Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsene Wenger's side host Tottenham Hotspur in the north London derby on Sunday so, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Simon Johnson for their views.
MICHAEL COXArsenal’s previous meeting with Tottenham, a 2-1 defeat at White Hart Lane, was based around one main feature - both sides exploiting high defensive lines with clever through-balls and well-timed runs, with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon both on target in this manner.
Clearly, Arsenal can’t afford to defend so high up the pitch without pressure on the ball again, or else Spurs will cause problems - but Andre Villas-Boas also orders his back four to push up, and attacking the space in behind might also be Arsenal’s best approach.
"Andre Villas-Boas also orders his back four to push up, and attacking the space in behind might also be Arsenal’s best approach"
Hugo Lloris, Spurs’ goalkeeper, has become renowned for his impressive acceleration, constantly sweeping up behind his defenders.
The Tottenham back four has improved following the loan return of left back Danny Rose, who introduced himself with a famous volleyed goal in the north London derby in 2009/10. Although originally viewed as a midfielder, Rose has excelled since his shift to the defence - his acceleration and technique is complemented nicely with the power and stamina of right back Kyle Walker.
Right-sided centre back Michael Dawson isn’t the quickest and may find his place under threat from Younes Kaboul, but left-sided Jan Vertonghen is an extremely intelligent centre back capable of passing the ball out of defence calmly.
The arrivals of Etienne Capoue and Paulinho have changed the feel of Spurs’ midfield trio. Capoue is a strong holding midfielder with a good passing range, although Sandro has returned from injury to challenge for his position - and it’s not unthinkable that Villas-Boas could use two defensive-minded midfielders at the Emirates on Sunday.
Nevertheless, he’ll be reluctant to omit either Mousa Dembele, a former wide forward reincarnated as a central midfielder - the Belgian mixes assured passing with direct dribbling in central positions - or the Brazilian all-rounder Paulinho, who breaks forward powerfully and arrives into the box to score goals, the major shortcoming in Dembele’s game.
Spurs may be more 4-3-3 this season, having played 4-2-3-1 in Villas-Boas’ debut campaign.
On the flanks, Aaron Lennon is an old-fashioned wide man capable of dribbling past opponents, and Andros Townsend has proved a perfect deputy. On the other flank, Villas-Boas has used Nacer Chadli - a wide forward rather than a winger, capable of clever off-the-ball runs in behind the defence.
The arrival of Erik Lamela would provide another option - he likes moving inside from the right onto his left foot, and while primarily a creative player, he scores plenty of goals too.
Last season in this fixture, Villas-Boas played both Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor up front, but is likely to field a lone centre forward on Sunday. Roberto Soldado, signed from Valencia, is a good all-rounder capable of playing up front alone, and has two particular qualities.
First, his acceleration in behind the opposition defence is excellent - he generally works the channels, rather than starting between the centre backs. Second, his volleying is superb - he’s capable of finishing instantly from a variety of angles and distances.
Soldado has also scored from the spot in his first two league games for Spurs - a curiosity, considering they went the entire 2012/13 campaign without being awarded a single penalty.
SIMON JOHNSON, EVENING STANDARDI think one of the key things for Tottenham this summer was that they got a lot of their transfers done early. They got four players (Nacer Chadli, Paulinho and Etienne Capoue) in before the start of the season. Roberto Soldado, I think that's key because, although it's all very well spending the Gareth Bale money [if he leaves the club], you need time to gel. The fact that they got to work a little bit in pre-season and also in the two league games so far means that they will go into the Arsenal game with a bit of an understanding between them. It's not like they are playing catch-up and are trying to work out how each other plays.
"I don't think there's just a recent mental block, in terms of the 5-2s in the last couple of years. I think Tottenham have a mental block when it comes to beating Arsenal. It's not just in league games either - Tottenham last finished above them in 1995"
They have been playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Soldado the lone man up front. They try to exploit the pace on the flanks offered to them by Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend and Chadli. They have a very strong midfield with Moussa Dembele a real key figure. Paulinho plays in front of the back four and, when Capoue starts, he also helps form that strong barrier. That's the way they tend to play. They are very mobile and very good at the pressing game. It's something Villas-Boas started at Porto and tried to employee at Chelsea. Now he's trying to do the same thing at Tottenham. He gets his team to press high up the pitch to put pressure on the opposition - specifically their defence and midfield. They will try to launch quick attacks on Arsenal's back four.
Playing on the counter-attack was one of the things that made Bale so deadly last season. They've signed players with pace, maybe not with the same ability of Bale just yet, but they have players such as Lennon, Townsend and Chadli who are capable of breaking fast.
I had a look earlier on at Tottenham's record at Arsenal. I think they've only won once at Arsenal in about 20 years, which was a couple of years ago. I don't think there's just a recent mental block, in terms of the 5-2s in the last couple of years. I think Tottenham have a mental block when it comes to beating Arsenal. It's not just in league games either - Tottenham last finished above them in 1995. I think the crux of this season is if the Spurs players actually believe they can beat Arsenal in the league and finish above them. That's something that they are going to have to overcome if they are to get into the top four and get that Champions League place that they are so desperate for.
While he's a very good promising young talent, Danny Rose could be exploited at left back. He enjoyed a good season on loan at Sunderland last year and you could say that he has rightfully earned his spot ahead of Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Going from starting in a Sunderland team to a Tottenham side trying to get into the top four is a huge step up and there are question marks over whether he can be caught out of position when he bombs forward. Kyle Walker on the other side had a very good season a couple of years ago. He wasn't as good last year. I think it's key that Michael Dawson has come in from the cold since a year ago when he looked on the verge of going out. His experience will be vital. With Arsenal's speed in attack and neat interplay, I could see them being caught out.
I think Arsenal will win 2-1.
Referee: Michael Oliver
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