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Premier League Preview: Arsenal - Tottenham Hotspur


Saturday, 31 October; kick-off 12:45 GMT
Emirates Stadium, London N5

The cockerel is now crowing, but the guns are still firing

Unusually in recent years, the fierce rivals from either end of the Seven Sisters Road face one another with both of them occupying top four places in the Premier League. Indeed, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have the same number of points - 19 - though the Gunners have a superior goal difference as well as the advantage of a game in hand. But while Arsene Wenger's side are used to riding high in the table, having finished in the top four in each of the 13 seasons the Frenchman has been in charge, for Spurs this is a fairly novel experience.

Tottenham are currently enjoying their best ever start to a Premier League campaign, which is in stark contrast to their fortunes a year ago. In the last week of October 2008, Spurs were propping up the rest of the League.

Manager Juande Ramos had just been sacked, and Harry Redknapp, his successor, had immediately overseen the club's first win of the season, at home to Bolton. Tottenham's victory took them within a point of climbing off the bottom of the table, but they remained three points from safety. Redknapp's next hurdle was Arsenal away in midweek, with the Gunners fourth after having beaten West Ham 2-0 away at the weekend.

The showdown at the Emirates produced one of the most thrilling encounters of the season. Ex-Gunner David Bentley volleyed home a stunner from 40 yards to give the visitors the perfect start, but Mikael Silvestre equalised before the break and fellow French defender William Gallas put Arsenal ahead early in the second half. When Emmanuel Adebayor added Arsenal's third on 64 minutes it looked odds-on for a home win, but three minutes later Darren Bent reduced the deficit. Yet within another minute, Robin van Persie looked to have put the game beyond Spurs. Then came a remarkable finale in which Tottenham made the Gunners pay for some lax defending. Jermaine Jenas struck in the 89th minute and then, right at the death, Aaron Lennon equalised to cap an astonishing match at 4-4.

There were no such fireworks later in the season at White Hart Lane, when the old adversaries fought out a goalless draw, but by the end of the campaign Spurs were comfortably safe. Redknapp has been able to build on that by mounting Tottenham's first serious challenge for Champions League qualification for several years. The manager felt that all a talented squad had needed, apart from some judicious re-signings (Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane, Peter Crouch), was the confidence to believe in themselves as a team. That confidence is such that Keane boasted in midweek that Spurs now have a stronger squad than the Gunners, particularly in terms of the calibre of their bench.

Of course, Tottenham have elevated hyping themselves up into an art form in recent seasons, while consistently failing to deliver the goods. Keane's assertion therefore risks becoming a hostage to fortune if Spurs fail on Saturday to beat Arsenal in a League match for the first time in 10 years. Given that Arsenal's second string knocked Liverpool out of the League Cup on Wednesday, it is very much a moot point which of the north London giants possess the greater strength in depth.

Tottenham also enjoyed League Cup success over a Merseyside outfit in midweek, beating Everton 2-0 at the Lane on Tuesday. So both sides go into their lunchtime clash buoyed by progress into the quarter-finals of a competition whose final one or the other has contested in each of the last three seasons.  

Can Spurs reverse recent history?


However, Tottenham's challenge now is to banish some damning statistics against their traditional enemies. Arsenal welcome them to the Emirates having remained unbeaten against Spurs in their last 19 Premier League games. The last time Tottenham won at Arsenal was at the back-end of the inaugural Premier League season, on 11 May 1993, when Arsenal boss George Graham (later to manage Spurs) rested most of his first team ahead of Saturday's FA Cup final against Sheffield Wednesday and paid the price with a 3-1 defeat at Highbury. Since then, the Gunners have won nine and drawn seven of their 16 home League games against Spurs.

Tottenham last finished above Arsenal in 1995 - pre-Wenger. Redknapp, who grew up supporting Arsenal, will be attempting to become the first of the six most recent Spurs managers to win a north London league derby - David Pleat, Glenn Hoddle, Jacques Santini, Martin Jol and Juande Ramos all failed to steer Spurs to a League victory against their bitter rivals. It is a commentary on the contrasting stability of the two clubs that since Arsene Wenger was appointed Arsenal boss in September 1996, when Gerry Francis was in charge at Spurs, Tottenham have had nine different full-time managers and several caretakers. (Pleat was 'caretaker' for the entire 2003-04 season, so counts as a full-time manager).  

There is now a feel-good factor around White Hart Lane, though - underlined by this week's news about their plans to follow Arsenal's lead and build a new stadium adjacent to the current one - and the club are confident this is the season when they can finally finish above Arsenal. They travel the short distance to the Emirates with an impressive away record, having picked up ten points from a possible 15 and only been defeated by Chelsea on the road.

On the other hand, Arsenal have displayed efficient home form, winning all four League games (scoring 17 goals in the process) and all eight in all competitions. They are prolific scorers home or away (42 goals in 16 matches, contributed by 16 different players) and are currently unbeaten in their last 10 outings. However, in their last League game they let slip a two-goal lead at the Boleyn Ground and had to settle for a 2-2 draw with West Ham. Spurs, remembering their heroic comeback at the Emirates last term, will draw comfort from that. The Lilywhites let themselves down a week ago, though, when succumbing to a 1-0 home defeat by Stoke City.

Head-to-head statistics

This is the 145th north London league derby, and the 162nd competitive meeting between Arsenal and Spurs.

The Gunners have won 59 of the previous 144 League meetings, and Spurs 45, with the other 40 encounters ending in draws.

