Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side take on Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Paul Hirst for their views.
MICHAEL COXWith eight goals and a crucial assist in his previous six matches, Arsenal are facing the Premier League’s in-form player in Gareth Bale.
Though traditionally used as a left winger, Bale has increasingly ventured inside into central zones. His stunning winner against West Ham United on Monday night showed his threat from that zone, and Arsenal’s first task is denying the Welshman space to shoot.
"Bale has increasingly ventured inside into central zones. His stunning winner against West Ham United on Monday night showed his threat from that zone"
The last side to prevent Bale recording a goal or an assist against them was Manchester United in mid-January. They essentially used two men against Bale - in addition to right back Rafael da Silva, Phil Jones played to the right of the pitch, preventing him from coming inside. It’s unlikely Arsenal will use a player in that specific role, but doubling up against him is vital.
Besides, United’s emphasis upon stopping Tottenham’s left allowed Aaron Lennon too much space on the opposite flank. The right winger is an ever-present this season because of a string of good performances. Nacho Monreal mustn’t get too tight to him, because Lennon has great pace when sprinting down the outside.
Although Andre Villas-Boas debuted a 4-4-2 system in Arsenal’s 5-2 win over Tottenham in November, the arrival of Lewis Holtby means Spurs are more likely to play a 4-2-3-1 system.
Arsenal know all about Holtby - he played in Schalke’s 2-0 win at the Emirates in October - and he provides the link between midfield and attack, leading Tottenham’s pressing high up the pitch. Holtby will also drift to the left, allowing Bale to move inside. Emmanuel Adebayor - who scored and was then dismissed in the reverse fixture - will play up front.
On that note, discipline is key for Arsenal in what is likely to be a fast-paced midfield battle. Bale has scored three direct free kicks in his last four matches, while against West Ham on Monday, Spurs were a constant threat from corners. Steven Caulker forced three saves from his position on the edge of the six-yard box.
If Spurs do have a weakness, it’s the absence of holding midfielder Sandro, who was enjoying an excellent campaign. Scott Parker is a decent replacement, but he lacks the Brazilian’s calmness and positional discipline. If Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla can get in behind him, Arsenal may prosper.
PAUL HIRST, PAIt’s an absolutely massive game. The north London derby is always a big occasion, but this year both teams have an added incentive because they want to secure a Champions League place.
"I can’t see either team standing off and waiting for the other side to go at them. I think they’ll both throw everything at it. It will be a typical full-blooded performance from both teams. It should be a cracker"
Tottenham surrendered a 10-point lead to Arsenal last year, but I think that this time they’re a lot stronger mentally. I don’t think they would do that again. If they win, they’ll see it as a massive step towards Champions League football. The 10-point difference that they let evaporate last season still really gets to the players. They really want to make it this year.
I think the game will be full of goals. Gareth Bale has been on fire lately. I think he’s scored eight goals in the last month, and that’s just for Spurs alone. He’s completely unstoppable at the moment. He can’t stop scoring, is full of confidence and takes any opportunity he can to shoot. At the same time, Tottenham’s defence can be a bit dodgy at times.
I think the midfield is a bit of a concern at the moment. Scott Parker was superb last year, but since he got injured on England duty last summer, he’s gone off the boil a bit. His heart can’t be questioned but he’s been in the wrong position on a few occasions. Wilshere is a fantastic midfielder, so if he gets the better of Parker, I think that Arsenal could get in.
I think it will be a 2-2 draw. I can’t see either team standing off and waiting for the other side to go at them. I think they’ll both throw everything at it. It will be a typical full-blooded performance from both teams. It should be a cracker.
Copyright 2023 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.