Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday 17th November 2012, Emirates Stadium, 12.45pm kick off SS2, HD & Sky3D
So here we are, our first game of the season against our North London foes in Red and who knows what to expect anymore. After the last few games and with a quarter of the season gone we are still largely inconsistent and unpredictable. Not a great time to go and play Arsenal even with the knowledge our rivals aren’t pulling up any tress themselves. Kenny Palmer has the unenviable task of previewing this very important game for both sides.
“The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It’s nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It is about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out to beat the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.” – Danny Blanchflower.
The Danny Blancflower quote sprang to mind when watching Spurs again labour unimaginatively and unconvincingly against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday in a another underwhelming performance in which the Lilywhites had a worryingly distinct disinclination to attack. Such was the lack of attacking intent you could have mistaken Spurs for Roy HodgsonsEngland!
There’s no shame in losing to the current Premier League champions but it was a missed opportunity against Mancini’s stuttering team.
Saturdays North London derby is a perfect opportunity to get back on track and to arrest a dreadful run of form of three defeats in the last four league games which has included back to back home defeats.
A victory for Andre Villas-Boas would go a considerable way for him to enamor himself to the White Hart Lane faithful as there is still a large dose of ambivalence from many supporters towards him. One of the most unexpected things about the young Portuguese manager’s tenure at Spurs is that he is proving to be even more of a divisive figure than the sacked former manager Harry Redknapp amongst fans.
He certainly is not some kind of latter day Rinus Michels as some of his most ardent cheerleaders would have you believe but by the same token he is not a younger Portuguese version of Avram Grant as his detractors and excitable Talksport presenters try to portray him as. Have Spurs been sold a pup in regards to his managerial abilities? The truth is we really probably won’t find out until the season is completed. But with a quarter of the season gone we can formulate an idea what is the current identity of Villas-Boas Spurs.
Tom Huddlestone in the buildup to the Europa League game against Maribor gave us a player’s perception of what Villas-Boas Spurs is when he said:
“We’re probably harder to beat and maybe not as open (under Villas-Boas).”
“He’s come in and been very organized, the lads know what session we’re going to do before we go out to train.”
“A lot of it is on rigid team shape, whereas under previous regimes the initiative has been given to the players to express themselves.”
“Under this manager it’s more his ideas and we stick to them.”
“It is hard for the fans. They’ve watched some good football over the last three or four years, maybe in a gung-ho style. But they’ve just got to be patient.”
“The manager’s still getting his ideas across and the lads are still getting fully used to what he wants us to do.”
One significant noticeable change about Villas-Boas’s Spurs is they have a lot less possession as a team than the team did year last year. Last year the team looked to get on the front foot dominate possession and play expansive attractive football which was reflected in the possession stats where Spurs average was 56.7% which was the fourth highest for last season. This year Spurs average has dropped considerably to an average of only 48%! Even in the fortuitous wins over QPR and Southampton both basement dwellers had more possession than Spurs. This is largely due to how Spurs have been set up to play in recent games where they cede possession to the opposition drop back and look to hit him them on the break in a counter attack. Is this really the Spurs way of playing football?
It’s a given that Villas-Boas will be backed by the majority of fans, as every manager should be given the opportunity to shape the team he manages and live and die by those decisions. It also has to be said that Villas-Boas is not infallible. You are allowed to question him and his decisions that is your right as a supporter!
Dropping the inform Jermain Defoe after he scored a hat trick against Maribor left Spurs without a genuine goal threat in the team against City. It’s a shame Villas-Boas didn’t follow the lead of the greatest manager in the Premier League era Sir Alex Ferguson who said after Javier Hernandez scored a hat-trick against Aston Villa last Saturday : “When you score a hat-trick, you pick yourself. I think he’ll be playing next week.”
Villas-Boas made a number of questionable decisions on Sunday from hooking Emmanuel Adebayor with the score 1-1 to replacing the injured Kyle Walker with Michael Dawson and switching William Gallas to play right back with Kyle Naughton on the bench!
