Big-Game Preview: ‘The North London Derby’

It’s 3rd vs. 4th. The ever consistent ‘Men in White’ vs. the low-on-self-belief and inconsistent ‘Men in Red’. It’s Tottenham against Arsenal. Probably what could prove to be the biggest game yet this season for Arsene Wenger’s men. There maybe a 10 point gap between the sides but this match could go a long way into deciding the final UCL spot.

ARSENAL: 

As covered earlier,  Arsenal haven’t had the best of seasons so far. 17 points off the pace with 13 games to go only, the gunners are almost certain to go another season without a trophy. It’s worse for them this time around though with the possibility of missing out on the prestigious Champions League for the first time in 15 seasons.

They go into this match in bad form having won only twice in the past 5 games and being humiliated 4-0 in the process by A.C Milan. Both the squad and Wenger have been criticized heavily for not showing up when required and as one journalist brilliantly put it , Wenger has been allowing standards to drop at the club which is leading to increased frustration among the fans, who, lets not forget, are currently paying the highest ticket prices in all of Europe.

Their home form has been better lately, with 4 wins in the past 5 games and they’ll be looking to use that on Sunday at the Emirates.

The side expected to play is as follows : Szczesny in goal, Sagna, Vermaelen, Djourou at the back more or less confirmed, with Gibbs facing a late fitness test. Song, Arteta and Rosicky are expected to be the midfield with Oxlade Chamberlain, Robin Van Persie and Walcott in front of goal. Aaron Ramsey has been ruled out because of injury. The Gunners also welcome Carl Jenkinson back, who can also slot into left-back.

The main issue here for the Gunners will be not conceding a goal. Many people will be surprised to know Tottenham have only scored one more goal than Arsenal over the course of the season. It’s at the back where the difference arises. The Spurs have the joint third-best defensive record this season with only 25 goals conceded. Arsenal however have conceded the highest amount of goals in the top 10 (with the exception of Newcastle and Norwich), with an astonishing 35 goals let in.

With Per Mertesacker out due to long-term injury, the already-fragile state of the defence has been further weakened, and keeping a clean sheet should be Wengers top priority. Quick stat though: Tottenham have won every match this season where they’ve led.

TOTTENHAM:

Harry Redknapp’s men have had a very solid season so far and will be looking to add another 3 points to their tally and further cement their position in the EPL table, especially after the 5-0 demolition of Newcastle last week. Their recent form though has shown signs of fatigue – with only 2 wins and 2 draws in the last 5. Their away form especially has been damaging with only 1 win, 2 draws and 2 loses (a surprise loss to Stoke) in the last 5.

Key men for Redknapp's side

Harry Redknapp will go with his usual line up of Friedel in goal. Kyle walker , King (faces a late fitness test), Dawson and Assou-Ekotto in defence. Lennon, Parker, Modric and Bale will make up the midfield and Adebayor and Defoe will start upfront in all probability.

With the given current weak state of Arsenals defence, Harry Redknapp is sure to tell his team to enhance their already very attacking style of play and will definitely be looking to exploit the weakness of Djorou and Gibbs at the back. Lennon will be a handful with his pace and AOC will track back often to help Gibbs out at the back. Gareth Bale has been in exceptional form lately and I do highly doubt Sagna alone will be able to contain him.

ANALYSIS AND PREDICTION:

There a lot of key battles to look out for here. The most obvious is wingers vs full backs. Both sets of wingers are very very fast and have their own set of skills. Bale and Lennon are both very direct and love taking on their man on in one-on-one situations. Using sheer pace to burst past their opponents, expect Sagna and Gibbs to have their task cut out for them. At the other end are 2 different style of players. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is one of the most promising youngsters in Europe right now, with his trickery, dribbling and pace on the ball. He seems to have really found his feet at the club, and has been scaring the life out of full backs since his arrival at the club. Theo Walcott, despite his pace, likes to drift inside and take on center backs. He has been criticised for lacking the final product but on his day is very very hard to handle (vs Chelsea this season, for instance).

Last time these 2 sides met, Tottenham won 2-1 with a wundergol from Kyle Walker sealing all 3 points for Harry Redknapp and his men. Arsenal have won only once in the past 7 meetings between these two sides but will be looking to take advantage of their good home form, and the fact that Tottenham haven’t been at their best away from the White Hart Lane. Expect an excellent quick game of football with both sides looking to go for it.

My prediction: a 2-2 draw.

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(follow on twitter @rafeyAM_MUFC)

Analyzing the Remaining Seasons of the Current EPL Top 5 – #1: Manchester City

And now finally, we look to the club in sky blue whose exceptionally brilliant and extravagant football has taken the league by storm and cemented their reputation as a top club.

MANCHESTER CITY:

“Money alone never gets you success” was the quote repeatedly thrown at City. Their 3rd place finish last season certainly didn’t help that opinion with many people saying they’ll never be a title winning side by spending alone.

However the addition of the F.A. Cup to a trophy cabinet which had seen dust for 35 years did ease the pressure on Mancini, and seemed to be the signal for the Eastlanders to really come into their own the next season.

