By Phil Gregory
There’s nothing like an incisive and cutting RefWatch to discourage from writing a match preview which attempts to analyse on the basis that the relative qualities of the two teams will have a greater influence on the match outcome than the prick man in black, but alas I have my commitments, so here we are.
On the way back from football on Saturday afternoon – coaching the lads to a solid 3-0 victory I might add – I had a discussion with a Chelsea supporting pal about the game. Initially he dismissed my concerns over Dean, with the usual “you can’t blame the ref” but was somewhat interested by the frankly ridiculous winless run we have under Dean, or the disproportionate number of games Dean has reffed us in so far this season. For opposition supporters however, given they don’t witness many of our games and the subsequent controversy many just take at face value what is said on Match of the Day or in the papers, so unfortunately sympathy for the Gooners is in limited supply.
The big news over the last week for Arsenal has undoubtedly been the departure of Andrei Arshavin on loan to Zenit, which surely spells the end of his Arsenal career, with a permanent move this summer to be expected. Some derided this move as bizarre, but given it is fairly clear that Gervinho will be starting on the left from here on out, with Chamberlain capable of playing there too plus emergency options such as Rosicky capable of filling in it seems unlikely the Russian would have got much game time at all. A decent loan fee, his wages off the books and the fact that such a deal will make a permanent return to Russia much easier this summer suggests that this loan was a fairly easy decision to make for Arsène.
Leaving transfer talk and refereeing aside however, truth be told Tottenham are looking like a much better side this season than they have done in the past. Probably their biggest acquisition over the summer was Adebayor: Tottenham have really struggled with basically average strikers being relied on over the last couple of years, and indeed last season’s shower can be summed up with the stat that Defoe scored a mere four goals in twenty two league games in 10-11.
Moreover, a couple of their hyped players have really kicked on. Last season the Gareth Bale hype was frankly ridiculous: people were telling me he was the best finisher in the league and a phenomenal crosser; this for a man who only scored seven goals and recorded a single assist last season. Modric too came in for similar ludicrous overrating: a supposed world class midfield playmaker who contributed three goals and three assists in an entire season, good luck convincing me of that, we’ve had Cesc Fabregas! Much of Spurs’ improvement this year has come from having a very good striker – he may be a bit of an idiot, but Adebayor is a good striker – as well as Modric and Bale actually recording respectable numbers of goals and assists this year.
Moving on to the more pressing matter of the looming match however, the injury news is mixed. Gibbs and Koscielny face tests but could be involved, Coquelin has a hamstring injury whilst Ramsey’s ankle sprain will keep him out too. Squillaci’s groin injury will keep the experienced Frenchman out. Mertesacker will not be involved after his recent injury. Spurs have relative few injury concerns, with a few players who have been absent recently expected to come back for this tie.
Sagna Koscielny Vermaelen Gibbs
Chamberlain Van Persie Gervinho
A couple of injury doubts make their way into my expected line-up, with the absence of Gibbs a potential headache given it would force Vermaelen back to left back. Given doubts persist around Koscielny too, if those two fitness tests go badly we could be very light at the back going into this game, which frankly is the last thing we need. Djourou could come in, but if Vermaelen is forced to left back we may have to put Song in there, to the detriment of our midfield.
Chamberlain goes on the right in place of Theo, while Gervinho goes left and Van Persie through the middle.
Given the Dean-Dowd situation surrounding this game, I was initially tempted not to bother watching which would be a first for me when the Arsenal are on TV. I did eventually decide to witness the drama unfold but then upon discovering it was a 1.30pm kick off the decision was made for me, as I’m refereeing a game that kicks off at 2pm.
As for score line predictions… I dislike doing negative ones so given the backdrop of the clowns in black I will decline to give one on this occasion. Enjoy the game as best you can Gooners, perhaps we can overcome the odds and put those upstarts down!