Arsenal vs. Tottenham Preview

Sunday marks the first North London Derby of the Premier League season with Arsenal having eliminated Tottenham in the league cup 2-1 at White Hart Lane in September. Given that league cup games tend to be more open and less tactical than Premier League games and feature fewer first teamers in early rounds, that result offers few clues as to how Sunday will go. After all, Mathieu Flamini won the match with the first brace of his career.

Both sides enter Sunday's contest in excellent form in the Premier League. Spurs haven't been beaten since the opening day of the season at Old Trafford on an own goal in a game in which they were the better side for much of the 90 minutes. Arsenal's last loss was the controversial 2-0 defeat at Chelsea in mid September.

Formations and Lineups

Both sides will line up in a 4-2-3-1. Injuries have become a major conern for Arsene Wenger. Arsenal are without left back Hector Bellerin and Laurent Koscielny is also doubtful. Mathieu Debuchy will replace Bellerin, Gabriel will partner Per Mertesacker at center back if Koscielny doesn't recover. Those omissions in defense could pose a significant problem for the Gunners. The Mertesacker-Gabriel partnership was carved apart in a woefully disorganized performance in a 5-1 defeat at Bayern midweek and Debuchy has been unconvincing in his performances since returning from long term injury last season. Joel Campbell will start at the right of midfield with Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all still out through injury.

Mauricio Pochettino has nearly his complete squad to choose from- his only major absence is Nacer Chadli. The Argentinians major concern will be the freshness of his players. He played a near first choice squad in Spurs' 2-1 win over Anderlecht in the Europa League Thursday with Aderweireld, Vertonghen, Alli, Dier, Lamela, Eriksen and Kane all starting.

Tottenham left versus Arsenal right

Wenger should be concerned about his team's right side. Ramsey and Bellerin formed a solid partnership down that side defensively and were key to how Arsenal attacked. Ramsey tucks inside from a wide starting position, opening up space for the blisteringly pacey Bellerin to overlap in the channel and cut passes back across the face of goal. Debuchey doesn't have that level of pace that allows him to get in behind his marker. Campbell's positioning isn't as fluid as Ramsey- he'll cut inside from the right but will maintain a starting wider position than we'd see from Ramsey. Arsenal will therefore be a bit more rigid and predictable down that side.

Spurs will likely look to attack down that same channel through Eriksen and Danny Rose. Eriksen is Spurs most creative attacking player and will take up dangerous positions in the space between Debuchy, Mertesacker and Francis Coquelin. His movement inside will force Debuchy into narrow positions opening up space for Rose on the overlap. Rose rarely needs a second invitation to take the space and bomb forward so Campbell will have to be diligent tracking back. Ramsey is a tremendously fit player and typically does a decent job providing protection for his fullback while still possessing the engine to transition into attack quickly when Arsenal win the ball back. Campbell has played sparingly over the last few seasons and is therefore short on match fitness. He worked hard tracking back to protect Bellerin at Swansea last weekend but at times looked completely exhausted. It will be interesting to see how his fitness holds up as he plays his third game in nine days.

Eriksen tucks into the space between Debuchy, Mertesacker and Coquelin which forces Debuchy to tuck inside and opens up space in the channel for Rose to run into. Campbell must therefore track the runs of Rose or the fullback will have the time and space to pick his head up and pick out a pass in the penalty area.

Eriksen tucks into the space between Debuchy, Mertesacker and Coquelin which forces Debuchy to tuck inside and opens up space in the channel for Rose to run into. Campbell must therefore track the runs of Rose or the fullback will have the time and space to pick his head up and pick out a pass in the penalty area.

Eric Dier versus Mesut Ozil

Tottenham's formation operates as more of a 4-3-3 when they are in possession with Alli pushing forward into advanced positions and Dier sitting just in front of the center backs at the base of midfield. This gives Pochettino's side plenty of vertical passing options as they build attacks form the back. Alli and Dembele's positioning in front of Dier when Tottenham have the ball means both Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla will have a direct opponent in the center midfield zone rather than enjoying a two against matchup on a lone #10.

The advanced positioning also has the potential to leave Spurs vulnerable to the counter attack however. When Spurs concede possession with Alli high up the pitch it leaves Dier to defend the entire midfield zone on his own against quick opposition transitions. In Mesut Ozil, Arsenal have the league's in form playmaker who will have no problems moving into spaces either side of Dier to collect outlet passes to start the counter. With a remarkable 9 assists already this campaign Ozil is deadly with the final pass. Arsenal are without Walcott, whose pace running in behind the opposition defense offers the ideal outlet when Arsenal player on the break, but in Alexis Sanchez they have a player who will break forward at pace and join Ozil and Giroud on the counter. Dier will have to be mindful of where Ozil is even when Spurs are in possession and get tight to him when the ball turns over.

