Saturday, 2 March 2013

Arsenal's Trip To Spurs Previewed

Since Arsene Wenger took the reins at Arsenal in 1996 they have finished ahead of local rivals Spurs in the league in every single season. Until a couple of years ago Spurs hadn't beaten Arsenal under Wenger in the league since 1999 in fact. In recent seasons though Spurs have being getting very close to finishing ahead of their fiercest rivals.

They almost managed to do it in 2006 but were defeated by a batch of dodgy lasagne. In all those years Spurs have only qualified for the Champions League on one occasion. They should have qualified last season but fourth place wasn't good enough when sixth placed Chelsea won the competition to gain a place in it for this season.

Spurs have had a very good season so far by their standards and they're currently third in the table. They're two points ahead of fourth placed Chelsea and four ahead of Arsenal who have moved up to fifth place. A win for them in this game would give them a seven point gap over their near neighbours with only 10 games to go.

Of course they had what they thought was an unassailable lead over Arsenal last season, but when they surrendered a two goal lead at the Emirates their lead in the league very quickly disappeared too. Arsenal won that game 5-2 and won the home game against them this season by the same scoreline. The last two games between the teams have been at Arsenal's ground, but the 10 goals Arsenal scored in those games are still very impressive.

Spurs have won their last three games to move them ahead of Chelsea and they're unbeaten in 11 league games. In those last three games Gareth Bale has scored five goals and seen himself being compared to the very best players in the world. I have no doubt that he's a very good player, but he still has an awful lot to do to even be mentioned in the same breath as Lionel Messi.

Having seen Bale in recent games I have no doubt that he can cause havoc from his fairly free role just behind the central striker. If Arsenal push too many players forward he could find an awful lot of space to push into and cause Arsenal some real problems. If he is allowed time to pick his shot from distance he has the ability to score some spectacular goals.

West Ham learned that to their peril on Monday night and Arsenal cannot allow him the time and space to get his shots off. A combination of the midfield and defence have to be prepared to do whatever is needed to stop him. He had an influence in the last two games the clubs played against each other, but Arsenal players had a much bigger influence.

He scored one of the Spurs goals in the game earlier this season and he won a penalty for one of their goals in the 5-2 Arsenal win last season. He dived for that penalty though and he is the most booked player for diving in the history of the Premier League. When you consider how many years Cristiano Ronaldo spent at United that's a startling statistic.

The referee tomorrow will have to be very sure that Bale isn't up to his usual tricks any time he goes over. He has even admitted to diving although he claims he does it to avoid bad tackles and prolong the length of his career. I have no doubt that he does it to fool referees and win free kicks and penalties.

There is no doubt that Bale is Spurs' star player and if he doesn't play well they will more than likely struggle. They have come to depend on him an awful lot this season and in recent weeks in particular. It's up to Arsenal to make sure his impact on the game is minimal.

In team news Bacary Sagna is not fit enough to return to the team which should see Carl Jenkinson continue at right back. Otherwise I would expect the defence to be as it was in the 2-1 victory over Aston Villa last week. I would be surprised if there were many changes in the rest of the team either, but there is one I would like to see.

With Abou Diaby an injury doubt I would hope to see Lukas Podolski return to the team in the wide left role. I think he has developed a very good understanding with Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud and the three of them should play together against Spurs. That would mean Santi Cazorla would drop back into midfield with Jack Wilshere and Mikael Arteta.

The Arsenal midfield will have to have their wits about them as they are at their must vulnerable when they lose possession and that's when Spurs will try to hit them quickly. Arsenal also have to position their players outside the Spurs area properly when Arsenal have a corner. They were far too open in those situations against Villa last week and they could pay a heavy price if they are caught out against Spurs.

Of course Arsenal pose an attacking threat of their own with all of Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski and Giroud managing to score quite a few goals so far this season. Each of them are more than capable of coming up with a goal or two to turn the game in Arsenal's favour. They cannot afford to miss good chances when they come their way though.

Despite all the defensive frailties Arsenal have shown at times this season they actually have the best defensive record away from home in the league. The three games they have lost have all been by only one goal and I expect this to be a very close game. Whoever wins it will probably be the team that takes their chances and maybe rides their luck in defence at times.

If Bale is the man Spurs hang their hopes on then Arsenal have a lot of hope resting on the shoulders of Wilshere. Since his return from his long term injury he has improved consistently and he has now become a very important player for the team. In previous years under Wenger Arsenal have always had world class players in their team and Wilshere has the potential to be just that.

This game means an awful lot to Arsenal fans and Wilshere has a sense of what it means to them. I have no doubt that he will be up for the game and ready to give his all for the Arsenal cause. If any player is going to drive Arsenal to victory against Spurs then Wilshere is the man to do it.

With the recent form of Bale the focus has been on him, but Walcott has scored almost as many goals as him this season. He's a player who can frustrate at times, but there is no doubt he is having his best season for Arsenal. Wouldn't it be a nice turn if he was the ex Southampton player to shine in this north London derby.

A win for Arsenal would move them within a point of Spurs and shift the momentum in their direction. Spurs have collapsed under such pressure in the past and the hope is they will do so again. It would also put Arsenal firmly in the middle of the fight for third place as well as fourth place.

Of course a draw wouldn't be a bad result either, but a defeat could be a real blow. A seven point gap would be an awful lot to make up for an Arsenal team that have struggled to find consistency this season. They are currently enjoying their best league run of the season and avoiding defeat would be not a bad thing for them.

I think Arsenal are good enough to go to Spurs and get the win they need. They may not have shown their best form often enough this season, but when they do they are a force to be reckoned with. If the players can find a performance worthy of the game they are playing in for the whole 90 minutes I think they are better than Spurs.

I'll be biting my nails from first minute to last, but that's nothing new when Arsenal play. I'm going for a 3-2 win for Arsenal and hoping the victory will be just what they need to finish the season in style. Third place is certainly obtainable and it's about time this team lived up to their potential and took it.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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