Battle for North London

Manuel Almunia returns to Arsenals goal just in time for the North London derby against Tottenham. (Courtesy Tim Snell Flickr)

Manuel Almunia returns to Arsenals goal just in time for the North London derby against Tottenham. (Courtesy Tim Snell Flickr)

By Kevin Koczwara

Arsenal and Tottenham will face-off Saturday at the Emirates Stadium to lay claim to as who is the best club in North London right now. It is a match-up that looks to be a barn burner because the two teams have high octane attacks and sub-par defenses. The game also has implications to set apart the two teams and give themselves room in the top four (Champions League qualification) on the Premier League table.

Both Arsenal and Tootenham have 19 points coming into this weekends match-up and are only set apart by goal differential — Arsenal at a +16, Tottenham at a +9– and Arsenal’s one game in hand. And both need this win to keep pace with table setters Chelsea (who play a Bolton side  they beat 4-0 in a mid-week Carling Cup match), and to avoid being bumped down by a confident Liverpool side who beat Manchester United last week and is playing a stingy Fulham side that looks tired from all the extra competition that the UEFA Cup has brought. And Manchester City and Aston Villa should surely wrap-up at least 1 point this weekend in their competitions keeping them in the hunt for a top four finish and jumping over the loser in North London.

This game is more than just a derby this weekend, it is a match that will make one of these teams a serious contender for Premier League silverware come May.

Gunners Dominance

Arsenal hasn’t lost to Tottenham in Premier League play since November of 1999, 10 years. An unprecedented run of 19 matches in league play since Tottenham has beaten Arsenal. And Tottenham hasn’t won at Arsenal in a league match since 1993- a streak of 17 matches since the Spurs beat the Gunners at Arsenal. Not a good sign for Tottenham going into the Emirates this weekend. They will need a superb games out of Robbie Keane and “trader” David Bentley (he was once an Arsenal youth player), filling in for an injured Aaron Lennon, if they hope to break the streak.

Keane will need to be particularly good because Jermaine Defoe will still be serving his suspension, and Peter Crouch isn’t the same type of threat that Defoe is. Crouch will need to control the air and serve up some great balls for his attacking partners if they hope to put a goal past a the Arsenal defense.

Arsenal need to sure up their back line. They have given up 13 goals thus far this season–the most an Arsene Wenger Arsenal side has let up 9 games into the season. Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas have to show that they can stop a good attacking side before they play a side with the quality of a Chelsea or Liverpool.

The good news for Arsenal in the  back is that Almunia will be back between the pipes–not the best goalkeeper in the world, but he gets the job done. Almunia has great reflexes and reacts naturally to shots, but can be caught out of position on set pieces and longer shots. Look for Tottenham to use Crouch’s size on set pieces to set up scrappy shots from the smaller Keane and Bentley to expose Almunia’s clumsy positioning.

As for Arsenal on the attack, they have a plentiful feast of weapons at their exposure. Look for Robin Van Persie to put in a good game as the lone striker with the creativity and passing of Cesc Fabergas and Arshavin behind him opening up lanes and good scoring opportunities.

Arshavin is the ex-factor in the game. He works hard, and for his size, puts up a great fight on the pitch. He has the form right now to do anything he wants on the pitch. His quickness and work ethic should wreak havoc on t e larger and slower Spurs central defenders, Ledley King and Bassong. I am looking for Arshavin to put in a goal tomorrow and assist or have a major part in another. He has a knack for showing up in big games with important goals.

Arsene Going to get 1,000

I am going to make a prediction here (hey ESPN has people do it all week for the NFL–I could care less what every sports journalist thinks will happen when Brett Farve returns to Lambo, yet I have to hear it all week, give me highlights ESPN!) and say that Arsene Wenger will get his 1,000 Premier League point as Arsenal’s manager with a 3-1 win at the Emirates. This will be a quick game that will be won by Arsenal’s style of play. They will nullify Tottenham’s height advantage in the back by keeping the ball on the ground and moving it quickly with their fluid style of football. But I do think Keane will get a goal to make the game competitive and interesting.

Other Predictions:

Saturday’s Matches:

Bolton Wanderers  v  Chelsea: 3-0 Chelsea will walk over Bolton again for two wins in one week.

Burnley v Hull City: 1-1 draw. Phill Brown will still be on the hot seat as his Tigers draw with Burnely

Everton v Aston Villa: 0-0 draw. Going with a draw at Goodison Park as Everton are never an easy team to play at home. Villa has the stingiest defense in the EPL, and stingiest offense, and Everton don’t play the most wonderful brand of soccer, but get the job done.

Fulham v Liverpool: 2-1 Liverpool at Craven’s Cottage. Got a feeling we will see another good performance from Lucas this week–he looked great against United. Fabio Aurelio will have to have another strong performance on the left side, but the Brazilian has looked great playing in front Insua, the two overlap and cover one another so well. No Aquilani and Gerrard means Liverpool’s midfield will have to play inspired football because they will have a short bench this week. Defense will have to be tight because Glen Johnson will be out of action as well. But Fernando Torres is too good to not put in at least one goal this weekend–even if he isn’t 100% healthy.

Portsmouth v Wigan Athletic: 2-1 Portsmouth will win this match. They look better each week, and if their players are now getting paid they should play inspired soccer. I like Pompey and how they have endured during such hard times.

Stoke City v Wolverhampton Wanderers: 1-0 Stoke will keep playing their blue-collar soccer and eek out another result. They are the hardest working club in the Premier League week in and out, and will show Wolves that hard work is how a club stays up after promotion.

Sunderland v West Ham United: I like Sunderland here 3-2 with lots of goals because these two teams can score with the best of teams. This might be the most entertaining game of the weekend to watch.

Manchester United v Blackburn Rovers: United will rebound after last week’s loss to Liverpool by rolling over the Rovers this weekend 2-0.

Sunday’s Match:

Birmingham v Manchester City: I just don’t see City traveling well this weekend. They will be upset at Birmingham’s St. Andrews Stadium 2-1. This is a gut feeling prediction. I like all the parts to City, but they don’t work as a whole yet for me.

Kevin Koczwara can be reached at kkoczwar@gmail.com. Follow The Soccer Guys on Twitter @TheSoccerGuys.

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