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.
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.
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.
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.
(follow on twitter @rafeyAM_MUFC)