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by Phil Gregory
Tottenham head to the Emirates on Saturday for a game that has more than a few sub-plots to it. Struggling somewhat in the league off the back of their Champions League commitments, Spurs are in a position where they need to get points on the board in order to keep their top-four hopes alive, with City raising the bar over the summer.
Having lost their first league game against Spurs in donkeys years last season, Arsenal will be a team out for revenge, while Spurs too may feel aggrieved, given the 4-1 spanking they were subject to in their favourite trophy earlier in the season. And then there is the small matter of William Gallas having joined Tottenham after the expiry of his Arsenal contract over the summer.
Plenty to be getting on with, then.
In terms of injuries, we’re still without Diaby, Vermaelen and Almunia, so not much change on that front. Wilshere picked up the obligatory knock on international duty but has recovered and is fit to play, while Van Persie will be all the sharper after 45 minutes for the Dutch national team. With Clichy an unused substitute, Gibbs getting some valuable game time and Nasri impressing, whisper it, but it was a good international break for Arsenal FC.
So onto the line-up. I think we’ll see
Sagna Squillaci Koscielny Clichy
Nasri Chamakh Arshavin
Fabianksi continues between the sticks knowing that Almunia is back in training, so the battle for the number one jersey is back on. Given Lukasz’s performances, the Spaniard may well struggle to get a look in. Sagna continues at right back, fresh from an assist for France in midweek, while Squillaci and Koscielny continue at centre back. Clichy completes what is proving to be a fairly common unit at the back, with Vermaelen’s injury troubles showing no sign of abating.
Song and Wilshere play the deep midfield roles, with Cesc pushing further up the pitch. I settled for Nasri wide right as his recent performances make him hard to leave out of the line-up, even if he prefers to play centrally. Arshavin goes wide left, with Chamakh at centre forward. Robin Van Persie may have something to say about that, but unless Wenger was particularly impressed by Van Persie’s 45 minutes in midweek I can’t see him putting Van Persie in for such a key game. Certainly not a bad option to have on the bench though
As for Spurs, they certainly haven’t seemed to have much luck in regards to injuries. They’re particularly struggling at centre back, with Dawson, Woodgate and King all out. Huddlestone too has succumbed to injury recently, which Redknapp described as a blow. That means he’ll have to change things around in midfield, with new signing Sandro likely to be tasked with shielding the back four.
Naturally the big talking point is Bale. He destroyed Maicon recently, but in Sagna I feel we have the best right back in the league, and he’ll be up to the task. With Van Der Vaart likely to play off Crouch, Song is going to be busy tracking the Dutch playmaker, meaning there’s no obvious source of support for Sagna against Bale except Nasri, who doesn’t shirk from putting a defensive shift in.
One weakness we may be able to exploit is the space left by Bale when he moves forward. If we can work a 2 v 1 situation against Ekotto on the counter, either by Sagna supporting Nasri or Cesc moving wider, we can do some real damage and get some dangerous balls into the box.
Van Der Vaart will look to win the second ball off Crouch’s headers, so it’s important out centre backs remain alert and try to cut off the aerial route for Tottenham. With the respective personnel, they shouldn’t be able to pass through midfield so as long as we keep Crouch quiet I’m fairly confident we won’t struggle much.
I’m expecting 3-1 to us for this game. At home, and given Spurs have arguably the worse of the two injury lists (as well as a weaker squad and first eleven to begin with) I can see this game being fairly comfortable.
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