Friday, 24 February 2012

Arsenal v Tottenham Preview

This Sunday, Arsenal host Tottenham Hotspur in the second North London derby of the season.  In October, Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-1 at White Hart Lane thanks to a Kyle Walker goal from distance.  My overriding memory of that game was Arsenal's period of possession after half-time which resulted in an equaliser, the Walker winner came against the run of play almost.  Once ahead for a second time, Spurs held on for the win.

Tottenham are having a good season, a great season helped by the up and down performances of Arsenal and Chelsea, and Liverpool's continual ability to draw at Anfield dropping too many points.

Tottenham sit ten points clear of Arsenal in fourth place (for all their moaning, they are still 4th) and still with aspirations of the title although the failure to even take a point from the Etihad Stadium - a combination of Defoe's woeful dive and Ledley King's badly timed tackle - will come back to haunt them, considering they did so well to come back from two goals down.

That was Tottenham's season in the nutshell - a battling performane, exhiliarating comeback, a superb Bale goal, but a failure to take the opportunity that presented itself to you set Tottenham as a pretender rather than a contender.

Tottenham are getting plaudits for their attacking exploits highlighted by the 5-0 demolition of Newcastle in the last League game, yet it is the rock of defence that is getting less acclaim.  A 40 year old goalkeeper, a crippled centre half, a returning defender from injury, a reborn left-back and an English U21 international are keeping clean sheets.  Friedel is Spurs' purchase of the season, admittedly Scott Parker is the headliner but Friedel at 40 years old has been astounding.

Whereas the Tottenham defence is solid, the Arsenal defence has suffered from injuries and suspensions throughout the season.  The lack of stability and continuity has led to a leaky defence, evident in the 8-2 dismantling at Old Trafford.  Yet the defenders from that game have never been able to recover mentally.

Luckily, a whole season of Robin Van Persie has helped Arsenal secure fourth place at the moment.  His goals make him the Most Valuable Player of the season, but for RVP Arsenal may well be 10th or god forbid in the bottom half of the league.

This Sunday, Arsenal will look to contain Spurs counter attacking style which will be back to full tilt with Aaron Lennon returning from another injury.  Emmanuel Adebayor, Rafael van der Vaart are also available after short breaks and Harry Redknapp has a choice upfront with Louis Saha stepping in on loan and scoring immediately.

Arsenal will have to work hard to contain the wing play of Lennon and Bale, and do they have an equivalent to battle with Parker in the centre.  Arsenal could well choose to go for it with Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain bombing down respective wings in support of Van Persie.

The feeling amongst most Arsenal fans is one of worry and nerves.  When was the last time Tottenham went to Arsenal as overwhelming favourites.  Probably the last time they won at Highbury in 1993, when four days before an FA Cup final the Gooners played a second string side in preparation for the Wembley showpiece. Tottenham won 3-1.

My prediction for Sunday is the same scoreline.

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