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Will Wenger risk his two Central Midfield ‘Hot Heads’ together in the Cauldron of the North London Derby?

Xhaha and Coquelin if Santi does not make it?

Xhaha and Coquelin if Santi does not make it?

“I’m more focused on the fact that this is more than a derby. It’s an important game for us because it’s a big home game and we have an opportunity to show that we have an interesting role to play in this Premier League, and that we can win these kinds of games too.”Arsene Wenger

Every time I’m tasked with writing about a North London derby I think I’m not the person best-placed to do it. As I’ve explained on several occasions, I don’t harbour a specific hate towards Tottenham, most likely because I wasn’t raised in the UK.

So for me, like for Arsene Wenger, it’s just the next game. The next team we have to beat. I’m not saying Arsene doesn’t understand the importance of this fixture for the fans. I’m not saying I don’t, either. However it remains the next game against a strong team. And I’m more interested in how the Gunners will approach the game as I’m in bragging rights.

Team news update

How Arsenal approach the game will, in no small part, depend on the players at our dispozil. The maestro himself is available, of course, but question marks hang over other 5 first-team members: Bellerin, Monreal, Cazorla, Walcott and Gibbs.

Both should recover

Of all these, Bellerin, Walcott and Monreal are in with the highest chance of being available. All three trained with squad on Thursday. Cazorla and Gibbs, though, are less likely to feature. On Santi Arsene said:

“He has not practised yet – he will try to go out today (Thursday) and we will see where we go from there.”

As the pics from the link above are Thursday’s pics and Santi isn’t on these, I’ll be very surprised if he starts. He probably has a small chance of making the squad, however for someone who hasn’t played and hasn’t trained for over two weeks playing from the first minutes in the game of such intensity will be a tough thing.

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Kieran Gibbs, meanwhile, has suffered a shoulder injury in the latter stages of our win over Ludogorets:

“Kieran Gibbs has been touched on his shoulder and I don’t know how will respond to that.”

Like Santi, Gibbs wasn’t anywhere to be seen in training, so I doubt he’ll recover in time. On top of it, given the choice between the Englishman and Nacho, I’d plough for the Spaniard.

Last time Gibbs played Spurs at the Emirates (photo credit: Express)

Thankfully, Spurs also have selection problems to deal with, and not of the nice kind. Alderweireld, Davies, Lamela and Sissoko will all definitely miss out for various reasons, while Dembele is unlikely to recover from his midweek injury too. Harry Kane will be included, but the striker won’t start the game. Meaning Janssen and Son will battle it out for that centre-forward spot.

Squad and approach

I’ll take a positive slant once again, albeit slightly less positive compared to last week’s (for the reasons I outlined above).

Cech will regain his place between the sticks for sure, and I can’t see the back four being anything else than Hector – Kos – Mustafi – Nacho. It’s what Arsene will do further upfield that is more intriguing.

Even without Cazorla, we are still well-stocked in midfield areas. Going into this one only Ozil is guaranteed a place. After that the guesswork begins in the earnest.

For example, does Arsene start Coquelin? No obvious reason why he shouldn’t, the amount of games the Frenchman played from the off even with Xhaka readily available is testament to that. However we all remember how the last NLD went for Francis, don’t we?

Let’s avoid this, shall we? (photo credit: Daily Star)

While we are on the subject of discipline, is Xhaka that much more of a safer bet? Especially in the light of Arsene’s recent comments? Yet Granit is the next best thing in playing the ball out from the back, something which makes him invaluable in Cazorla’s absence. But even so, will Arsene opt for such a defensive-minded pivot in a home, while at the same time doubling the risk of finishing the game with ten men?

Does Ramsey warrant a start? The Welshman is still rusty, I think we shouldn’t be fooled by his appearance from the first minutes against Ludogorets. It was all about giving Aaron some on-pitch time. Is he ready to start on Sunday, with an unknown (Xhaka, Elneny) or uncomfortable (Coquelin) partner by his side? And when I say “unknown” I obviously mean they haven’t played together (much).

Can Elneny stake a claim for a starting berth? The Egyptian is very much on the fringes, but his rather energetic performance vs Sunderland and a nice cameo on Tuesday should force Mohamed into the manager’s thinking. Or not?

Elneny celebrates with Ozil after setting the German up with a fine pass (photo credit: Squawka)

Up front I think we’ll see Alexis and Theo return, but the left wing may be up for grabs after some decent showings from Ox. Especially since Iwobi, while a brilliant player in the opponent’s final third, is not that good at helping his fullback, something Wenger should take into account against a strong Spurs side.

It’ll be hugely interesting to see how we line up come Sunday, not the least because Arsene once again talked up his squad and hinted at tactical flexibility based on the opposition:

“There is no Plan B in any squad, I never thought about my players like that.

“The team who is the most effective for the next game, that’s what you pick and I consider everyone as a regular player.

“That is basically what a manager thinks, what is [best] for the next game.No matter who plays [against Tottenham] I have a squad of 25 players who are all top class and I think this game, a game of that stature, is not about 11 – it’s about 25.”

There you have it. So behold my stab at the starting XI, for whatever it’s worth: Cech – Bellerin – Mustafi – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Xhaka – Walcott – Ozil – Iwobi – Alexis

Back centrally after midweek’s game? (photo credit: Four Four Two)

The verdict

A win will allow us to increase the gap on Spurs to 6 points, an opportunity we should grab with both hands. More importantly, both City and Chelsea play on Saturday, meaning we can find ourselves in third by kick-off at 12 on Sunday.

It’ll be a tough game, though, no two ways to put it. Spurs have conceded the least goals in the league – just five (we have conceded twice as many). They are also still to be beaten, the only side in the league without a loss to date. Finally. We have failed to beat Pochettino’s men on 4 previous occasions in the league – drawing three and losing one.

However there also causes for optimism. For example, Tottenham have only beaten Arsenal once in 25 away matches. On top of that, Tottenham haven’t scored from open play for five games in a row – ever since Alli’s late equaliser against West Brom on October 15th. Meaning no goals from open play in almost 8 hours.

Not that there’s any room for complacency from our side. God knows Spurs will love nothing more than beating us on our turf. It’s also the last game before the Interlull and we really don’t want to go into one after dropping points, especially as we face United and PSG right after the break.

Finally for some fun with  a serious message the bots over at Betway in this week’s ‘Blow the Whistle’ debate the boys debate 2 key Arsenal v Spurs issues – Issue Janssen the next Soldado?, a super flop, is Ozil all that? and which team is better equipped to win the Premier League?

So c’mon you Gunners. Sweep this lot aside.

 

 

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