Tottenham v Arsenal: keeper the key to inconsistent Gunners
It is difficult to remember a more topsy-turvy season in the Premier League, and Spurs and Arsenal have suffered from the inconsistency which has swept through the top flight as much as anyone.
The Lilywhites beat Inter Milan before losing at Bolton, and it has been a similar story at the Emirates – every time the Gunners hit a purple patch, they are suddenly left red-faced and feeling exceedingly blue.
Arsenal won five of their opening seven games and scored 24 goals in the process but, having won 4-1 at White Hart Lane in the Carling Cup, were then shocked by a 3-2 home defeat against West Bromwich Albion.
Arsene Wenger’s side recovered to win five of their next six games, but came crashing back to earth with a 1-0 loss against Newcastle – again at home.
Two games on, Arsenal are back on track, having won away at both Wolves and Everton in the last eight days. The momentum is building once more but that is no guarantee of another success in this weekend’s derby.
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Arsenal’s erratic form has largely been caused by indecision in the goalkeeping position – firstly by Wenger, and then by the custodians themselves.
The Gunners declined to pay more than �2million for Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer in the summer, and their approach unsettled Manuel Almunia, who had a shocker against West Brom and has not played since.
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Wenger has picked Lukasz Fabianski for the last 10 games and, while the Pole’s hesitation in coming for a free kick cost his side against Newcastle, the 25-year-old has generally been repaying his manager’s faith.
Indeed, Fabianski has arguably been Arsenal’s man of the match in their last two games. Blunders and blinders: it is the story of Arsenal’s season, and when they have lost it has tended to be because of their keeper.
It appears that Wenger has now settled on his No1, but the chopping and changing between the sticks has been exacerbated by a new-look defence.
The Gunners lost three centre-backs in the summer, with William Gallas, Sol Campbell and Mikael Silvestre all departing, forcing Wenger to splash out on the French duo Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny.
It is just as well that he did because, while Johan Djourou is fit after effectively missing the whole of last season, Thomas Vermaelen is out of action with an achilles injury.
In midfield, Jack Wilshere is enjoying his breakthrough season and, having run the show in the
Carling Cup win over Spurs, the 18-year-old prodigy has already racked up 16 first-team appearances – and won his first senior England cap.
There are certainly goals in Arsenal’s midfield and, on top of Wilshere’s solitary strike, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Andrey Arshavin, Alex Song and Theo Walcott have netted 28 times between them this season.
Song, supposedly the most defensive member of a five-man midfield, has chipped in with four and Walcott has struck seven, but is struggling to get into the team.
Meanwhile, the Gunners have also had a good return from summer signing Marouane Chamakh. The Morocco international striker has already scored eight times in the absence of the
injured Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner, who are both back in
contention for Saturday.
JournalSport verdict: Arsenal are dangerous on the front foot but, despite seemingly solving their goalkeeping issue, are still vulnerable at the back – just like Spurs.
With these two inconsistent teams going head to head in a derby, anything could happen. It just depends who fulfils their potential on the day.
Pick two numbers between one and four – that’s a good guess at the score-line. However, we’re going to back the Gunners, simply because they have home advantage.
Prediction: Arsenal 3 Spurs 1