Arsenal face Tottenham in the Premier League at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

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MAN IN THE MIDDLE 

Fig 1: Arteta heatmap v Spurs (h); Fig 2: Arsenal average positions v Spurs (Arteta = No 8)
Fig 1: Arteta heatmap v Spurs (h); Fig 2: Arsenal average positions v Spurs (Arteta = No 8)

When Arsenal beat Tottenham 5-2 earlier this season, much was made of the Gunners' attacking prowess against the 10-man visitors. But of equal importance to the team was the balance provided by Mikel Arteta at the base of the midfield. The Spaniard does not sit naturally, but curbs his instincts for the good of the team, and he kept things ticking over nicely as Arsenal launched attack after attack.

As his two goals against West Ham demonstrated, closing Bale down will be essential, and this is where Arteta comes in

With Arsenal on the front foot, Arteta spent most of his time around the halfway line, as our graphic above shows, keeping things simple and snuffing out danger by closing down any potential counter-attacks. However, at White Hart Lane on Sunday he may have to sit much deeper to combat the threat posed by Gareth Bale.

Bale played on the left flank at Emirates Stadium, and had one of his quieter days, although he did score a late consolation for the visitors. Since then however, his position has changed and he takes up a much more central role in the Tottenham attack, often sitting just behind the central striker. As his two goals against West Ham United on Monday night demonstrated, closing him down will be essential, and this is where Arteta comes in.

Flanked by the defensively disciplined Jack Wilshere and possibly Aaron Ramsey too, Arteta will be tasked with filling the space between defence and midfield, ensuring Bale does not work the space to either shoot on goal or run at the defence. If Arteta succeeds in his task, Arsenal's chances of another north London derby victory will increase dramatically.

CASE FOR THE DEFENCE 

Fig 3: Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur team comparison
Fig 3: Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur team comparison

Much has been made of Arsenal's supposed deficiencies at the back this season, but the fact remains they have a superior defensive record to Tottenham. Andre Villas-Boas' side may be four points better off in the league table, but the Gunners have conceded fewer goals than their rivals, kept more clean sheets and won more tackles. They also have a better tackle success rate and have won more of their duels this season.

In a derby that has seen 39 goals in its past eight meetings, Wenger's men will need to be at their most defensively disciplined if they are to leave White Hart Lane with the three points.

TOTTENHAM v ARSENAL - MATCH FACTS

  • Tottenham have lost only one of their last seven Premier League home games against rivals Arsenal
  • Spurs have thrown away leads in their last two Premier League games against Arsenal and have lost both matches 5-2
  • Twelve of the last 13 league matches between Tottenham and Arsenal have seen more than 2.5 goals
  • There have been 121 goals between these sides in Premier League history, only Everton v Man Utd games have seen as many
  • Gareth Bale has scored more away goals than any other player in the Premier League this season (11)
  • Bale is only the eighth different Tottenham player to score 15+ goals in a Premier League season
  • Tottenham have scored 11 goals from outside the area, more than any other Premier League side this season
  • Both these sides have scored five league goals from counter-attacks this season, no Premier League side has more in 2012-13
  • Olivier Giroud has had more headed attempts than any other player in the top No ground has featured fewer first half goals this season (10) than White Hart Lane flight this season (26)

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Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 1 Mar 2013