Graphic shows positioning the moment Spurs lose possession in the attacking third. Ozil will look to float into the space either side of Dier to receive outlet passes to start the counter. Sanchez will look to break out quickly into the space behind an advanced Kyle Walker.

Graphic shows positioning the moment Spurs lose possession in the attacking third. Ozil will look to float into the space either side of Dier to receive outlet passes to start the counter. Sanchez will look to break out quickly into the space behind an advanced Kyle Walker.

Stats to consider

-Spurs have the third highest shots per game average and the third highest shots on target per game average; Arsenal have the highest shots per game and second highest shots on target per game behind Manchester City.

-Arsenal's 21 goals for is fourth in the Premier League, Spurs' 19 goals for is fifth.

-Arsenal are tied with Manchester United with the best defensive record having conceded just 8. Spurs have conceded just 9. All these stats suggest two well balanced teams so it's difficult to predict how this one will go.

-Spurs have scored 7 goals from set pieces this season, two more than any other side in the Premier League. With Arsenal missing Koscielny, set plays could present a good opportunity for Tottenham.

Match Analysis: Leicester 1-1 Tottenham

Riyad Mahrez continued his terrific run of form as he provided a brilliant curling effort to the back post in the 82nd minute to equalize for Leicester just a minute after Dele Alli put Tottenham ahead. This was a cagey contest that really came to life in the final 10 minutes.

Claudio Ranieri opted for the same 4-4-2 lineup that beat Sunderland 4-2 on opening day and won 2-1 at West Ham last weekend.

Mauricio Pochettino gave Eric Lamela his first start of the season for Spurs with Christian Eriksen missing through injury. Spurs played their usual 4-2-3-1. The attacking midfield three rotated often but it was mainly Lamela through the middle, Chadli on the left and Dembele on the right.

The obvious tactical feature of this one was Leicester's deep, organized defending in banks of four. They put all ten men behind the ball, challenging Tottenham to come up with enough creativity to unlock them.

Okazaki and Vardy dropped inside their own half, usually picking up Tottenham's two holding midfielders. Higher up the pitch Chadli and Dembele tucked inside and took up extremely narrow positions. With Leicester defending with a compact midfield bank of four, the middle of the pitch was extremely crowded. Tottenham's midfielders struggled to find pockets of space between the lines to create a forward passing option and as a result they ended up playing a lot of sideways passes deeper in midfield.

With space between the Leicester defensive and midfield lines limited, Spurs' attacking midfielders would drop in front of Leicester's midfield four to pick up possession from Mason and Dier. This meant Leicester still had 8 men behind the ball. Tottenham simply couldn't break down the Leicester lines. Eriksen's injury was important. He's clever with his movement, capable of moving into tight pockets of space to receive passes and creative enough and tactically gifted enough to then pick out a penetrating pass. Lamela, Dembele and Chadli didn't offer enough creativity on the ball. Spurs dominated first half possession with 72% but the tempo was quite slow and Leicester were comfortable.

The absence of creativity meant Spurs were unable to link play forward into Kane. He had to work the channels, as he always willingly does, or drop into positions deep in midfield in order to get any sort of touches. The left side of the graphic below shows all of the passes Kane received in the first half. There's a noticeable lack of passes received in the middle of the pitch around the penalty box, where you typically want your best goalscorer to be collecting possession. There was an improvement in the second half. As the abnormal heat (the referee stopped play for water breaks in both halves) led to a fall in Leicester's pressing in midfield, more space opened up for Kane in the middle of the pitch. For Tottenham's goal he was able to collect possession in between the lines and drew in three Leicester defenders. This allowed Chadli to go unmarked down the left channel where the Belgian floated a ball towards the back post for Alli to nod home. After playing the ball wide Kane did well to continue his run into the box which forced Leicester center back Wes Morgan to slide over and check Kane's run, leaving Alli free at the back post.

The difference in attacking styles between the two sides was pronounced. While Spurs were patient and, more often than not, ponderous, Leicester's attacks were direct and vertical and therefore didn't involve many passes. Spurs completed a total of 437 passes to Leicester's 183.

With the entire side defending deep, Leicester looked to spring quick counter attacks when they won the ball back by hitting balls behind the Tottenham fullbacks into the channel for Vardy. The graphic below shows the number of passes Vardy received in the channels. Mahrez and Albrighton would break forward to join in the attacks. However, the home side weren't particularly incisive in the final third.

