With the dull international week out of the way and (so far) a clean bill of health from all our guys we can now look forward to the weekend’s resumption of real football. I’ve never been a fan of international weeks, it seems that you are only starting to get a bit of a rhythm going when all your players feck off to some far off places to play games that no one really cares about, at least not at this time of year anyway But I can now occupy my mind about the game at the weekend and our annual short trip up to our poor cousins down the lane.
First us. The Mad German looks to be on some strange form of gardening leave so the Blond One will start between the sticks. Almunia has looked quite good in the games he’s played this season and I think that the defence have more confidence in him than Jens. His kicking is still appalling and if goalkeepers have a kicking practice section then he should sign up for an extra lessons as against the better teams (not sure if I’m counting Spurs in this group?) we need to retain the ball. The irony is that Almunia won the crossbar challenge on French TV there a few weeks back. This leads me to suspect that while he can distinguish objects he is completely colour blind and hence just kicks the ball as hard as he can!
In front of him it looks like our first choice right to left of Sagna, Toure, Gallas and Clichy will all be fit and available. This is a solid defensive unit and teams will have to work hard to score against us (German goalkeeping errors and fluky Nigerian back-heels aside).
Gilberto is away with Brazil and does not get back until Friday, if he gets over his jetlag he will play but if not Flamini will step in alongside Cesc in the middle of the park. Neither are overly physical players but as a combination I’d take them over any two of Jenas, Huddlestone and Zakora. Rosicky and Hleb will be given a chance to continue their impressive start to the season on either wing.
Up front? It will be VanP and one other. Ade needs games and does seem to like scoring against them but with the way that their defence is I would be inclined to play Eduardo up front with Robin. Eduardo seems to be a player who sniffs out chances and with all the respect in the world to Ade finishing it not the strongest part of his game. I also think that Ade is the type of player you can bring into a game to change it if the plan A doesn’t work.
So my starting 11 would be: Alumnia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy Hleb, Gilberto (Flamini), Cesc, Rosciky, VanP, Eduardo With Walcott, Ade, Flamini, Diaby and that Polish goalkeeper on the bench.
Now them. It’s been a tough few weeks for Spurs fans, for a start they spent all the summer (not to mention the small matter of £40 or so million) talking about how this was going to be their season to break into the top four, they were on the way up we were on the way down etc.
Some Gooners were a bit worried but I never really felt that they would be up to the challenge. At the start of the season I wrote how I expected them to finish 5th but that they should be more worried about what was behind them than what was in front. I didn’t think that they would start as badly as they have and 4 points from 5 games is pure relegation form. Unfortunately I do not think that Spurs will go down this season but there is genuine concern that they could find themselves well adrift of the pack before they get their act together. Everton, Newcastle, Blackburn and to a lesser extent Man City have all looked much more balanced teams than Spurs in the games I’ve seen and I think that the lilywhites could have a real battle on their hand to nail down a European spot if they don’t address a few glaring issues with their team.
Robinson has continued where he left off last season and rather than recapturing the form of two years back seems to be continuing his downward form spiral. I haven’t seen the Spurs backup goalkeeper (think his name is Cerny?) but a few Spurs mates seem to think that he more than all right. A north London derby is perhaps not the best time to throw him in but sooner or later Jol is going to have to tackle the Robinson issue. He has made enough high profile mistakes to warrant a ‘rest’ and his positioning is still crap. Some managers have no problem dropping players at the slightest hint of poor form where as others prefer to stick it out in the hope that the corner is turned. Now I can see the benefit that loyalty can bring but how man sub-standard performances does England’s number one has to put in before a spot of time on the bench is in order? At least one more I hope.
The back line of Spurs without the reassuring figure of King to lead them is always one step away from a shambles. The new big French lad looks a good player (he would want to be at the price they paid) and Bale has looked very impressive in the games he’s put in which admittedly have been in a further advance role. But Dawson has never consistently impressed, Rochba has also flattered to deceive. Chimbonda has gone backwards since his first season at Reading and Lee is simply not good enough for a team that has Champions League aspirations. The back four combined with Robinson is a weak point and waiting for King to come back to sort out all the issues is like relying on a fit Darren Anderton to run your midfield. Actually hang on a minute….
The midfield of Spurs, somewhat like the defence, needed some attention last season and as yet Jol has failed to address it. Jenas, Zakora, Malbranque and Huddlestone are all only average players and would not get near the Arsenal first eleven.
Huddlestone if he had a bit of pace certainly has the physique but unfortunately for him without speed in this league you will never make it to the very top. Zakora starts the game like a headless chicken on speed but then the high wears off and he often finishes the game looking disinterested, he should be a much better player than he is. Jenas for my money has been given too many seasons to produce the goods, I have yet to see him do it in a big game and in fact a lot of games seem to pass him by entirely. Looking good and scoring at home to Derby is one thing but if he (and Spurs) want to be taken as genuine challengers than he needs to deliver much more. Frankly I don’t think that he can.
The one bright spark in the Spurs midfield is Lennon who has looked good at times but only in patches and has never really imposed himself on a game the way a good winger can. If I was a Spurs fan (feel a bit sick after saying that) the two concerns I would have with Lennon for Saturday are (A) he hasn’t played this season and (B) stick someone fast up against him and can he really offer anything else? I’d be confident that Clichy or Sagna (depending on which wing he plays will have him for breakfast.
Amazingly Spurs still have no left winger! Now maybe in time Bale can be converted into one but plugging this hole just means another one will pop up at left back. The centre of the park is weak and it is an area that Arsenal can really expect to dominate. Any two of Cesc and Gilberto – Diaby -Flamini should come out comfortably on top.
Up front Spurs would seem to have an embarrassment of riches. Any despite having one very good and two good strikers on the books last season (and another one with a bit of potential in Mido) Jol went and blew a fair proportion of his budget on Bent.
Bent is a good player. Not exceptional and never will be. Some Spurs fan s will tell you that he will be a first choice England striker for the next five to ten years but that is complete bollox. He is good and nothing more. Defore is a good finisher and if given the chance in the team would score. Keane is about average, I’d rate him at around Ade’s level but Berbatov is a different kettle of fish entirely.
This guy is a real player, reminds me a bit of Bergcamp in the style of play he adopts. His is really the only player from the Spurs eleven who would get straight into the Arsenal first team. His is a class striker but cut off his supply and like any player he will struggle.
And this is where I think Arsenal have the real ability to win the game. Our midfield should (I said should mind) dominate theirs in particular in the middle of the park. The pressure is really on Spurs, it is still early in the season but loose this game and they are 9 points behind the team they planned to overtake this season having played a game more. Passions always run high at derbies but I think it would be better for Spurs if the game was played at a slower pace. Towards the end of the 90 minutes their fitness and concentration levels have been called into question on more than one occasion but keeping his players calm may be more difficult than it would seem.
If we were playing any other team than Spurs in their situation I’d fancy us for an easy three points but this is a local derby so form doesn’t always follow. Part of me thinks draw but I’m going to stick my neck out a bit here and predict that our superiour midfield will give us a comfortable (two goal) away win.
Prediction: Arsenal win.
If you insist on commenting Spurs fans do try to keep it clean 😉