Results of all Premier League games (home and away):
Arsenal 13 wins, Spurs 5, Draws 16

At Arsenal only:
All League (inc Premier League): Arsenal 36 wins, Spurs 17, Draws 19
Premier League only: Arsenal 9 wins, Spurs 1, Draws 7

Results of all 161 competitive matches
(League & Cup, home and away):
Arsenal 67 wins, Spurs 50, Draws 44

Total seasons in Premier League, including this one:
Arsenal 18, Spurs 18
Arsenal P667  W358  D181  L128  F1145  A597
Spurs P668  W243  D175  L250  F905  A906

Wenger's League record as Arsenal boss:
P495  W290  D127  L78  F934  A442.  Ave.Pts/game 2.01

Redknapp's League record as Spurs boss:
P40  W20  D8  L12  F61  A47.  Ave.Pts/game 1.70

FORM GUIDE

Arsenal


28 Oct (League Cup) v Liverpool (H) WON 2-1
25 Oct (Premier League) v West Ham United (A) DREW 2-2
20 Oct (Champions League) v AZ Alkmaar (A) DREW 1-1
17 Oct (Premier League) v Birmingham City (H) WON 3-1
04 Oct (Premier League) v Blackburn Rovers (H) WON 6-2
29 Sept (Champions League) v Olympiakos (H) WON 2-0

Tottenham

27 Oct (League Cup) v Everton (H) WON 2-0
24 Oct (Premier League) v Stoke City (H) LOST 0-1
17 Oct (Premier League) v Portsmouth (A) WON 2-1
03 Oct (Premier League) v Bolton (A) DREW 2-2
26 Sept (Premier League) v Burnley (H) WON 5-0
23 Sept (League Cup) v Preston (A) WON 5-1

TEAM NEWS

Arsenal


Tomas Rosicky (knee) is unlikely to be fit in time, while Jack Wilshere (ankle), Theo Walcott (knee), Denilson (back) and Johann Djourou (knee) are all ruled out, as is goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, who damaged a thigh in the midweek win against Liverpool - his first match of the season after recovering from knee surgery.

The 24-year-old Pole's latest injury means Arsene Wenger must choose between Vito Mannone and fit-again Manuel Almunia - who started the season as first-choice keeper - between the sticks.

Last starting XI (v Liverpool, League Cup): Fabianski, Gilbert, Senderos, Silvestre, Gibbs, Eastmond (Randall 75), Bendtner (Watt 76), Nasri, Ramsey, Merida (Coquelin 87), Eduardo.
Subs not used: Szcesny, Bartley, Frimpong, Sunu.

Last starting XI in Premier League (v West Ham): Mannone, Sagna, Vermaelen, Gallas, Clichy, Eboue (Bendtner), Diaby (Eduardo), Fabregas, Song, Arshavin, Van Persie.
Subs not used: Almunia, Silvestre, Gibbs, Nasri, Ramsey.

Tottenham

Leading scorer Jermain Defoe (six goals) misses the game as he completes a three-match suspension for his dismissal at Portsmouth. But with Robbie Keane (five goals) and Peter Crouch (four), plus Roman Pavlyuchenko in reserve, Spurs still carry plenty of attacking threat.

Aaron Lennon (ankle) and Giovani Dos Santos (ankle) could miss out, while Luka Modric is still recovering from a broken leg.

Crouch, Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate should all be fit after injuries, while David Bentley is likely to retain his place against his former club in the absence of Lennon.

Last starting XI (v Everton, League Cup): Gomes, Hutton, Bassong, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto, Bentley, Huddlestone, Palacios, Bale, Keane, Pavlyuchenko.
Subs not used: Button, Naughton, Corluka, Dervite, Jenas, Parrett, Kane.

Last starting XI in Premier League (v Stoke City): Gomes, Bassong, Corluka, Assou-Ekotto, Woodgate (Dawson 14), Huddlestone (Jenas 71), Lennon, Palacios, Kranjcar, Keane (Pavlyuchenko 63), Crouch.
Subs not used: Cudicini, Hutton, Bale, Naughton.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Arsenal

Andrey Arshavin
is already something of a folk hero at the Emirates and has the chance to endear himself even more securely in the affections of Gunners fans by putting on a show against their arch-enemies Tottenham. The creative little Russian is a box of technical tricks with a potent goal threat, and his interplay with the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie has been a feature of Arsenal's play this term. Arshavin has already netted five times for the Gunners this season (11 since he joined the club 10 months ago), and is always ready to try his luck when he sees the net.
    
Tottenham

David Bentley has struggled to get a game but was named man-of-the-match against Evertion in midweek when he made a rare start and set up Tom Huddlestone's goal. Bentley will be facing the club where he started his professional career, having made nine appearances (one in the League) and scored one goal for Arsenal before moving to Blackburn Rovers in August 2005. He has yet to justify the substantial fee Spurs paid for him, or show the fans his true worth. He has also fallen out of the England reckoning since moving to the Lane. But he will relish the chance to shine against his old team-mates, buoyed by the spectacular goal he scored at the Emirates for Spurs a year ago.
 
PREDICTION

Local pride is at stake, and the chance to extend, or end, Arsenal's unbeaten sequence in this fixture. But in the bigger picture, three more vital Premier League points are on the line, with Liverpool, Manchester City and Aston Villa each having the chance to overtake whoever loses this north London derby. Arsenal are the leading scorers in the League with 29 goals from nine matches, eight more than Tottenham have managed in their 10. It will be a firecely contested, possibly heated affair, but both sides play open, attacking football and it is likely that there will be a few goals to savour. Pundit Alan Hansen reckons Arsenal will be too strong for Spurs and, with home advantage, a win for the Gunners is looking the likeliest outcome.

Arsenal 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur


Graham Lister, Goal.com UK