Arsenal look to keep up strong start in North London Derby
Thankfully, the Premier League’s fixture computer has this weekend provided the perfect antidote to the frankly disgusting spectacle that occurred the weekend before. Frank Lampard was almost in tears after his goal drew Manchester City level with Chelsea in the 85th minute of their tie, and explained afterwards to Sky Sports that, ‘I woke up this morning and didn’t know what I wanted from today.’ Four years earlier, as Emmanuel Adebayor’s Man City prepared to face his former club Arsenal, the Togolese knew exactly what he wanted. Angry at having been written off as a top-level striker and hurting after being subjected to a racist chant on the morning of the match, he proceeded to score and, well, do this. Now leading the line for Tottenham, he has the chance to repeat the feat in Saturday’s North London derby.
Arsenal win 7/10
Spurs win 7/2
(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)
Both sides have had strange starts to the season. Arsenal find themselves right at home in their familiar fourth place, while Tottenham lie five places and two points behind, in ninth. But despite Arsenal’s strong-ish start, the bulk of their play has been stilted and lacking in imagination. They scraped a win at home to Crystal Palace on the opening day, found themselves 2-0 down at Everton a week later before rescuing a point, and then struggled again in a 1-1 draw with Leicester. They looked better against City, but still seemed to lack that cutting edge, both Arsenal goals in the 2-2 draw the result of individual brilliance (Sanchez’s sublime volley, Wilshere’s lovely dinked finish) rather than, as is more typical of Arsene Wenger’s sides, the strength of the collective.
There is good reason to believe, however, that things are starting to ‘click’ into place. These early season performances have coincided with an experimental 4-1-4-1 formation that seemed to suit precisely none of the club’s most talented players. Alexis Sanchez has been largely impressive, but there remained a question mark over just where he would be picked; Aaron Ramsey, despite two important goals against Palace and Everton, has looked well short of his best; and Mesut Ozil, to put it kindly, has cut a peripheral figure out wide on the left.
But last weekend’s convincing away win at Villa Park saw the return of what most Arsenal fans wanted to see from the off: a 4-2-3-1 with Ozil at the centre of the three. Suddenly, the Danny Welbeck-Ozil-Sanchez axis looked unstoppable, even against Aston Villa’s rightful heirs to Paul McGrath and Shaun Teale (ahem), Ron Vlaar and Philippe Senderos. There now appears to be an air of optimism around the Emirates, one that Tuesday’s League Cup loss to Southampton has done little to dampen. (‘Bellerin, Chambers, Hayden, Coquelin’, Arsenal’s back four ominously read that evening.) They go into Saturday’s derby with confidence.
The same can’t be said for Spurs. Like Arsenal, their start to the season has been marked by ups and downs. Spurs’ downs, however, are both more worrying and more recent. Mauricio Pochettino looked to have settled in nicely at White Hart Lane, a spirited ten-man win away at West Ham being followed up by a routine dispatching of QPR. As Manchester United fans learned last week, however, 4-0 wins against Harry Redknapp sides mean diddlysquat in the longer term. Subsequent results have been disappointing to say the least: a 3-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield (fair enough), a 2-2 draw with Sunderland at the Stadium of Light (not great), and a 1-0 loss to West Brom at White Hart Lane (a ‘big hit in the face’, to quote Pochettino).
The manager is fortunate that the West Brom loss came on one of the most brilliant, and certainly bizarre, Super Sundays™ in recent memory – with apologies to James Morrison, Esteban Cambiasso scoring for Leicester in a 5-3 win over Man United trumps every goal the Scottish midfielder will ever score – and that few will remember just how turgid his team’s performance was. The pressing style that so characterised Pochettino’s Southampton was nowhere to be seen, and the defence again looked shaky.
The manager told reporters this week that no member of his squad should feel secure in their place – ‘if you need to change, you change’, as he succinctly put it – and fans must be hoping that he proves as good as his word. Replacing both centre backs would be a radical move, and is unlikely to happen in time for the derby, but it wouldn’t be an unpopular one. Younes Kaboul and Vlad Chiriches aren’t working as a partnership; Jan Vertonghen and Federico Fazio just might. Benjamin Stambouli, a player whose timing in the tackle is matched by his leadership qualities, could also come in alongside Etienne Capoue in an effort to shore up the Spurs midfield.
Even that might not save them. It’s not that there is any sort of crisis; this is a slump, at worst. One must bear in mind, however, that Spurs are a side recovering from the management of Tim Sherwood, a man more renowned for his ‘banter’ than his tactics. Things will improve, and Pochettino deserves time to negotiate that process, but in the short term it appears that they lack both the cohesion and the quality to get one over on their rivals. Arsenal will likely continue their fine North London derby record – only two losses at home in the Premier League era – and, alas, Adebayor will likely depart his old stomping ground looking miserable.
Betting Instinct tip – Arsenal to be winning at half-time and full-time is 8/5 with AllYouBet.ag
KIERAN DODDS is a master’s student and writer. He has written about sport, politics and current affairs for the Guardian, the Huffington Post, Africa is a Country, When Saturday Comes, IBWM and others. Follow Kieran on Twitter.