Tactical battle expected at White Hart Lane
Arsène Wenger’s introduction of a 3-4-2-1 system has seen Arsenal record three wins in a row and move back into the race for a top-four finish.
Perhaps seeing the trend of leaders Chelsea and Tottenham in second, Wenger decided to revert to a back-three, and used the likes of Héctor Bellerín, Nacho Monreal, Alex OxladeChamberlain and Kieran Gibbs as wing backs.
Barring an extraordinary collapse, this season’s title may have been decided at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, when Chelsea manager Antonio Conte switched from a back-four to a back-three.
A 13-match unbeaten streak followed and, with a four-point lead over second-placed Spurs, anything less than a victory for the Lilywhites over the Gunners in north London may hand it to Conte’s side.
Yet, White Hart Lane has become a fortress under Mauricio Pochettino as a remarkable 17-game unbeaten run testifies: 16 wins and one draw, while racking up 54 goals and conceding just 12.
Arsenal’s surprise move to a back-three is a possible sign they have seen Chelsea and Spurs’ success of the formation, and believe this may be the future in the Premier League.
Matching up against Spurs’ 3-4-2-1 today seems to make sense for the Gunners as it affords them the opportunity to go like-forlike in midfield, and to expose the defensive fallibility of more attack-minded wing backs such as Kieran Trippier and Son Heung-min.
Son was a surprise pick at left wing back for Spurs in the 4-2 defeat to Chelsea, and it was his inexperience at defending one on one in deep positions that saw Victor Moses brought down in the box with Willian converting the spot kick. However, Pochettino has since hinted that he may fill the role again with Danny Rose doubtful due to injury.
It is hard not to admire a system that allows full backs to operate virtually as wingers, while giving Spurs the chance to attack the final third with up to six players at any one time.
Their forward bursts have freed up Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli to drift into those awkward positions to defend threequarter spaces, in what are in effect inside forward positions behind Harry Kane.
In the same way, Wenger will no doubt be hoping the likes of Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil can exploit those same gaps behind, say, Olivier Giroud. Whichever way it plays out, it is sure to be a fascinating tactical battle in the final north London derby at the Lane.
In team news, Mousa Dembélé is doubtful for Spurs with an ankle injury, while Rose could make his return for the first time since January.
Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi could also miss out for Arsenal, though David Ospina may be fit to return.
Other big games today see Sunderland face Bournemouth, knowing anything less than a win will mean relegation. Middlesbrough also have to beat top-four chasing Manchester City to stand a chance.
Swansea City visit fifth-placed Manchester United and are desperate for a win. Everton take on Chelsea at Goodison Park, while Watford are at home to third-placed Liverpool.
– TEAMtalk Media
FLYING TACKLE Shkodran Mustafi of Arsenal challenges Victor Wanyama of Tottenham in a Premier League match. The two clubs meet again this afternoon