Welcome to Talking Heads.
Before and after every first-team fixture, our MatchDay Show guest and an Arsenal blogger will have their say on the game.
Arsenal took on Tottenham in the north London derby on Saturday and our Talking Heads for this game were former Gunner Martin Hayes and Tim Stillman of Vital Arsenal
MARTIN HAYES, CO-COMMENTATOR
Derby day isn’t necessarily about the performance - the fans just want to win. But we got our game back on track after a sticky first 10 minutes. We got back in the game quickly and had control from then onwards.
I think the red card changed it. Villas Boas was clever playing two up front, and the pace of Tottenham’s attack was causing the defence a problem. They deserved their lead, but Adebayor gave us a chance to get back in it and we took that. It was a game-changer.
Santi Cazorla has had a quiet few weeks, but was back at his best. I think having someone like Theo in front of him is good because he can put balls through and it suits him to have runners behind defences. He pulled the strings and deserved his goal.
At all levels, confidence can get hit when you’ve had a few bad performances and not won. Hopefully the win will get the fans back singing. It’s a big week for the Club. Winning at the weekend was important and the Montpellier game is massive because a win will virtually guarantee qualification. Something has to give in the other game so it’s a massive opportunity to take pressure off the last game. The season will hopefully transform again.
This is a massive game for both sides. The north London derbies are the games fans look for when the fixtures are released. It all comes back to bragging rights. It adds a bit of extra spice to the game. The atmosphere will be red-hot from the first whistle to the end.
The last few games have been close and Spurs have come to the Emirates and had some decent performances and got some good results. You can throw the form book out of the window for games like this. It will come down to a bit of luck or brilliance. It’s going to be passionate and hopefully we’ll get our act together. The result is more important than the performance.
We need a performance and a win to get above Spurs and ensure we don’t drift away from the top four. A draw wouldn’t be bad for Spurs - it would hurt us more than them. The fans would rather go home having played badly and won, than having played brilliantly and lost.
There’s not been much between the two sides so far this season. Both sets of players are top quality. Spurs have got a good squad and have some great players like Bale, Defoe and Adebayor, who is of course the Achilles heel for Arsenal. They’ve got some good attacking players and they’re going to be a handful.
Hopefully the players will come back from the international week nice and refreshed and the new lads will realise how important derby day is. If we get our mojo back, we’ll be fine.
Olivier Giroud has been improving steadily. It’s hard to play as a lone striker but I’m pleased he’s got among the goals. He’s been working hard and just needed a break. Hopefully he’s got that now, so if people stay behind him, he can be a success. He’s been leading the line well and hopefully he can make the position his own.
I think the game will be really close and there will be just the odd goal in it. I’ll go for a nervy 3-2 win.
TIM STILLMAN, VITAL ARSENAL
There truly is nothing like a north London derby win to ease the Monday morning blues. Tottenham might wonder how the game might have finished with an even distribution of players on both sides, but it didn’t and the red card was hardly harsh. I was enthused by the manner in which Arsenal took the game to Spurs as soon as they went down to 10 men. Often, a team can reorganise itself and settle into playing a man down, but Arsenal made sure that, by the time AVB thought to make changes, the game was almost beyond them. That said, I can’t honestly say I felt truly relaxed until the fifth goal went in and the air of tension was palpable both throughout the team and in the stadium given our recent trick of making commanding leads disappear.
Villas Boas made a smart tactical change in the second half by reverting to three in defence. Given that Arsenal play with one nominal striker, it meant they always had a spare man to build possession from the back. But the biggest positive for Arsenal was the growing relationship between the front four players and Spurs just couldn’t handle them. Cazorla, Podolski and Walcott buzzed in behind the growing Giroud with great effect. There’s much talk of some of Arsenal’s attacking players wanting to take more central positions, but Podolski, Giroud, Walcott and Cazorla were all able to score 'centre forward' goals in the penalty area. Likewise, Walcott, Giroud and Podolski picked up an assist each from good crosses. That shows you that if the relationship and understanding is good enough, nobody need get too fixated on how they figure in a formation graphic.
In midfield, Wilshere played a little bit closer to Arteta than he has in previous games. Opponents have found some currency in marking Arteta to disrupt Arsenal’s build-up play of late and have left the Spaniard looking isolated. There again, Spurs didn’t really detail anyone to sit on Arteta and couldn’t in any case once they lost an attacker in Adebayor. Nevertheless, these things are all about understanding and relationships take time to grow between players. Saturday showed that the seeds are being sown.
In recent years, this fixture has thrown up some really high-octane, high-scoring matches. Both teams focus on their attacking strengths and have clawed mercilessly at the jugular. I expect this encounter to be only slightly more measured but no less entertaining. Whether Villas Boas will persist with the high defensive line given Walcott’s current form will be interesting. Spurs have looked a more dangerous proposition on the road this season than at home in my opinion. Two creditable performances in Manchester bear testament to that. Arsenal have had problems finding a working balance between attack and defence for a few seasons now, with focus on one almost always having a negative effect on the other. Tottenham will think, given Arsenal’s recent defensive form, that there will be goals in this for them.
Walcott and Giroud have found an interesting partnership in recent weeks, but it’s Arsenal’s midfield which gives me the most cause for concern. Wilshere plays slightly higher up the midfield than Diaby and I think this has left Arteta very isolated in possession. In turn, that’s had a direct consequence on Cazorla’s influence, just as Podolski’s slight lapse coincided with injury to Kieran Gibbs, with whom he’d struck up an understanding. There are just so many sub-plots, tactical nuances, managerial decisions and match-ups that it’s hard to call how this one will end. But I expect goals. In my years of attending Arsenal games, this is the one that still gets the butterflies fully charged. I both relish and revile them all at the same time.
* The views expressed in Talking Heads do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Broadband LtdCopyright 2017 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