Saturday, 4 January 2014

Arsenal vs Spurs: Match Preview

This is a match holding a lot of significance - not because it's a derby or an FA Cup tie, but because it's a two-in-one.

While the FA Cup along with the Premier League represent our biggest hopes for a trophy this season, the pressure would heap on to us to win the league were we to get knocked out of the cup. In one fell swoop, losing a significant game to a massive rival would be a massive setback, inviting doubts from the critics and denting the confidence of the players a lot. I'd argue that if we lose this, we might witness another trophyless campaign.

People would counter-argue that a feature of our team has been its ability to bounce back from setbacks. After all, the pressure received from losing an important game to a rival still won't nearly be as much as the pressure the players received from that horrendous opening day against Villa. However back then we had adjusted our sights, looking 'forward' to another top 4 scrap. Winning the title seemed like a fantasy dream, even though we had played only one match in the season.

Four wins, a rejuvenated Mathieu Flamini and a Mesut Ozil later, the expectations heightened, and rightly so. Four months later here we are, with a glorious opportunity to win a trophy with this committed, dedicated squad. We're high up in the table with our sights on the crown, looking to get a bonus trophy in the form of an FA Cup by beating the Spuds. Wait, what's that? We've LOST?! Oh my God, our significantly weaker rivals just threw us out of the Cup! Was our win against them back in September a mere fluke? Can we stumble till the end by finishing first, or is this tired squad going to bottle the lead as always? WE NEED A DAMN STRIKER ARSENE, WHERE THE FUCK IS HE??!!

Of course, not everything is going to be as hyperbolic as I mentioned, but if we do lose to Tottenham, there's no doubt that our focus would be on to winning the Premier League and the Premier League alone. I've already expressed my thoughts on our chances against the Bavarians. Getting past them is a near impossible task, I must admit, and I think that we should be realistic instead of confusing fantasy dreams with plausibilities.

In team news, it seems like Walcott, Rosicky, Wilshere, Monreal and Vermaelen are 100% fit for the Spuds game, while Giroud's ankle was doing okay until he got sick. Oh bother. While Gibbs and Ramsey are definitely out of this match, Ozil might have a chance of participating here.

Given Arsene haste to overplay key players, I think we'll see Ozil on the bench tomorrow, with either Rosicky or Santi Cazorla taking his role. I really feel that we should start Viviano now, Szczesny could do with a breather (even though he's the goalkeeper!) and Viviano could actually start to earn some of his salary. My opinions are pointless to Wenger though, who will undoubtedly field Szczesny in this match too.

It's hard to predict whether Vermaelen will be involved in this match or not. A Mertesacker is a must, given that he's likely to face the aerial threat of Adebayor. I think that Wenger will stick with the Mertescielny axis again, with Monreal on the left and either Jenkinson or Sagna on the right. Wenger's decision to play either Jenkinson or Sagna will determine how seriously he is to take this competition, and whether he wants to give his reserves some experience or put a win at a higher priority.

Wilshere gave a lot against Cardiff, which is why I think that he should be rested today. However, if Wenger plays him then he'd better play him deeper alongside Flamini or Arteta, because I don't think that he'd do well as an attacking midfielder against Spurs. Wilshere did well only twice as a No. 10, against Swansea last season and against Cardiff three days ago. These two sides have a pretty average defence compared to Spurs, which is why Jack needn't be played there further.

With Podolski forced to start upfront and Theo and Santi on the wings, I think that Wenger will play Wilshere as an attacking midfielder with Flamini and Arteta partnered together. I already said above that doing so would be an incorrect decision to the fitness and the performance of Wilshere, but maybe the manager will spring a surprise and play Rosicky there instead, with Wilshere partnering Flamini or Arteta.

In my earlier blog I said that our reliance on target men has meant that Podolski might not have a good game tomorrow, which would increase the pressure on Theo Walcott to score today. With Giroud and Bendtner injured and Podolski not responding well to being a lone striker, Theo (and arguably Santi) will be our main threat to find the net today. It might be an unfair burden, but on the day of an important derby it's not really the time to complain. It's time to deliver.

After this match, we have a 9 day break which would refresh the tired legs nicely for the Aston Villa revenge at Villa Park. It's reasonable to say that we really should give our all in this match and topple the chicken off its volleyball.

Come on You Gunners. Show them who's boss.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )