Club Focus – Arsenal – Anticipation builds ahead of Tottenham clash

For many football fans, the international friendlies during the week were little more than a distraction from the real business of club football. With November building up the pace ahead of the gruelling winter schedule, anticipation is mounting and nowhere is this more true than in north London ahead of derby day.

Arsenal head into the game in high confidence following their impressive victory over Everton at Goodison Park, with memories of the painful defeats against West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United all but erased following title rivals’ slip-ups. The depleted squads of Manchester United and Chelsea have seen the Gunners progress from also-rans to genuine contenders in the mass media and they will carry this confidence and growing momentum into the weekend’s encounter. Should they need any more incentive to get one over their nearest and not so dearest, three points from Saturday’s early kick-off would lift them to the Premier League summit.

Refreshingly the Gunners are relatively untroubled by injuries with central defence proving the most affected with regard to numbers, but not in terms of performance. Johan Djourou grows sharper with every match completed following an injury-plagued spell and appears to be justifying the manager’s decision to retain him over fellow Swiss Philippe Senderos. Sebastien Squillaci was a somewhat uncharacteristic signing given his age, but his leadership and experience of top-level European football have helped to limit the impact of defensive absentees. Lining up on the other side of the divide will be William Gallas who can expect to be jeered but no more than that with Arsene Wenger’s willingness to let him depart last summer mitigating the majority of ill-feeling about crossing the divide.

Yet, for all the focus on the defence, the north London teams both favour passing, and above all attacking, football. Tottenham Hotspur have made an impressive impact on their Champions League bow and the defeat of reigning European champions Inter Milan shows they are more than capable of recording results against the biggest sides. The pace of Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale on the counter-attack will be of concern to the manager, as the home side will surely dominate possession at the Emirates. Finding a cutting edge to accompany the neat approach play will be key to the success of those in red, and given his current form Marouane Chamakh will be an integral figure. Tottenham have not dealt well with Arsenal’s target men in recent meetings, with formerly Emmanuel Adebayor and more recently Nicklas Bendtner tormenting the lily-white defence. This suggests that Chamakh will be preferred to the Dane, despite his recent ultimatum, and Robin van Persie who returned unscathed following Wenger’s deal brokering with the Dutch FA.

Between the three of them, Arsenal have three potentially match-winning forwards vying for what is likely to be a lone striking role. The wealth of options available will be welcomed by the manager, who will know that he has plenty of firepower at his disposal should the Gunners be misfiring.

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