Saturday, February 7, 2009

Match of the Day Preview: Spurs v. Arsenal: The 144th North London Derby

Spurs take on Arsenal at White Hart Lane tomorrow in a must-win game for both sides for completely different reasons...

Spurs sit two points off the bottom of the EPL, while Arsenal have slipped to fifth and five points off that elusive Champions League place.

This match will be the 144th North London Derby and is the most anticipated game between the teams in years, or possibly since the last one.

The last time the two teams met was only Harry Redknapp's second game in charge and he brought his team to the Emirates off the back of a much needed win against Bolton. Spurs threw the form book out the window and produced one of the best comebacks of this or any other season.

Trailing 4-2 as the game headed into injury time Spurs scored twice to tie the game and to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat.

And while that result prompted a mini-revival of sorts for Spurs they have now only won six of the 14 games since the teams last met.

Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe, Pascal Chimbonda, Carlo Cudicini, and Wilson Palacios have all been brought in to strengthen the White Hart Lane outfit. Defoe had surgery on Wednesday and has been ruled out for the next 12 weeks while the other new signings are all expected to be parachuted straight in to the starting XI.

With Redknapp naming Keane as captain, the Irishman looks certain to partner Roman Pavlyuchenko despite Darren Bent's double last week at Bolton.

Jermaine Jenas is back in the squad for the first time since December but he may have to settle for a place on the bench as Redknapp looks to Palacios and Zokora in the middle.

They should be joined by Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon as the four will give Redknapp the ability to shift his team around.

At the back Michael Dawson will be partnered by Woodgate with Vedran Corluka reverting to right full and Benoit Assou-Ekotto may find himself on the bench for Pascal Chimbonda.

If Redknapp does plump for Chimbonda in place of Assou-Ekotto the team will be heavily under balanced. The much maligned Bale and Ekotto are players who will be replaced in the summer but for the moment they provide much needed natural width on the left.

Arsenal will go to White Hart Lane without Abou Diaby who is suspended, and Andrei Arshavin should replace him in the match squad. The mercurial Russian's protracted transfer was finally ratified by the FA 24 hours after the transfer window closed and despite his lack of fitness he should find himself on the bench at least.

When Arshavin does finally make it into the team he will most probably find himself out on the left side of midfield. The little magician's skill is undoubted but there will be questions asked about his stamina and toughness. With Russian players being notoriously hard to settle, Arsenal will only get to see glimpses of his talent before next season.

Gallas and Toure look most likely to start at the back and it will be interesting to see how they cope with the physical Pavlyuchenko. Clichy and Sagna are probably the best fullbacks in the league and their removal from the team looks most unlikely.

Midfield is where most of Arsenal's problems stem from. Fabregas is out until next season and Diaby's physical presence will be missed, so the quartet will most likely look like Nasri, Denilson, Song, and either Vela, Wilshere, or Djourou.

Wilshire probably provides the biggest threat from a wide position but Vela gives Wenger the ability to adjust his formation. Whereas Djourou is most comfortable in the centre but technically he is the most inferior player Wenger has available.

Adebayor has come in for a lot of criticism from Arsenal fans of late, but the threat the Tongolese provides remains Arsenal's most potent. The big forward has probably suffered more than most by Fabregas' absence and the lack of width that the current team provide means that his best chances come from through balls, which is not his forte.

The last time the two teams met van Persie set up three and scored once so it is most likely that the Dutchman will partner Adebayor.

Another side note to the last match between the two rivals is that it was the game that signalled the end of William Gallas' reign as captain, so there will be a little more on the line when the game comes around.

Spurs have not beaten Arsenal in 18 attempts, since George Graham's side achieved a 2-1 home victory on 7 November 1999.

David Pleat, Glenn Hoddle, Jacques Santini, Martin Jol, and Juande Ramos all failed as Tottenham managers to get the better of Arsene Wenger in a league game. And now Harry Redknapp will be doing his utmost to ensure he does not join that list.

Bookmakers odds would suggest that Arsenal should win comfortably, but with this game being one that neither can afford to lose a draw looks likely.


Tottenham 3/1 Draw 2/1 Arsenal 6/4

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