Friday, February 06, 2015

TGT Preview: North London Derby



The most awaited football game in the English calendar is finally upon us. While the North London Derby may not feature the same set of quality players as its Spanish counterpart, the El Clasico, it plays out in a more intense atmosphere. Tottenham seldom come close their city rivals in the season ending points table, but they always come all guns blazing against them two times every year. 

This particular North London Derby is significant for many reasons. The winner could potential move into the fourth spot if Southampton fail to muster 3 points in their game against Queens Park Rangers. The race for the final Champions League spot is going to be hotly contested between Manchester United, Southampton, Arsenal, Tottenham and a resurgent Liverpool. A slip up in a derby game such as this could prove fatal for both North London clubs.

The Numbers Game 

The form book predicts a neck-to-neck contest this time around. Tottenham have lost just 1 out of their previous 9 games whereas Arsenal have lost only 1 in their last 8. In their previous away game, Arsene Wenger’s men beat title contenders Manchester City 2-0. Tottenham on the other hand have made White Hart Lane a fortress this season, causing major upsets on home turf such as the 5-3 mauling of league leaders Chelsea. 

As far as the North London Derby goes, both sides have stats to back their optimism. Arsenal are undefeated in the previous four derbies while Tottenham have lost only 1 in the last 6 contested in the Premier League. On paper, Arsenal look to have the better side with the likes of Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott coming into the attack. The defensive trio of Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and David Ospina in goal, seem to wall out even the best strikers. But factor in home advantage and Tottenham stand a chance. 

Who will take to the field?

Arsenal’s biggest miss will be their Chilean Talisman, Alexis Sanchez, who will not feature in this edition of the derby due to a hamstring injury he suffered last week. But the return of Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott will more than make up for his absence. The Gunner’s ran riot against Aston Villa last weekend without Sanchez in the squad, beating Paul Lambert’s side 5-0 at the Emirates. Walcott especially, has done well in this fixture in the recent past, scoring 4 goals and assisting 3 in the last 6 North London derbies. 

We could see some derby debutants as well this time around. David Ospina now has as many clean sheets as Szczesny (3) and looks to have cemented his place in goal. He will put to his most difficult test yet as he takes on the pressure and intensity of a high profile game such as this. Another new face that could feature is that of Gabriel Paulista, the defender who moved to the Emirates from Spanish side Villarreal this January. 

The return of Danny Welbeck is also on the cards with the striker having recovered from the thigh injury that has kept him on the sidelines these past couple of weeks. 

Tottenham do not face a long injury list and could see some attacking players such as Adebayor and Bentaleb return to the squad. Bentaleb was away on African Cup of Nations duty whereas Adebayor was on the cusp of a move away from White Hart Lane. Adebayor holds the record for most goals scored in the North London Derby (10) and he is also just one of two players to have scored for both Tottenham and Arsenal.

Who will win?

Spurs will rely heavily on the abilities of Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli. If the Arsenal defence manages to shut them out, Tottenham’s goal scoring prospects will look bleak. But that is easier said than done. Goals have always free flown in this fixture with neither side holding very little back. It is hard to see a clean sheet with a goal-less draw a near impossibility. Spurs have kept just 1 clean sheet in their last 32 games against Arsenal. The stage is all set for a high scoring bout with both sides capable of trading equal number of punches. The game will be decided by a solitary goal or an expensive mistake. All in all we are in for a footballing treat. 




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