Saturday’s lunchtime game is a pivotal fixture for both teams. Tottenham blew a 10 point lead in the run up to the game last season in the corresponding fixture. Arsenals win gave them the confidence and impetus to eventually finish third. Conversely for Spurs it heralded a dreadful run of form in which the Lilywhites never fully recovered from stuttering to finish fourth at the end of the season.
Arsenal are arguably a poorer team than last season principally because of the sale of their leader and talisman Robin Van Persie. They have weaknesses in defence and attack which Spurs should look to exploit. Vito Mannone is a less than convincing goalkeeper who is vulnerable from dead ball situations which Fulham exploited last Saturday and Spurs should get similar joy.
Kieran Gibbs is likely to not to have recovered from injury meaning Thomas Vermaelen will again cover at left back. Aaron Lennon’s pace and trickery should unsettle the Belgium International who is uncomfortable against pacy direct wingers. Laurent Koscienlny is having a poor season and has made some well documented errors which has been costly most notably against Chelsea, he will be partnered by Pers Mertesacker who although has improved from last term still doesn’t inspire confidence.
It’s in the middle of the park where Arsenal will have the advantage over Spurs. The trio of Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and the outstanding Santiago Carzorla will likely dominate possession. Fortunately for Spurs in Luka Podolski and Olivier Giroud they do not have a potent attack. If fit Theo Walcott will trouble Jan Vertonghen who has appeared fatigued in the last few games.
What Spurs get out of the game is wholly dependant on how Villas-Boas sets up the team tactically and mentally. Against Manchester City it seemed the main objective was to try and not get beat without a desire to go out and try to win the game which contrasted with how the team went out against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Lilywhites best performance of the season, in the first half where, they went on the front foot from the off.
With several first team players struggling for fitness Villas-Boas will likely go with an unchanged side and play the same team which lost to Manchester City. The goalkeeping situation is now a redundant debate as Villas-Boas has opted for Brad Friedel as his number one much to the chagrin of Hugo Lloris who has requested showdown talks with the Portuguese manager. Stories in last weekends L’Equipe have reported he’s unhappy at the situation & will ask for move in the January transfer window. Luckily for Spurs he has already played for Lyon this season precluding another move this term under FIFA rules but would anyone bet on him being at Spurs at the start of next season?
With the defence likely to be unchanged the main talking point is how Villas-Boas sets up the midfield and attack. If as likely he goes 4-2-3-1 the outstanding Sandro will be partnered in midfield by Tom Huddlestone. Villas-Boas made his name and reputation at Porto playing 4-3-3; with no player at Spurs who is a natural to play the “number 10 role”, to link midfield and attack and create in the final third he could do worse that setting up a midfield three of Sandro, Huddlestone and Tom Carroll who had a hugely impressive game against Maribor in the Europa League. The young English midfielder was always available for a pass and his passing was progressive looking to open up the opposition defence. More likely Clint Dempsey will retain his place in the advanced midfield role. On current form the American international doesn’t justify a place in the starting eleven as he has been completely ineffectual of late, a bollard with a Tottenham jersey would have made more impact than Dempsey on Sunday. Unfortunately for Spurs Gylfi Sigurdsson has not been pulling up trees either so he is unlikely to replace the former Fulham midfielder.
With Jermain Defoe recovering from a knock picked up on Sunday a motivated Adebayor will lead the line.
Spurs motto is “Audere Est Facere “.” To Dare Is To Do “. Will Villas-Boas release the handbrake and allow the team to play on the front foot and take the game to Arsenal?
Unfortunately Villas-Boas is proving to be a conservative and cautious manager so this is highly unlikely. In the absence of Mousa Dembele Spurs have struggled to be creative in the final third in addition with Defoe likely to start the game on the bench other than Gareth Bale the team we be without a genuine goal threat in the starting line-up. Arsenal has more goal threats and potential match winners in the team.
Arsenal are undefeated in fifteen of their last sixteen home matches against Tottenham in all competitions. Spurs bad run will continue and more woe for Villas-Boas 2-1 to Arsenal.
Kenny ( @KennyPalmer on Twitter )
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