Which they have duly done.

Criticized heavily last season for their negative approach, looking on most occasion to just keep the clean sheet instead of go forth and finish teams off, City annihilated all who stood in their path in the opening weeks of the EPL. 36 goals scored in the opening 10 fixtures which included embarrassing first Tottenham 1-5 at the lane, then probably the biggest moment of the careers of everyone involved, a 1-6 demolition job of champions Manchester United at the unexpected of all places – the Old Trafford. It sent a clear message to the Red Devils and the rest of the world; Manchester city are here to stay for good.

Still a 100% record at home after 25 games played, the star-studded line up has really shone this season with some quite extravagant football. Regardless of whether one is a Blues fan or not, you cannot deny what City have managed to accomplish. Combining a similar style to what used to be the quick, decisive, entertaining passing of the Invincibles with the clinical finish of a typical title winning Manchester United side, City have played some of the best football across Europe and have won plaudits from managers and pundits alike.

Silva and Toure have been at the center of everything good City have done this season.

And most of that is due to the free flowing nature of the players. Yaya toure, used as a holding midfielder back in Barcelona days, has been let go of his defensive shackles and was probably the best midfielder in 2011 in England with his iconic marauding runs from the center of the park, scaring the life out of many a defender. This direct style of play has combined exquisitely with the elegance of the Spanish playmaker David Silva and has seen city develop into one of the best all around sides in Europe right now.

The Spaniard has been completely unstoppable this time around and has given nightmares to pretty much every defense he has faced. Currently leading the assists chart with 12 to his name, 6 goals and just generally brilliant in his movement, the no.21 has really epitomized what attacking football is all about and it would be a major major shock if he wasn’t in the starting XI for Spain in the upcoming Euros.

They have though recently shown signs though of their weaknesses. Losing the Toure brothers to the African Cup of Nations was a major blow to Mancini and his men and it saw City drop points in the month of January which allowed 2nd placed Manchester United to close the gap on them. This over reliance on the Ivorian duo and general dressing room arguments, including the well documented Tevez issue (not going to get into that), was criticized heavily with many people saying the team still lacked a general spirit and togetherness that money just cannot buy.

So whats next for Manchester City? Absolutely brilliant at home so far (12 wins in 12 home games, with 37 goals scored and 6 conceded) and playing some generally good  football away from home, the men in sky blue still have to face visits from Chelsea and Man Utd (being touted a potential title decider) and take a trip to London to face Arsenal. Having the Toure brothers back will be a major boost to Mancini and if they can find the kind of form they were in at the start of the season, that 2 point lead at the top of the table should see them crowned champions. Unless of course Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have something to say about it.

Its been an absolutely incredible season to watch so far and over the course of the next few games, it should become clear which team is finishing where. But then again, this is the Barclays Premier League, you never really know now do you!

(follow on twiiter @rafeyAM_MUFC)

Analyzing the Remaining Seasons of the Current EPL Top 5 – #3: Tottenham

Now we take a look at 3rd place tottenham who have had a quite action filled and solid season this time around.

TOTTENHAM:

When Harry Redknapp took over at then bottom placed Tottenham in 2008 from Juande Ramos, few will have predicted what was to follow! Nothing short of a dream story, Spurs are now potential title contenders and are in for a most definite Champions League spot! Long considered a mid table club, Tottenham are now a well and truly established top placed side!

Bashed in the 2 opening weeks by Man Utd and Man City 3-0 and 1-5 respectively when many wrote off their campaign then and there, the north Londoners then picked themselves up getting 31 points from a possible 33 beating North London rivals Arsenal and Liverpool along the way.

Then in December the seemingly unstoppable Spurs Express slowed down a bit and they suffered their first loss in 3 months to Stoke. Up till this point Spurs had kept right up with the leading pack and at times were level on points with second place Man Utd (more on them in the next posts).

One criticism (and it’s very hard to have much to criticise them over during the course of this campaign) of them though, has been that despite the very attacking style of football Harry Redknapp likes to play, at times the end result has been missing and Spurs have often struggled to finish teams off winning by slight margins. There have been five 1-0s that have gone their way along with eight 2-0s.

They are also blamed to rely on star man Gareth Bale too much. The Welshman has been in unstoppable form for most of the campaign and though at times seems to be  just on the verge of being inconsistent in his performances, Bale always threatens to rip apart any defence with his lightning pace and deadly left foot!

The deadly quick Welshman has been one of the players of the season so far in the EPL!

Another solid performer for the men in white has been Adebayor. Cast off from Manchester city’s star studded line up, The Togo International has reinvigorated his career at White Hart Lane, scoring 10 and providing 10 over the course of 22 league games! The tall 6’3 striker has provided the much needed height and deft touch to Tottenham’s already impressive attack!

So whats next for Tottenham? They still have to host Manchester United at home and pay visits to Arsenal and Chelsea! Having missed out on a Champions League spot last year, a top-3 finish is almost certain this year and only 7 points adrift from the top with 13 games still to go, they can still put up a fight for the title in the hope that the top 2 stutter over the course of the remaining season!

