The north London derby at the Emirates Stadium will be a heated affair on Sunday, with some key battles set to decide the outcome.
The first north London derby of the season pits a new-look Tottenham side, minus Gareth Bale, against a familar Arsenal squad lacking re-enforcements. The hosts have had the better of their rivals at home over the last two seasons, winning each encounter 5-2, however a tighter clash is expected this weekend.
The team selection of the respective managers will play a key role in the outcome and enforce a number of personal battles that should make for scintillating viewing.
In defence, Andre Villas-Boas has a decision to make, with Younes Kaboul successfully negotiating 90 minutes of action against Dinamo Tblisi in the Europa League on Thursday night. Romanian centre-back Vlad Chiriches’ signing has also been confirmed. Jan Vertonghen and skipper Michael Dawson have started the first two Premier League games at the heart of the Spurs rearguard, however the Portuguese trainer may consider deploying the Belgian star at left-back in place of Danny Rose.
Arsenal will look to the flanks to get joy from their attacks, with Spurs’ full-backs both strong going forward but having question marks over their positional ability. Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott will look to isolate Rose and Kyle Walker and get in behind the Tottenham back four. For this reason, Villas-Boas may look to play Vertonghen at left-back in an attempt to neutralise the threat of Cazorla.
The midfield battle will be one that could well be decisive and will see top-class players go toe-to-toe. Aaron Ramsey is the man in form for the Gunners, and has had an excellent start to the new campaign. The Wales international will most likely have Jack Wilshere alongside him and the pair will have their hands full for the 90 minutes.
A central midfield trio of Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and Mousa Dembele will most likely start the game for the visitors, despite Sandro’s return to fitness. The Arsenal pair are likely to be outnumbered in the boiler room at times and will need to track the forward runs of the likes of Dembele and Paulinho.
In attacking areas it will be interesting to see who gets the nod from Villas-Boas, with new club record signing Erik Lamela thought to have been registered in time for potential inclusion. The Argentine attacker is most likely to start from the bench initially, with the likes of Nacer Chadli, Andros Townsend and Gylfi Sigurdsson preferred. Christian Eriksen’s move has been confirmed but comes to late for the Dane to feature.
The Gunners will need to pay close attention to Roberto Soldado, but their main focus should be on cutting off the Spaniard’s supply. Although the former Valencia striker has netted in consecutive games for his new side, both have been from the penalty spot and he has not had a lot of chances in open play – Arsenal will hope to keep it that way.
In the Gunners forward line they have a player in form courtesy of Olivier Giroud, who will give the likes of Dawson and Vertonghen a busy afternoon.
This game may well be decided by small margins and will be an early season indicator of where the power in north London football lies.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald