Arsenal face the first North London derby of the season against a backdrop of mixed fortunes. Two disappointing cup displays sandwiched by an authoritative and emphatic victory at Villa Park last Saturday.
Last weekend, Wenger dropped Alexis and Wilshere to the bench, players that take risks in the final third and tend to turn the ball over with players committed high up the pitch. That high risk / high reward strategy was deemed too risky at Villa Park as the Gunners went for technical security with Chamberlain and Cazorla.
Whether Arsenal reverts back to the system he has played much of the season with, with Ozil playing from the left, remains to be seen. My own hunch is that he’ll keep Ozil central, with Cazorla and Alexis on either side of Welbeck.
Spurs meanwhile have struggled to settle into their stride under new manager Mauricio Pocchetino. They limped to a home defeat against West Brom last week and struggled past a shadow Nottingham Forest side in the League Cup.
However, Arsenal rarely got a lot of change from Pocchetino’s Southampton sides and a derby away from White Hart Lane might be just the ticket for Tottenham to kickstart their season and settle into the skin of another new coach.
Arsene Wenger believes securing a new stadium is crucial to Spurs’ chances of breaking into the elite. Arsenal moved stadiums successfully in 2006, but the Gunners boss acknowledges that things the landscape is different now.
You cannot be in the business where you turn down 15 or 20,000 (people) every week. If your competitors have more financial power than you, at some stage, you have to make a decision. Liverpool and Everton are also looking to move to a new stadium. West Ham goes to bigger stadium. If you stay in a smaller stadium it`s difficult.
“It is more difficult today. We built our stadium at a price you couldn`t any more. We did it by subsidising with our own resources and that is much more difficult today.”
Spurs boss Mauricio Pocchetino has confessed his admiration for Arsene Wenger’s long term tenure ahead of his first ever North London derby.
‘”Tottenham, for me, is a big job and it`s a dream to stay here like him [Wenger], to have the time [at Tottenham] that Arsène has had at Arsenal,” Pochettino said. “For this, I need to show my skill, I need to work hard and I need to get results. We are positive in our job and we will try to go as far as possible.”
‘”We have a good relationship,” Pochettino added, of Wenger. “I have full respect for him, he is a great manager, who has done a great job at Arsenal. An 18-year stay in charge is not easy and it`s a big gap with me at Tottenham!”
Arsenal Team News:
Arsenal have Per Mertesacker and Kieran Gibbs fit, whilst Mathieu Flamini returns to the squad following a dead leg.
Arsene Wenger will recall his rested first teamers from Tuesday night’s defeat to Southampton in the League Cup. Mathieu Debuchy (ankle), Olivier Giroud (ankle), Theo Walcott (knee), Nacho Monreal (back), Yaya Sanogo (hamstring) and Serge Gnabry (knee) are unavailable.
Arsenal (from); Szczesny, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Rosicky, Arteta (c), Podolski, Wilshere, Ozil, Ospina, Chamberlain, Ramsey, Alexis, S.Cazorla, Flamini, Chambers, Welbeck, Diaby, Campbell, Bellerin.
Player to watch: Alexis Sanchez
Alexis was left out of the dismantling of Aston Villa last week and Arsenal took on a much more controlled air, especially in possession. Sanchez is an immense player with a sense of fantasy about him, but it can lead to him giving the ball away a lot.
That said, he already has 4 goals and hasn’t built an understanding with his teammates yet. As I termed it in my arseblog column this week, ‘if someone is bringing juicy ribeyes to the table every evening, you can probably tolerate them chewing with their mouth open on occasion.’
Arsenal have to find a way to harness and embrace elite yet contradictory talents like Ozil and Alexis. I suspect Cazorla will be key here to bring a little more of the structure Ozil craves, without diluting the chaos that leads to Alexis’ best moments.
Tottenham Hotspur Team News:
Kyle Walker remains a long term injury absentee for Spurs. Andris Townsend showed no ill effects after returning from a thigh injury against Forest on Wednesday.
Tottenham Hotspur (from); Lloris, Rose, Kaboul (c), Verthongen, Chiriches, Lennon, Paulinho, Soldado, Adebayor, Lamela, Dier, Vorm, Naughton, Townsend, Kane, Dembele, Fazio, Chadli, Eriksen, Stambouli, Capoue, Davies, Bentaleb.
Player to watch: Emmanuel Adebayor
One of two games a season he actually seems to be bothered about nowadays. And when he’s bothered, we know what he’s capable of.
Match Facts & Stats
Arsenal haven’t lost a league game at the Emirates since August 2013.
Emmanuel Adebayor faces his old club.
Alan Sunderland is Arsenal’s top scorer in this fixture with 8 goals against Spurs. Sunderland and Ted Drake are the only Arsenal players to ever score hattricks in this fixture.
Arsenal defeated Spurs three times last season without conceding a goal.
The two sides have met 167 times in total. Arsenal have won 71, Spurs 52 with 44 draws.
Emmanuel Adebayor has scored more goals than any other player in north London derby history (10 – eight for Arsenal and two for Spurs).
Tottenham have kept just one clean sheet in their last 30 Premier League north London derbies (Feb 2009).
A Tottenham victory would represent their 50th league win over the Gunners.
The referee will be Michael Oliver.
Pocchetino can be a difficult manager to work out, I have the inkling he’ll come to the Emirates with a plan but I’ve no idea what it will be and whether it will be any good.
I’ll predict a 1-1 draw, Welbeck and Eriksen on the scoresheet.
Arsenal play at home to Galatasaray on Wednesday evening at 7.45pm. Tottenham are at home to Besiktas at 8.05pm on Thursday.