(follow on twiiter @rafeyAM_MUFC)

Analyzing the Remaining Seasons of the Current EPL Top 5 – #4: Arsenal

Continuing with the individual analysis of each of the EPL’s top 5, it is now time to turn our attention to the Gunners, who in recent seasons have looked a mere shadow of what were once The Invincibles!

ARSENAL:

The team currently 4th have had a very mixed season this time around. Normally what happens is the Londoners fly high till about mid-season and then they suddenly fizz out. Epitomized most by what happened to them last season. Challenging for 4 titles and on the verge of winning their first in 6 seasons, then came a loss to Birmingham in the Carling cup final and as witnessed by all, it was pretty much downhill from there. They slowly but surely went out of all competitions they were challenging for and in the end it proved to be another trophy-less campaign for Wenger’s men!

Although still in contention for 3 titles this season (F.A cup, Premier League and Champions League) few expect them to win much this time around either. Many fans and pundits alike point the blame towards the Gunners’ inability to finish teams off when needed. This combined with the fact that apart from Norwich, Arsenal have conceded the most amount of goals in the top half of the table and one can begin to see where the problems lie for the men in red and white!

One thing though that has been quite amazing and frankly jaw-dropping has been captain Robin Van Persie’s form over the past year and form he has brought into 2012 as well. 35 goals scored in the calender year, just 1 short of Alan Shearer’s EPL record, and the 22 goals & 8 assists this season have been a major part in keeping Arsenal’s hopes for a Champions League spot alive.

Robin Van Persie has been in blistering form over the past 14 months

More great news for the Arsenal faithful is that young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain signed from Southampton in the summer really seems to have found his feet at the Emirates and has already taken over from Arshavin on the left side of their attack. His dribbling, trickery and creativity have really set the Premier league alight and just like D. Sturridge over at Chelsea, ‘The Ox’, as he’s referred to by the fans, seems destined to be a future Arsenal and possibly England legend!

So whats next for Arsenal? They still have to cope with visits from rivals Tottenham, Man city and Chelsea and pay a visit to Anfield. Still very much in for a Champions League spot and a possible 3rd place finish, Arsene wenger needs to make sure he can keep his teams spirits high and most importantly keep the likes of RVP fit if they are to continue their record of having not missed out on a champions league place in the last 16 years!

(follow on twiiter @rafeyAM_MUFC)

Analyzing the Remaining Seasons of the Current EPL Top 5 – #5: Chelsea

Well what a season its been! From Man Utd beating Arsenal 8 goals to 2. To them then being beaten in their own backyard 1-6 by the quite extravagant football being played at the Etihad stadium this year, there’s been everything any football fan could hope for in this seasons Barclays Premier League. All the drama and excitement and of course, its not over yet! With 13 games still to be played FootyTacs takes a view at where the current top 5 teams are expected to be, come the end of the season.

There will be 1 post on each team starting with 09-10 champions.

CHELSEA:
Well where to begin here. It’s been a very topsy turvy season for AVB and his men. They started out very very well demolishing most sides (apart from a 3-1 loss to man united). 6 wins in their first 8 games and they were well on track for a fight for the title! It didn’t take long though for the much talked about Andre Villas Boas to experience how hard it is to win games in this league be it against any opposition. A loss to newly promoted QPR followed along with a quite humiliating 3-5 defeat at home to Arsenal and the youngest manager in the league was already feeling the pressure!

Their season has definitely not been helped by the fact that the most expensive player in Premier League history, the 50mil pound man Fernando Torres has struggled to find the net completely at times. Just 2 goals and 3 assists in 19 league games is just not acceptable for someone who cost that much and who was the top dog in the league back in his Liverpool days. And although he hasn’t featured much, Didier Drogba hasn’t had the best of seasons either, netting just thrice in 15 games. That coupled with the incidents involving captain John Terry over the season have really set the blues back by quite the margin and seen them drop from title contention to fighting for a Champions league spot!

Fernando Torres has struggled to find the kind of form that made him one of the most feared strikers on the planet.

But it hasn’t been a complete horror story over at the Bridge. They seemed to have unearthed a new gem in the shape of Daniel Sturridge who after impressing in his Bolton days, has really been the player of the season for me so far for Chelsea. I think he should definitely be going with England to the Euros to really boost their chances this time around!

More great news for the blues is that the 30mil Euros they invested into Spanish playmaker Juan Mata seem to be paying off and he has made a great new addition to what was a seemingly ageing side! His quick feet and great skill on the ball have troubled many a defender and at just 23, he could go on to be a Chelsea great!

So whats next for Chelsea? Their remaining games include trips to the Etihad, Emirates and the Anfield (Have not won any of the 2 games against liverpool this season including the Carling Cup fixture) and a visit from in-form Tottenham. If they can manage to find the kind of form that saw them swoop away Bolton Wanderers 1-5 at the start of the campaign, and keep the likes of Sturridge, Mata and Lampard fit, I think they’ve got a very good chance of finishing firmly in the top 4 and possibly in the top 3 if one of the leading pack slip up a bit!

(follow on twiiter @rafeyAM_MUFC)