An Arsenal injury crisis never fully ends. Just as it seemed Arsene Wenger was about to have a full squad to choose from, he has lost Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal’s player of the season, to a hamstring injury.
Danny Welbeck will be back after a month out with a thigh problem, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere are all out.
Tottenham remarkably, have everybody available could in theory play Emmanuel Adebayor after a potential deadline-day move to West Ham was blocked, although they surely won’t. Even Nabil Bentaleb is back after Algeria’s exit from the Cup of Nations at the quarter-final stage.
Arsenal dominated the meeting at the Emirates in September but after Nacer Chadli had put Tottenham ahead 11 minutes after half-time, it took a late equaliser from man-of-the-match Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to salvage a point. This, though, was a game Arsenal really should have
won: they had 69% of possession and managed 16 shots to Tottenham’s six, controlling midfield and driving Spurs back to they spent most of the game defending 20 yards from goal. Spurs, of course, have improved dramatically since then as Mauricio Pochettino has begun to instil his ideas in his team, while Arsenal have gone through the familiar pattern of slump and recovery. Arsenal won 1-0 at White Hart Lane last March, but never really had control of the game after Tomas Rosicky’s early strike.
From the depths of gloom after a 2-0 defeat to Southampton on New Year’s Day, Arsenal have won three in a row in the league, scoring 10 and not conceding. The key factor in that has been the three players in central midfield. Francis Coquelin has been a revelation since the game against Stoke City, offering a bite and aggression at the back of midfield that Arsenal have lacked for years. Alongside him, the scurrying neatness of Santi Cazorla and the rangy energy of Aaron Ramsey have proved the perfect foils.
Spurs have rotated their central midfield of late, and Pochettino must decide whether to use Cristian Eriksen in a central role against Coquelin or to deploy him wide. The return of Bentaleb, probably their best defensive midfielder this season, is a major plus and the only question – assuming he has fully recovered from the tournament – is who of Ryan Mason, Paulinho, Mousa Dembele and Benjamin Stambouli will play alongside him
Although there is a clear sense of Spurs building as a force, the one area where they still seem to have a glaring weakness is at full-back.
Although Danny Rose can be a potent force pushing forward on the left, he also leaves spaces behind him, while Kyle Walker has had a shaky season. He hasn’t registered a goal or an assist, his pass completion, according to whoscored.com, is at under 80% and, while he has made 2.6 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per game, he’s also been dribbled past
0.4 times per match. Had Sanchez been there o the left for Arsenal it would have been easy to imagine him taking advantage; as it is, Mesut Ozil may not have the pace really to exploit Walker.
KANE v ARSENAL’S DEFENCE
Per Mertesacker is one of those defenders who looks supremely dominant until the moment somebody gets a run at him. Although his partnership with Laurent Koscielny has looked solid again in recent weeks, helped by Coquelin’s form, Harry Kane, a master at dropping into space, turning and charging at defenders – even though he is far from lightning fast – has made better defenders look sluggish.
Arsenal have shut out David Silva and Sergio Aguero on this recent run of form, but above all else they cannot allow Kane to arrive at the line of their back four moving at pace. That in part means trying to ensure Koscielny picks him up as far as possible, but it also means making sure he never has space to turn with acceleration room.
Arsenal are in such form, and their psychological dominance over Tottenham in recent seasons so great that first instinct is that 2.25 is a decent price for them to win.
They’re likely, though, to be pushed far harder than in recent seasons, and there’s no doubt that the absence of Sanchez diminishes them as an attacking presence.
Every indication is of a tight game and that makes Tottenham at 3.20 attractive. Perhaps the wisest course, though, is an element of caution and go Tottenham +0.25 on the Asian line at around 1.90