North London Derby – A Preview.

This Sunday, Spurs host Arsenal in what could be one of the defining games of both clubs’ seasons. Harry’s Hotspurs missed out on Champions League football last season, but are still one of
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’s most improved teams over the last few years. One of at least six teams fighting it out for the coveted top four slots of the league. Arsenal on the other hand, are close to the wilderness. Losing big names over the summer such as Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy would hurt any team – the replacements signed by Wenger have a lot to live up to, and in Arteta’s case a hell of a lot. Wilshere’s extended absence has also hit the club hard.

Wenger’s policy of bringing through young players with bags of potential has also taking a pounding recently – epitomised by the young Manchester United team (Jones, 19; Welbeck, 20; Smalling, 21; Cleverley, 22; among others) thrashing their rivals 8-2. Perhaps it’s a better indictment of Arsenal’s predicament that they’re better described as “former-rivals” of Manchester United – it would be a big surprise to see them challenging for the title this year.
Arsenal have been lining up in a Barcelona-esque 4-1-2-2-1 formation this season, and they can be expected to put out a similarly shaped team on Sunday. Injuries, suspensions and woeful performances have meant that Wenger has fiddled with his back four more than is healthy for a defensive unit. Alex Song was played at centre-back against Olympiakos in the Champions League, as the only fit centre-back is the lumbering Per Mertesacker who is still settling into the Premier League. Vermaelen, Koscielny, Djourou and Squillaci are currently keeping each other company in the treatment room. Song had previously been playing in (to continue the Barcelona comparison – ha!) in the Busquets role, screening the back four, but if he’s played at centre-back again, expect the effervescent Frimpong to return, and promptly get himself sent off for snapping Modric’s back in two, or kicking him 20ft into the air.  Wenger has declared that Squillaci should be fit fro the Spurs game, and Djourou and Koscielny are rated as doubts, so it might not come to that. Regardless, Wenger will be forced to name a 7th different back four in 8 games.
Further up the pitch, the injury woes continue for Arsenal. Abou Diaby is definitely out, Benayoun is a big doubt, but Gervinho and Walcott could make a return. Arsene Wenger will hope to have at least one of those two wingers back, and will soon face a selection decision over whether the emerging talent of Oxlade-Chamberlain should play in front of the strangely detached Arshavin.
Ramsey and Arteta will be doing their best Xavi-Iniesta impersonations – nwever an easy one to pull off, but they’re both good technical players with great passing skills. Surely Wenger would prefer to have either kept Fabregas at the club or to have Wilshere back from injury, but Arteta isn’t a bad signing at all, and Ramsey seems to be relishing the extra responsibility. Any captain of their national side should be able to step up to the mark mentally.
At least up front, Wenger has a player who isn’t susceptible to injury – Robin Van Persie… oh. He’s fit at the moment, keep those fingers crossed Gooners.
Interestingly, both the 8-2 defeat to Manchester United and the 4-3 loss at Blackburn followed Champions League games – suggesting that Wenger’s heavily depleted squad is struggling with the fixture list very early in the season. Tottenham Hotspurs have no such worries before this crunch game – a trip to Shamrock Rovers in the Europa League will simply give Redknapp the chance to rest first team players as he gives some of his squad players such as Danny rose and Giovanni dos Santos a run out.
Not that Tottenham aren’t without their own injury concerns, Dawson, Kranjcar and Defoe are all expected to return from injury, or at least report fit by the 2nd of October, but Gallas and the Hudd are both out.
Redknapp has also been fairly consistent with his formations so far this season. A good old English 4-4-2, varied on occasion to 4-4-1-1 to accommodate Rafael van der Vaart. Redknapp has been using the 4-4-1-1 in games which could be perceived as “bigger” – away to Manchester United, and at home to Manchester City, as well as the potentially tricky trip to Wigan, which has actually been the only time spurs have gained any points in the league with van der Vaart in the team. Redknapp will view this derby game as a big one, therefore, expect van der Vaart to be dipping the metaphorical arrows in poison and placing them in Adebayor’s quiver. Ah yes, Adebayor… a departed forward might normally expect a tough time from former colleagues, but looking at Arsenal’s defence, it’s him that will be dishing out any rough stuff. Redknapp’s renowned personal management techniques seem to be paying off with the roaming hitman.
Redknapp’s team are perhaps one of the most archetypal “traditional English” sides in the Premier League at the moment. Whether 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1, he generally deploys out and out wingers on either flank (Although sometimes Modric and Krancjar have played on one wing or another) and his first choice central midfield partnership is a creative player in Modric and a destructive harrier in Scott Parker. Lennon hasn’t been the most productive of players, and two whizkids on the wing might be considered a bit of a risk for the Arsenal game – Harry might be tempted to go with a more rounded player on one of the flanks.
Kaboul has been an ever-present in the league for Tottenham, and looks set to man the barriacades with the incredible Ledley King, who will be one of those rested ready for this game.
Brad Friedel has been as reliable as anyone between the sticks this season, but in fairness despite some shocking results, Szczesny has generally played well.
Expect a poor tempered game with plenty of cards, a patched-up Arsenal back line, and a Tottenham win.

By @ffootballer

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