It’s the big one. Andre Villas-Boas would have been waiting for Spurs vs Chelsea; we’ve been waiting for Arsenal vs Spurs.
The run up to the North London derby sees us in the midst of an injury crisis. Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker both left the Man City match early with hamstring trouble and will have last minute fitness tests.
Andre Villas-Boas is already with longer-term absentees Moussa Dembele, Scott Parker, Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto. So, we could see a patched up Spurs side if Lennon and Walker are unable to play.
Last season we were 2-0 up at the Emirates before being turned over 5-2. The season before, the Gooners were quickly 2-0 up, but Bale, van der Vaart, then Kaboul with 5 minutes on the clock turned that game around. Fast starts haven’t always guaranteed victory in this game, something both sides have learnt, especially from the 4-4 draw in 2008.
So what should be the Tottenham tactics for Arsenal vs Spurs this Saturday?
Attack the Arsenal left side
Arsenal have had trouble at fullback this season and have already utilised a number of players in both right and left positions. Whilst Jenkinson or Sagna have looked slightly more robust on the right; Gibbs, Santos and most recently Vermaelen have looked porous on the left.
Teams have noticed this and gone at the Arsenal left with good success this season. After starting off unbeaten and with three clean sheets, Chelsea were the first team to expose this weakness that others have subsequently probed.
In their last two Premier League matches, Arsenal have given up five goals. Man Utd went heavily after Andre Santos in the left back role at Old Trafford. Last week in shipping three to Fulham, the Cottagers attacked the impetuous Thomas Vermaelen who was operating as an emergency left back.
Arsenal vs Spurs will be won in a number of areas, but if we’re to have success, then the Tottenham tactics should be to attack the left back.
Thomas Vermaelen often tries to jump the play and intercept the ball, whilst he can also get caught up field chasing goals. Andre Santos is similarly more attack minded, often languid and slow to get back in to position. With Lukas Podolski operating ahead and offering little support in the defensive third, this is an area we have to expose.
Stop play building through Mikel Arteta
Mikel Arteta receives possession more than any other Arsenal player. It is his role to take the ball from the back and deliver it to the forward players.
Much was made of the role Wayne Rooney played at Old Trafford, by dropping off to pick up Arteta whenever Man Utd lost possession. The United man ran himself in to the ground, but the tactics worked as Arteta either had to pass sideways or go backwards. This caused the Gooners to be very pedestrian and despite controlling possession, the action was at their end of the field, as Man Utd out shot them by 14 to 7.
Last weekend against Fulham, Arteta was allowed to gain possession and move the ball forward without the same pressure. He made 83 of 88 passes and pretty much nuked the Fulham left side as he sought out the pace of Theo Walcott.
Arsenal will have the lion’s share of possession, if we are to stop them building momentum, the then the Tottenham tactics should be to stop Arteta.
Sandro needs to do a job on Santi Cazorla
Santi Cazorla started off the season with a bang, as the Spanish international looked to have been well worth the £16m Arsenal paid Malaga for him.
Despite scoring twice, Cazorla hasn’t assisted on a goal in Arsenal’s last seven Premier League matches. That doesn’t mean he has gone off the boil though, as he is still generating opportunities at a rate of 3.4 chances created per match. Only Leighton Baines creates more chances per game this season according to WhoScored.com.
Cazorla’s movement is the key to getting his passing game going. If we take a look at his last two home Premier League matches on Stats Zone, we can see how he likes to drift out in to wide areas midway in the opposition half.
Its no surprise that he receives the most passes per match from Mikel Arteta, but after that, the wide players are his biggest source of gaining the ball. With Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla all in this midfield zone, we cannot let ourselves get outnumbered here or we will be passed to death.
The Tottenham tactics will probably see Clint Dempsey having the job of picking up Arteta early to hinder his distribution, whilst Sandro will look to do a job on Cazorla.
Arsenal concede chances from crosses
Fulham scored twice from crosses last weekend, Man Utd scored from a pair of balls in to the box as well.
For Fulham last weekend, Dimitar Berbatov chipped the ball over to Alex Kacaniklic to head home, whilst the former Spurs great also nodded in a corner.
The weekend before, Robin van Persie opened the scoring after Thomas Vermaelen failed to clear Rafael’s cross. United then went two up, as Patrice Evra headed home Wayne Rooney’s ball in to the box.
Chelsea and Man City have also scored from set pieces crossed in to the area, as the Gooners have been vulnerable to balls in to the box from open play, free kicks and corners.
Arsenal’s left side has been the most profitable region, with both Man City’s and Fulham’s corners being taken from here. Torres headed home a Chelsea set piece after a foul on that side, whilst Kacaniklic scored his header from good work by Berbatov on the Arsenal left.
In short, Arsenal have conceded 80 crosses from their right side and 108 from their left as teams have exposed their left back issue.
With Emmanuel Adebayor in the side, the Tottenham tactics should look to utilise his height with crosses from down the Tottenham right.
Olivier Giroud’s headers
With all of the midfield talent that Arsenal has on display, it seems strange to be mentioning Oliver Giroud. The Frenchman had a slow start and often looked out of sorts and a poor replacement for Robin van Persie. However, he is recently coming in to form, not with his feet, but rather with his head.
Last weekend against Fulham, Giroud scored twice with headers, he also nodded one home against Schalke in the Champions League and Reading in the Capital One Cup.
Of his six goals in all competitions, four have come with his head and we need to be wary of the aerial threat he posses.
The Gooners not only look to him to get on the end of crosses, but also from long clearances downfield from the goalkeeper and defenders.
In the Spurs backline, Steven Caulker is very adept at dealing with the ball aerially, as is Jan Vertonghen, but William Gallas could be a liability. The Frenchman has won 67% of his aerial duels both this season and in the last campaign.
Although he is consistent at 67%, Michael Dawson wins 76% of his aerial contests and may be the better pick here. Giroud doesn’t have pace in his locker, so it’s not like Dawson’s lack of speed would see him exposed in this way.
Arsenal vs Spurs outlook
With the injuries that we have going in to this game, this will be a difficult North London Derby debut for Andre Villas-Boas.
If we are to have success, then the Tottenham tactics really have to focus around shutting down Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla in the defensive phase.
With the ball, we need to attack their left back area through our right-sided forward. If Aaron Lennon is fit to play then he needs to command the ball and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gareth Bale switch wings more often the usual to try his luck.
If we can get some success in building momentum down our right side, then Spurs will need to look to deliver good quality balls in to the box from open play and set pieces.
Last weekend in the 2-1 loss to Man City, we saw Tom Huddlestone taking every free kick in the City half and waiting for the centre backs to get forward. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same tactic from Tottenham here.
Olivier Giroud will pose a problem in the air, but if Arsenal also go with Theo Walcott wide right, he could also cause us trouble. Jan Vertonghen is an excellent central defender who can play left back, but has had trouble with pacey wide men like Nani at Old Trafford and Maicon last week. Gareth Bale wasn’t offering enough cover to his full back in both games and will need to be wary if Walcott starts here.
North London derbies have often been high scoring affairs recently and I see this one being another.