Two sides clearly in form—Spurs with a convincing away win at the Hawthorns (though it was the skill of our keeper that advanced it from “narrow” to “convincing”) and Arsenal with an even more impressive rout of toothless Aston Villa at the Emirates. Nearly everything to play for— north London bragging rights and top four status if not yet league supremacy for either club. Given the difficulty of Spurs’ away fixtures, beginning with a trip to Anfield next Tuesday and including another journey to Stanley Park, a date at Old Trafford, and what might be the most vital of all at our manager’s former haunts on the South Coast, and a glut of home games upcoming for our north London rivals, one would think Spurs must win all three points.
And after watching the Gunners today, even without their best player, it is pretty obvious where the key to success will lie on Saturday. Kane and Eriksen, of course, right? Wrong. Lloris being typically brilliant? Wrong. Both of those factors matter—but frankly I’ve grown to expect superlative play from all three of those gents: it is hardly much of a variable any more.
No, the key is our ability to disrupt the Arsenal attack—as we were able to do for much of the 90 minutes at the Emirates, only this time to do so without essentially abandoning our ability to press forward. Then—in the early stages of Pochettino’s transformation—he was forced after Chadli’s goal to park the proverbial bus and simply hang on to a draw. Kaboul was particularly stern at the back, but make no mistake—it was a shell that luckily proved firm enough to gain the point, but a shell nonetheless.
This time Spurs must control the middle of the field as well as defend well at the back—and also cut off the wings and easily flip the switch from defence to attack. With Theo Walcott’s return, and presuming that either Alexis’s hamstring will have healed or Mesut Ozil can replicate the dynamic play on view this afternoon, the Gunners pose a threat both in the middle and wide parts of the field. Sanchez or Cazorla are their Eriksen—drifting to whatever spot they fancy, able to generate a threat from almost nothing. And what the Chilean or Spaniard can’t create, Aaron Ramsey is present to pitch in. And Oxlade-Chamberlain can be inserted at any point to provide pace on the outside.
So to get to the point, Mason, Paulinho and Stambouli (interesting to see which of the latter two Poch elects to start) must cut off Arsenal in the middle, and Rose and Walker need to replicate their performance yesterday on the wings. That quartet is the key to victory. We won’t yet have Nabil Bentaleb… Mousa Dembele will almost certainly play in the front three with Eriksen and Lamela behind Kane—so long as those four are serviced from behind, I would expect at least a couple of goals. Clearly the Vertonghen-Fazio pairing is growing more solid and dependable with each week—but it is fair to say that there are always a couple of moments each game where one or the other gets caught in a poor position—Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic in their prime they are not. The more critical need is for the other four defencive wings or midfielders to hold their shape and disrupt the flowing Gunner attack.
Pochettino faces five defining matches in the next four weeks. The Merseyside fixture is crucial for Spurs to shed another horrid memory of the past season and a half and show they can compete on equal terms with the Reds; the home and away leg with a solid Fiorentina side is a legitimate test of Spurs’ greater ambitions—how can we possibly look forward to Champions League play in the next year or two if we can’t even advance in the lesser competition?; and Wembley is a wonderful venue for an underdog to produce magic. But it all begins on our turf Saturday—the Chelsea New Year’s victory was the opening salvo, let’s hope our guns are more potent than theirs in the game that matters most.
Have something to tell us about this article?