Morning folks – James here after something of an extended hiatus.
Tomorrow marks my least favourite game of the season – one that I’d happily sleep through and find out the result after full time. I cannot fathom how people can genuinely look forward to these matches – undoubtedly beating that lot from the Seven Sisters Road is a near unparalleled feeling, losing to them is the pits. I have the misfortune to be surrounded by Tottenham fans in the office – my hope is that their familiar pre-match goads and taunts will leave them with hilarious egg on their face once again (see the final round of fixtures 2015/16).
We go into the game in a rich vein of form, whilst our neighbours come in without a win in six, with a particular anaemic display in midweek against Bayer Leverkusen – much more of that please. We appear to be as close to a full strength squad as I can remember in a long time, with Bellerin and Monreal joining full training, along with Theo Walcott who missed the midweek thriller in Bulgaria. There are injury concerns for them, with Alderweiweld, Dembele, Lamela and Kane all likely to miss out.
Ordinarily, this would give me great confidence, but we have been stung by ‘narrative’ before in big games – see Old Trafford away last season – Arsenal riding high after beating Leicester, Utd ravaged with injury and in dire form – yet we get turned over. Talking of narrative, it would do the headline writers a few favours if it were Arsenal who ended Tottenham’s unbeaten start to the season. The old cliché of form being an irrelevance in a derby is ringing in my ears, and the best way we can combat that fear is to go for the jugular.
They will be massively pumped up for this one – let’s use that to our advantage. We need to start the game as we have done in other landmark home matches of recent history – the demolition of Utd and Chelsea should provide the blueprint for how we approach the match. The worst thing we could do is reverting to a formation with Giroud leading the line. That isn’t a slight on the Frenchman, but more a comment on the added threat we pose with Alexis leading the line. In recent games against Middlesbrough at home for instance, Giroud would have been a genuine option to start the game, as he is adept at playing with his back to goal against packed defences.
Against Tottenham however, who will likely have Dier and Vertonghen at the heart of their defence, starting Giroud would play into their hands. They’re both physical, aerially dominant defenders, but neither is especially mobile. The combined interchange and movement of Alexis, Walcott, Ozil and Iwobi has the potential to tie them in knots. I remain unconvinced by Danny Rose and Kyle Walker in the fullback positions – undoubtedly they are great athletes and a threat going forward, but our wide men should target them as points of weakness.
The manager also has something of a dilemma in midfield, with Cazorla unlikely to be fit enough to start the game. He has opted for a combination of Coquelin and El Neny in recent weeks, with the Egyptian in particular impressing. I would however be tempted to start with Granit Xhaka. Whilst I have reservations about his defensive ability, his ability to retain the ball under pressure and bypass the opposition’s pressing lines with his passing could prove invaluable against Tottenham’s high octane approach, especially in light of Cazorla’s absence. I’d be tempted to start Coquelin alongside him – clearly that runs the risk of having two hot-heads alongside each other in midfield, but I’m of the view that we should be fighting fire with fire, particularly in the opening exchanges. This particular iteration of the Tottenham team is especially spikey and they have shown if things aren’t going well, they have the capacity to press the self-destruct button (see Chelsea, away).
Our defence picks itself with Bellerin and Monreal both seemingly fit enough to start, alongside Kostafi at centre back. Our defensive challenge will depend largely on the attacking personnel from our opponents – Vincent Janssen has yet to convince, and whilst he is physically imposing, he has a touch of the Girouds in his immobility. Given Harry Kane hasn’t played in almost two months, it would be a massive gamble for him to start the game. Pochettino may opt for Son as an auxiliary forward, with his movement and energy arguably a greater threat to us, particularly if they attempt to play on the counter attack.
What I hope will tell on the day is the form of the unquestionably world class Mesut Ozil (and Alexis, who isn’t too far behind). Our opponents cannot boast a player of either of these two’s quality and as is often the case in big games, we will be looking for our marquee players to make the difference. Both have shown an appetite for the big occasion throughout their Arsenal careers, so fingers crossed they are given the space and system to excel.
I’ll be at the game for the ridiculously early midday kick-off – try to enjoy it, and see you on the other side!
Until next time.
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