Saturday, 25 February 2012

Arsenal's Premier League Game With Tottenham Hotspur Previewed

After their exit from the FA Cup and their almost certain exit from the Champions League in the space of four days Arsenal are back to Premier League action. As far as Premier League games go for Arsenal they don't get much bigger than a north London derby against bitter rivals Spurs. To add more spice to the game Spurs are currently 10 points ahead of Arsenal with 13 games left to play.

Since Arsene Wenger took the reins at Arsenal in 1996 they have finished ahead of Spurs in the Premier League on every single occasion. The Arsenal fans famously sing "You won the league in black and white" to the Spurs fans in reference to Spurs wait of over 50 years to add to their two league titles. Since Spurs won their "famous" double in 1961 Arsenal have managed that feat three times, and won six league titles.

Even if Spurs were to win against Arsenal they will still not win the Premier League this season. The fact that they are ahead of Arsenal in the league is more a measure of how badly Arsenal's season has gone than how well it has gone for Spurs. If the sum total of their ambition is to finish above Arsenal it doesn't really show them in a great light.

There is no doubt that this season has been a very testing one for Arsenal fans after the sales of both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri in the summer. Arsenal banked an awful lot of money from their transfer dealings in the summer, and the players they brought in have not improved the squad from last season. It has to be remembered that Arsenal weren't good enough last season, but they have only weakened their squad instead of strengthening it.

There was an opportunity for Wenger to bring in some players in the January transfer window, but only Thierry Henry arrived on loan. His loan was quite successful all things considered, but he has now departed to play in America again. To make matters worse Arsenal decided to loan Andrey Arshavin to Zenit St. Petersburg yesterday, and he won't play again this season for Arsenal.

I can only assume Arsenal will sell Arshavin in the summer, and his time at the club is over. When he arrived in the transfer window in 2009 he was a revelation and he saved Arsenal's season, but he has failed to live up to the expectations he set in that magnificent spell. As the seasons went by he has become less and less effective, and his chances have been very limited this season.

I'm sure he wanted to play first team football with Euro 2012 coming up, as he is the captain and playmaker in the Russian national team. It's a role he wanted to play for Arsenal, but he never got the chance to do so. I thought the chance might come his way when Cesc was sold last summer, but it wasn't to be.

Arsenal have their injury worries ahead of the Spurs game, but hopefully both Kieran Gibbs and Laurent Koscielny will be passed fit to play. Without both of them the Arsenal defence will look very unbalanced, as Alex Song Will probably have to play in it. I know Gibbs is a long way from proving himself in the Arsenal team, but he has been at the club long enough to know what this game means.

Besides the injury concerns Wenger has a few decisions to make in his team selection, and he needs to get them right. As long as Gibbs and Koscielny play I think he will opt for Aaron Ramsey in midfield with Song and Mikael Arteta. That will mean Tomas Rosicky will miss out, but I don't think he has enough to offer in terms of actual impact despite how hard he tries.

The other decision he has to make is which two players will play in the wide roles on either side of Robin van Persie. I think Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are the most likely candidates to get the nod, as they might also have a better idea of the significance of the game. I thought Gervinho was simply not up to the physical challenge Sunderland put up to Arsenal last week, but he wasn't the only one.

Spurs are winning plaudits for the way they are playing this season, but I can't say I actually watch them play too often. I can think of a lot of better things I could do with my days than watching Spurs play such as having a nap or watching paint dry. I have seen enough of them to know Arsenal will have to be at their very best to get a result from the game.
Thankfully Arsenal managed to halt the league slump from January and win their last two league games, but this game will be a different proposition. The players have been found wanting far too often over the last few seasons, and they cannot afford to give anything less than their all in this game. There can be no excuses after the game if Arsenal lose, and Spurs beat them for the second time this season.

Arsenal's home record has been pretty good so far this season with eight wins in 12 games, but they lost the two biggest games they played at home in the league. Both Liverpool and Manchester United came to Arsenal and left with all three points, but Spurs cannot be allowed to do the same. If the Arsenal players want to get the fans behind them there is no better way than giving their all against Spurs.

Wenger said fourth place would be Arsenal's trophy for this season when they went out of the FA Cup, but personally I find that a little insulting. I'm not a fan who demands a trophy every season, but equally I'm not happy with my club foregoing a whole season because they got their planning so wrong last summer. The Arsenal squad need a lot of strengthening last summer, but instead it was weakened even further.

Top quality players were sold and replaced with players who were not as good as them, and when Arsenal's usual injuries kicked in the team struggled. Those struggles are still continuing, and besides the 7-1 victory over Blackburn Arsenal have rarely looked convincing this season. The team is hurting, and the fans feel that pain more than anyone else.

Arsenal were set up to play with Cesc as their creative midfielder, but since he left that have nobody to play that role. Possibly Jack Wilshire might have stepped up to play there, but he hasn't played at all this season because of injury. The failure to even attempt to replace Cesc while the club made a huge profit from transfers is a sin the fans are finding it hard to forgive.

Maybe Arsenal should switch their formation to suit their personnel a little better, but the current style is hard to keep to without a playmaker. They also need to get their tempo back into their game, and stop passing at a snail's pace. When Arsenal play the game at a high tempo they are capable of putting any team under real pressure.

It would be great to see Arsenal go at Spurs from the first minute, and put their players under pressure every time they are in possession. Whether the players have the belief and the desire to do that or not is another matter altogether. In former days the team had enough character to overcome almost any obstacle, but that character seems to be missing all too often this season.

Despite my negativity about the team I still believe they can and will beat Spurs, but I think it will be a very tight game. Spurs have some very good players who can cause Arsenal real problems, but they don't have the best player in the Premier League. RVP has scored 22 league goals already this season, and hopefully he can add to his tally against Spurs.

The game will also see the return of Emmanuel Adebayor to Arsenal in a Spurs shirt, and he's a player the Arsenal fans love to hate. They have had their run-ins with him in the past, but hopefully the abuse will stick to acceptable levels this time. He's on loan at Spurs from Manchester City this season, but he won't be joining them next season as they can't afford to pay his wages.

He left Arsenal under a cloud when his performances slipped and his greed got the better of him. There is no way he will be taking a pay cut to join Spurs or any other club, and it doesn't leave him with many options for next season. I'm sure he would love to score against Arsenal, but I'm equally sure the Arsenal fans would love to see him on a losing side.

My prediction for the game is for Arsenal to win 3-2, and if they do so they will be level in fourth place at worst. They have games against two of the teams just behind them coming up in the next few weeks, and it's a real testing time for the team. Hopefully the players can find the character that seems to be missing at times, and come through those games with all guns blazing.

Fourth place may not sound like a trophy, but with the season Arsenal have had I would settle for it right now.

That's it for today.

Here's a goal from a man who always loved scoring against Spurs.

See you tomorrow.

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