TACTICAL football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) gives us the lowdown on Super Sunday's showdown between North London rivals Arsenal and Spurs.
Arsenal v Tottenham | Sunday 1st September 2019, 16:30 | Sky Sports
Arsenal host Tottenham in the first North London derby of the season, as they both look to bounce back from disappointing defeats in their previous games. Arsenal were unsurprisingly beaten by Liverpool at Anfield 3-1, whilst a lacklustre Tottenham team were stunned by a resolute Newcastle 1-0 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Both managers have big decisions to make regarding team selection ahead of Sunday’s game, and are known to spring tactical surprises with their XIs. However, a couple of key themes have appeared from both of teams opening fixtures, and it is these where I believe the best bets lie.
Spurs’ concerning high line
The pair have struggled defensively in the opening games, and in particular, it has been the issues of Spurs at the back that has been well documented. The full backs have been less than convincing, whilst the partnership of Davison Sanchez and Toby Alderweireld has toiled. Jan Vertonghen could come in but he is yet to play this season, so would be understandably rusty, providing Arsenal’s lively attackers an area to expose.
Newcastle’s goal last week epitomised the worries that Mauricio Pochettino’s men have endured at the back with a huge gap between Sanchez and Danny Rose allowing Joelinton acres of space to control Christian Atsu’s pass and slot past Hugo Lloris. The combination of a high defensive line, and lack of tracking back from midfield, left Newcastle space on occasions. And with the injury worries Tottenham have, this could be set to continue on Sunday.
Kyle Walker-Peters is a doubt, which would see either the return of Serge Aurier, or a makeshift full back in Eric Dier or Moussa Sissoko, whilst Tanguy N’Dombele appears to have been ruled out.
The high line Tottenham have opted to play has also left them exposed to quick breaks, which was taken advantage of by Aston Villa on the opening day, with thew newly-promoted team exposing Spurs’ flanks. These current defensive worries, coupled with the pace and trickery of Arsenal’s front three, lends itself to anticipating a number of chances for Arsenal’s forward line.
Pepe can flourish
It is Nicolas Pepe who stands out as the one who can make the difference and expose Tottenham’s frail defence. Lively against Liverpool last week, he stretched the game effectively as part of a tactical ploy by Unai Emery to leave Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Pepe 2v2 with Liverpool’s centre halves.
This nearly paid off in the first half when the Ivorian was sent through 1v1 against Adrian, but fired directly at the goalkeeper. However, it is these promising signs, alongside his statistics from both this season and last, which make the winger a value bet to score Anytime at 21/10 (Bet365).
With the uncertainty in Tottenham’s backline, particularly at full back, Pepe will be fancied to take advantage of this. With 22 goals last season in the league for Lille, he has goalscoring pedigree, and he averaged 3.10 shots per-game, showing he isn’t shy to have a go. This has carried into this term, firing in five efforts in 154 minutes, and given the positions he got himself into last week, he’s worth a punt.
Pepe’s willingness to run at defenders also plays into the hands of card backers. The summer signing completed the highest number of take-ons against both Burnley (4/6) and Liverpool (7/10), whilst he is also a target for being fouled. Averaging 3.70 dribbles per-game for Lille last season, it led to him being fouled 2.80 times per-game, a statistic that stands out against a potential makeshift right back and a rash Danny Rose.
Goals can flow
It isn’t just Tottenham’s backline which has looked suspect in the opening games, with Arsenal shipping three last weekend, all be it against an imperious Liverpool side. However, the frailties were still evident, and the back four is still less than convincing despite the signing of David Luiz.
With Kieran Tierney still not fit, the left back role will either be filled by Sead Kolasanic or Nacho Monreal, whilst Luiz and Sokratis will be expected to start as centre backs with Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the right.
The Gunners defended very narrow against Liverpool as part of a ploy to entice their full backs forward and hit them on the counter, and they could look to do this again against Spurs. Spurs struggled to break Newcastle down due to their slow-paced attacks and poor crossing, whilst Eric Lamela struggled in the central role, however, Christian Eriksen is expected to return, offering more impetus in Tottenham’s attacks and a willingness to move the ball quicker.
Playing at home in a local derby, there will also be more emphasis on Arsenal to attack early on, and this will leave a lot more space for Tottenham to utilise going forward. Similar to Arsenal’s attacking three, Lucas Moura and Son Heung-Min have the ability to stretch the game, and if left one v one with any of the backline of Arsenal, will fancy their chances of breaking through.
Despite a promising start to the season, Maitland-Niles is still yet to convince defensively, whilst Luiz showed his ability to implode in games against Liverpool. Memories of his performance against Spurs away last season for Chelsea are hard to forget, and paired alongside the less than mobile Sokratis, if Arsenal play on the front foot, expect to see plenty of space for Spurs to exploit.
As a result I expect there to be goals for both sides in this and Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score at 4/5 (Bet365) that represents the best value. A traditional open affair, I expect to see plenty of chances for both sides, and with two clinical forward lines, goals are forecast.