Sunday, 16 March 2014

Arsenal v Spurs: NLD Preview

With an FA Cup semi final spot booked and the Champions League over for another season Arsenal can concentrate on the league for the best part of the next month. They have some really tough games coming up and the first of them is against their fierce local rivals Spurs. That rivalry is based more on geographical proximity than anything else as Spurs have rarely been a threat to Arsenal in footballing terms.

They haven't won the league since the days of black and white TV in 1961 and their feat of winning the double that season has been matched three times by Arsenal. To make matters worse Arsenal have twice sealed the league title in Spurs own shabby little stadium. Since that awful day for football in 1961 Arsenal have taken 6 league titles while Spurs have rarely even challenged for the title. 

Since Arsene Wenger took the reins at Arsenal in 1996 they have finished above Spurs in the league in every single season. Sure there have been one or two close calls such as 2006 and even last season, but Arsenal managed to come through each time while Spurs imploded (or exploded) in 2006 in particular. On both of those occasions the prize for finishing highest was a Champions League place and Spurs had to make do with European football's lesser competition as per usual.

That brings me nicely to this season as Spurs again have competed in the Europa League while Arsenal played in the Champions League. Besides the vast difference in income from competing in the Champions League it's also a large in factor in attracting new players to any club. Arsenal have money to spend this summer and they have to insure a top four finish to again compete at the top table next season.

At the moment Spurs are yet again the team in fifth place and Arsenal are six points ahead of them with a game in hand. Any chance Spurs have to catch Arsenal will depend on them winning this Sunday, but it's something they have failed miserably to do in any big games this season. They have taken some real hammerings on quite a few occasions, but they have still managed to hang on to the coat tails of the top four. 

Spurs fans will claim they're still in Europe this season while Arsenal have exited for another season, but surely that's just for another week after they were beaten 3-1 at home by Benfica on Thursday night. They were outplayed by Benfica in that game and will have had two days less than Arsenal to recover from their midweek exploits. Confidence for them cannot be high either after losing 4-0 at Chelsea last weekend in a game where they handed each of the goals to Chelsea on a plate.

With a full strength team I think Arsenal would go to Spurs and roll them over by a few goals at least, but Arsenal's injury problems are immense. The players they are missing are like a who's who of their best attacking players and others will have to step up to fill the void. With Theo Walcott's season over and Aaron Ramsey out for the last 11 league games the last thing Arsenal needed was an injury to Mesut Ozil, but that's exactly what they got on Tuesday night against Bayern. For me those three players are Arsenal's three best offensive players and any team would miss three players of their calibre. There are other injuries of course and Jack Wilshere's absence will also be felt over the next few weeks with his season possibly over too.

Arsenal still have some very good players though and the recent performances of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have been really encouraging. After suffering an injury on the opening day of the season he has only recently come back into the side and has got better with each passing week. He was very good against Bayern and the only way they could stop him was to foul him which they did as often as possible. The big question for me is where he plays and I think he should play wide on the right where he could get some real joy against Danny Rose.

The defence should at least be back to more or less full strength with Nacho Monreal back in the squad and Kieran Gibbs possibly available too. Their returns should see Thomas Vermaelen return to the bench and he has to be commended for giving his all in the few chances he has been given this season. With Belgium playing in the World Cup this summer I'm sure he is desperate to play but there has been no hint of discontent from Arsenal's club captain. I wouldn't be surprised if he was to look for a transfer this summer as I'm sure he wants first team football, but he has reacted to losing his place in a thoroughly professional manner.

In midfield it looks like there will be a lot more weight on the diminutive shoulders of Santi Cazorla as he will be given the main creative role in the team with Ozil, Wilshere and Ramsey all injured. Chamberlain was excellent in a central role against Bayern, but as I said already I think they will need him wide on the right unless Serge Gnabry plays there. The big question will be whether Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini both play or whether the boss takes a more adventurous approach and plays only one of them. 

With so many big players injured there will also be a lot of attacking responsibility on both Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. The Spurs defence have been error prone this season and those two players need to put their defenders under pressure to force the mistakes which have been quite frequent this season. With the right attacking approach Arsenal still have more than enough good players to go to Spurs and come away with the three points. 

What they can't do though is sit back and take things relatively easy to see how the game progresses as they have done far too often in recent months. This is the game the fans really want to win and the players need to show their desire from first minute to last. Their chances of winning the league are fading week by week at the moment and three points are an absolute must to keep in touch with the teams ahead of them as well as to put the final nail in the coffin of Spurs' top four ambitions.

There is some hope for Arsenal in the league after Chelsea lost to Villa yesterday and a win would see them four points off the top with a game in hand and a trip to Chelsea next week. That game against Chelsea will be quickly followed by home games against both Swansea and City and Arsenal's chances in the league could well be a lot clearer either way in two weeks time. Four wins in those four games would have them right up there at the top of the table and it's crucial they start with a win against Spurs.

I'd love to see Arsenal go out and dominate Spurs from first to last minute and romp to victory, but I'd gladly take a last minute own goal winner against the run of play too. I think Arsenal's forwards hold the key for them and if the boss gets the right mix up front they can get the goals to give Arsenal the win. It's never easy away to Spurs and I'm sure they will be up for it just as much as Arsenal, but I think the points are there for the taking. I hope the players can see that too and go out and win them to finally put enough distance between the two clubs to end any slight hopes they have of catching Arsenal. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.


  1. Flamini must not play. Yes, he did a fantastic job against The Scum on September 1. But Mike Dean is the referee. If Flamini plays, he WILL get sent off, deservedly or otherwise.

    So my midfield is Arteta and Rosicky behind; Ox, Santi and Podolski up front, and Giroud ahead of them all.