Tuesday, October 28, 2008

EPL Week 10 Preview: A Guide to Arsenal v. Spurs, the 143rd North London Derby

So Harry Redknapp worked his magic on his first outing as new Tottenham Hotspur manager. Spurs were victorious against a poor Bolton team on Sunday, but Wednesday's 143rd North London Derby against Arsenal is another thing completely...

Redknapp oversaw his Spurs team gain their first win of the season when they brushed Bolton aside at White Hart Lane. In winning 2-0, Spurs not only got three points for the first time this season, but they also kept a clean sheet—something that hasn't been seen at White Hart Lane in years, but has been rumoured to exist.

The change in Spurs was noticeable, and players who had found themselves left out of the squad under Ramos were put straight into action for Redknapp's first game. He kept the one up front formation that was favoured by Ramos, but Modric was pushed further forward in support of Pavyluchenko, instead of a flat five across the middle.

It was a role he relished as he put in a man-of-the-match performance. The little Croatian was the heartbeat of the Spurs team and was the focal point of almost every attack. He was ably supported by Tom Huddlestone, who made his first start of the season in place of the ever-present Zokora—who found himself out of the team for the first time this season.

Huddlestone's passing was crisp as he dictated the game throughout and he was aided by Jamie O'Hara, Jermaine Jenas, and David Bentley—who also made a welcome return to the fold.

Bentley had found himself out of favour with Ramos after giving an interview in which he admitted that Spurs' start to the season was "a bit sh**." Hardly an overstatement, but Ramos took exception to it and left the big money signing out of successive squads. And should Bentley play tomorrow, it will be against his first professional club in the colours of the team he supported as a boy.

Ledley King made a surprise return on Sunday but is not expected to play any part against Arsenal as his knee is still not up to playing three times in seven days. Woodgate is still carrying an injury so Vedran Corluka may be partnered by Zokora at the back.

Bale should return as his suspension is finished, but Assou-Ekotto looked assured for the first time in a Spurs shirt as O'Hara gave him ample support, so Redknapp will have a decision to make there. Defence is the priority in any manager's team, so expect Bale to come in.

Off the pitch, ex-Bournemouth manager John Bond has been added to the White Hart Lane backroom, and both Redknapp and Bond will have to call upon all their experience if they are even to challenge Arsenal at the Emirates.

Elsewhere, Spurs have been linked with Teddy Sheringham, Les Ferdinand, and Tim Sherwood as Harry goes in search of good coaches.

That Spurs go into tomorrow night's derby looking for progression and a good performance rather than the points shows the gulf between the two rivals at the moment.

Arsenal have fielded three different teams this season. One who play in the Carling Cup, one who demolish teams in Europe, and one who have been a little inconsistent in the league. I expect the Champion's League side to show up tomorrow.

Arsene Wenger has a full squad to choose from. Denilson returns from injury after missing out on the win against West Ham on Sunday. Kolo Toure and Adebayor should both earn re-calls to the starting lineup after finding themselves on the bench against the Hammers.

Indeed, Adebayor was instrumental in the Gunners securing the win after Robert Green threatened to earn a point for West Ham. After he entered the fray, Arsenal gained another dimension to their expansive game. He played a part in Julian Faubert's own goal and then finished brilliantly after Green went walk-a-bout to hand the points to Arsenal.

On his day Adebayor is unplayable, and it is the added dimension he has given the Gunners that has allowed Fabregas to prosper so. With Henry in the side, Arsenal's style was set up to take advantage of the mercurial Frenchman's speed.

With Adebayor in the side, their play is more conventional. He plays as an orthodox centre forward and brings his central midfielders into the game, something Henry seemed incapable of doing.

Arsenal have dropped points to Hull, Fulham, and Sunderland so far this term and they go into the derby against Spurs knowing defeat would all but end any title ambitions they have. Wenger is well aware of how Harry Redknapp's arrival may impact Spurs and he is not going to let his team get complacent.

"Certainly, in the long term he will change things for Tottenham, but I believe in tomorrows specific game it is more about how we will play and I believe that is more important than anything else," the Frenchman said.

Off the pitch, Arsenal legend and Harry Redknapp's assistant at Portsmouth, Tony Adams, was confirmed as the new Portsmouth manager today. And the two North London managers wished him all the luck in the world as they welcomed him "to hell."

Redknapp doesn't have the best of records against Arsenal, and he is aiming to be the first Spurs manager since 1999 to record a league win against the Gunners. One thing of note is that victory took place on a Wednesday night, and tomorrow's game is the first derby to be played on a Wednesday since.

And the last time Spurs won at Arsenal was in 1993, so the omens don't look good for tomorrow as Arsenal look to extend their run to 18 league games unbeaten against Spurs.


Arsenal 4/9 Draw 16/5 Tottenham 7/1


Such are the complexities, strangeness, and paradoxes of the Premiership that should Spurs win tomorrow they will have eight points from 10 games—their best start to a league campaign in three seasons!

Not bad considering Ramos was sacked before the win against Bolton for the worst start to a league campaign in the club's history.

Just goes to show you, statistics can prove anything.

"Lies, damn lies, and statistics," as the old saying goes.