The club that’s supposedly done the best transfer business in the summer meets one that is being panned by all and sundry for a seemingly shambolic state of affairs as far as squad building goes. AVB might not even put some established Premier League players on the bench while Wenger will have no choice but to rely on kids to fill his match-day squad. It is interesting then that the bookmakers still find Arsenal to be favourites to win this game! There are 23 betting companies listed here and, at the time or writing, not one of them makes Spurs anywhere near favourites to win this one and none of them see draw as the most likely outcome either. Surely people will make a killing on the market by betting against the Gunners?!
Strong squads are useful over a long duration and Arsenal are certainly going to struggle later in the season if the same players keep playing every three days but, in the short term, this game will mostly be about the strengths of the eleven players that go out on the pitch (although Spurs will have an advantage if Murphy strikes). From that point of view, and considering Tottenham’s record at the Emirates, the bookmakers don’t look so silly.
Spurs have indeed shown a very focussed approach to player acquisition. They have created a physically strong midfield that will cover the yardage and provide support to teammates all over. It seems their game is going to be about pace, power, and counter-attacks built on the foundation of structural solidity and physicality. Some might say Vilas-Boas is following the blueprint Wenger used in the early, successful part of his reign, which was built on a similar style with a focus on verticality. Parts of this have worked for Tottenham in the initial games as they’ve not conceded any goals but they haven’t really looked like a cohesive unit from an attacking point of view. Nevertheless, at the moment, they do appear like a team that will be hard to break down. Whether this approach and the calibre of players they’ve signed are suitable for long term success remains to be seen. Too often people get emotionally caught up in the perceived successes and failures of transfers and then forget about it all when the results at the end are very different from those expected. We’ll have to see how Tottenham do over this season and the next before any meaningful judgment can actually be passed on their transfer business.
But that’s for the future, let’s come back to the game. Some of the obvious points have been mentioned in many of the pre-match articles that I’ve read. Both teams/managers have a tendency to play a (relatively) high line and that can be an avenue for opponents to exploit. Cazorla can be a key player for Arsenal but his movement could also give Walker a chance to break. Walcott v Rose can be an interesting battle too.
In my opinion though, the single biggest decisive aspect of this game will be the midfield battle. Irrespective of the perceived successes and failures in the transfer market, Arsenal still have a technically stronger midfield with greater attacking attributes. Tottenham, on the other hand, have a physically stronger midfield with pretty decent technical skills. It sounds similar but the two teams will have very contrasting styles. For Spurs it will be about breaking play and building quickly. Arsenal’s game has been about patience and possession for a long time now.
It will be a massive test for Arsenal’s midfield, particularly Wilshere and Ramsey, as they’ll have to bring the ball out under pressure. Spurs will be very strong through the middle and technical or tactical mistakes can lead to extremely dangerous transitions. Bypassing the likes of Dembele, Paulinho, and Capoue will take some doing but if the Gunners can manage that they’ll have a strong chance of troubling the Tottenham defence.
In contrast, Spurs will get a chance to run at Arsenal’s defenders and goal if they can turn possession over in the central areas. With Wilshere’s defensive weaknesses and the systemic need for Ramsey’s mobility, Mertesacker and Koscielny could find themselves one-v-one with tricky attacking players. Soldado’s movement will also be a constant source of concern for the two. The Gunners have not kept a clean sheet in their two Premier League games and I’ll be surprised if they do so in this one.
Arsenal’s best chance of winning this game will be an overload in midfield. If AVB doesn’t pick a midfielder on one of the flanks, Cazorla’s movement will give the Gunners an extra body to move the ball around. They’ll have to do so with exceptional concentration and their decision making will have to be at a higher level than we’ve seen in many games. Trying to thread the ball between a crowd of players or dribbling through tight spaces, when combined with a lack of defensive awareness and poor positioning, will result in transitions that give the visitors a good look at the Arsenal goal.
Of course, the decisive moment of the game can be a freakish incident. It happens fairly regularly. A player might produce a wonder goal, or a defender might make a horrible mistake, the ref might make a terrible judgment call, or any such unpredictable moment could settle the game one way or the other. But the patterns of play, and through that the likelihood of errors or moments of magic, will be governed by the midfield battle.
Certain individual players will have to play vital roles. For instance, Giroud will have to work very hard to press the central defenders, particularly Vertonghen. Allowing the Belgian any chance to advance forward with time to pick a pass could prove expensive.
Rosicky will also have a big role to play. He’ll have to drop deep as other midfielders advance in order to move the markers around. His ability to turn his man and bring the ball forward can be very helpful to the team and could form the base for many Arsenal attacks. At the same time, the Czech star does have a tendency to lose the ball in some instances when he’s pressed intelligently and persistently. It will be interesting to see if Capoue goes with him and makes his mark on the game with some clever defending higher up the pitch that results in a genuine goal scoring opportunity.
Gibbs will have to be careful on the left flank. Cazorla might not always be there to support him and Wilshere is unreliable as a covering midfielder. The young English fullback could end up having to deal with two attacking players on his own. Allowing the opponents to go wide and hoping his teammates in central areas deal with crosses will be his best strategy if he is in a quandary. Letting either Townsend or Walker cut inside or run in behind into the penalty box will result in much higher quality chances.
Once again Arsene doesn’t have many choices as far as team selection goes. Unless there are any genuine injury concerns, I’ll be very surprised if the following eleven does not start the game;
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Ramsey, Rosicky, Wilshere – Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla.
Some fans might say there is a case to pick Flamini. It might be argued that he know how Arsenal and Arsene like to play, but to introduce someone who has had very little time with this particular group of players in such a game will be a sure-fire sign of weakness. Wenger has made the calls in the transfer market – whether they’re right or wrong is a different debate – and he has to now stick by them. The Arsenal manager has shown faith in his squad and it’s up to him and his players to convince the fans that they have what it takes.
It’s still very early in the season but this could be a defining game as far as fan opinion and belief are concerned.Follow @goonerdesi