen in training this week.
Tactically this should be an interesting game. Tottenham like to come out with high intensity for the opening 10 minutes or so. I expect them to press Arsenal higher up the pitch and in a fairly coordinated manner. The Gunners must avoid making individual mistakes under such pressure. On the other hand, such an approach will also provide openings for Arsenal to make the breakthrough as they will find more space.
If the game is level, or if they take the lead, after the opening salvo from Spurs, they’re likely to drop deeper and will then rely on counter-attacks and long diagonals. Sagna has done well against Bale in the past but the Gunners will have to track his movement, especially if he drifts inside. Van der Vaart is another player who has posed problems to Arsenal with his movement across the pitch after starting in a wide role on the Right.
The midfield has to find it’s rhythm and shape back. Arsenal went on a strong run after the defeat in the reverse fixture as the defence got excellent support from the three midfielders. It’s hard to say why that’s not been consistently visible since the turn of the year but it’s easy to predict Arsenal will struggle without getting their tactical cohesion back.
Tottenham’s full-backs have the pace to match Arsenal’s wingers but they can make mistakes if isolated. Recently, Arsenal haven’t moved the ball well enough or at the right speed to achieve that. Gervinho can also find a lot of joy between the lines if he picks his runs across the width of the pitch in an intelligent manner. Such movement is vital to Arsenal’s ability to open opposition defences but hasn’t been seen often enough in the recent past. Again movement alone is never sufficient and those in possession must also display the ability to find the player getting into such spaces. Vision and execution too have been problem areas during the rough patch.
Many fans will also be looking for a much improved effort from Szczesny who hasn’t delivered a satisfactory performance on a consistent basis in the last few weeks. The youngster’s reflexes, positioning, and decision making will surely be tested in this game.
I will be very surprised if both sides don’t score in this game. Given Arsenal’s recent defensive efforts, anything less than two goals for Spurs will be an improvement. With that in mind Arsenal would need three goals or more to win this one. To be honest, it’s difficult to visualize that happening. The best I can see from Arsenal is a draw. The Gunners have the ability to win the game against such opponents but they’ve not performed at that level for quite some time now. Watching Arsenal getting back to form in the North London Derby can be one of the highlights of the season but only the optimists will expect that in this game.
My biggest wish from this game is to see a better collective defensive effort. Everything else can be built on that and the fourth place can be achieved. I really do want the Gunners to focus on that because in the recent seasons there have been far too many phases where one defensive frailty or another have cost the team crucial points and Cup ties. Similarly in reverse, strong runs have also been built on well-organized team efforts where the combined output is much better than the sum of the parts.
This game will also be a good test of the mental strengths of this side. This season they’ve achieved some remarkable comebacks and many consider the current squad to be stronger in that regard. In less than nine hours we will learn more.Follow @goonerdesi