In the end the draw was a fair result and one both managers were probably content enough with, though Leicester nearly got a late winner through Morgan after he got on to a brilliantly whipped in ball from Mahrez. A 0-0 draw seemed probable until the final ten minutes- neither side had been all that threatening up until that point. Mahrez was once again the standout player. He now has four goals and has been the league's best player up to this point. A whole slew of pundits mocked Leicester for appointing Ranieri and pegged them to be relegated. Having guided the Foxes to 7 points from their opening three, the unfairly derided "Tinker Man" looks good value to keep his side up.

Grading the young players at the Premier League's top clubs

I looked at the age of the 11 starting players for each of the 20 Premier League teams in match week 1 in order to get an idea of how teams were balancing the use of promising youthful players and more experienced veterans (you can see that information in the chart on the previous post). For the sake of this post I was most interested in seeing to what extent the clubs likely to contest for the league title and Champions League places over the next 5 years (I look at Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United) are using young players (which I define as younger than 25). Clubs with older squads will of course have to spend more on incoming transfers in future seasons in order to revamp their squads and remain competitive. This could be significant given that FFP should in theory restrict the ability of clubs financed by super wealthy owners like Manchester City and Chelsea to spend as they wish. The days of those clubs bringing in five or more big name transfers in a single window are likely gone. It is therefore seemingly more important for big squads to have young players that can contribute well into the future or can be sold at a premium price to finance the purchase of other players.

There are of course limitations with looking at just one week of games and we can't make sweeping predictions based on this data. The absence of a young player or two due to injury or fitness will skew the data if they were replaced by significantly older players. Likewise, the opposite is true- veterans who normally start but were forced to miss the opening week and were replaced by young ones (eg Calum Chambers replaced Per Mertesacker at Arsenal) will skew the data the other way.

The measure of squad youthfulness I looked at was the number of players a squad had under 25. I'll discuss the quality of those players for each club and what they suggest the future may hold for their respective clubs.


Arsenal started more players under 25 than any other club in match week 1 with 6- Wojciech Szczesny (24), Jack Wilshere (22), Calum Chambers (19), Aaron Ramsey (23), Kieran Gibbs (24) and Yaya Sanogo (21). This isn't terribly surprising. Arsene Wenger has always had a talent for developing young players and the faith in them to play them. Szczesny isn't always the most convincing keeper but seemed to improve his decision making and propensity for big errors last season. Wilshere was the most hyped of all of Arsenal's young players and although it would be unfair to say he's been a disappointment, he's maybe not quite as far along in his development as some would have expected by now. Injuries haven't helped but it's difficult to say whether his best position is a #10 or more of a box-to-box #8. At the moment Arsenal have more talented players in both positions. Gibbs is a solid, reliable left back. Ramsey endured a difficult spell after suffering that horrific broken leg but surprisingly emerged last season as one of the Premier League's outstanding midfielders. He's athletic enough to track back and win tackles and run past defenders with the dribble, has the vision and passing ability to provide the final ball in attacking third and a strikers finishing ability in the penalty area- a true all around midfielder. The jury is still very much out on Yaya Sanogo. He looked awkward, uncoordinated and totally out of his place in his appearances last season and although he enjoyed a solid preseason, his performance in Arsenal's opening day win over Crystal Palace suggested he's along way from being good enough to play for a side hoping to contest the title. Joel Campbell (22) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (21) were on the subs bench for Arsenal with Oxlade-Chamberlain coming on in the second half. Both players look promising. Along with this collection of players under 25. Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez are all just 25. Arsenal appear to be in fairly good shape for the future in they can retain their players.

Young player grade: A

Manchester United

Manchester United have plenty of youthful players but not enough have shown they have the quality to play at a club with such consistently high expectations. Of the five players under 25 that started their opening day defeat to Swansea, Tyler Blackett (20) and Jesse Lingard (21) were making their Manchester United debuts. Phil Jones (22) and Chris Smalling (24) are solid enough squad players but have yet to establish themselves as first team regulars and they need to step up their performances in defense after the summer departures of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. For me Jones looks the more likely to do so. Only goalkeeper David De Gea (23) has been a regular starter at the club. At 25, new midfield signing Ander Herrera is still quite young and an upgrade on Tom Cleverley (also 25) while 26 year old Juan Mata should still have several seasons remaining at his peak. Danny Welbeck's (23) energy and work rate are useful off the bench but he's never given the impression he'll be a 20 goal a season scorer. New signing Marcos Rojo (24) offers versatility at the back- he can play center back or left wing back- and has big game experience having started in 6 of Argentina's 7 World Cup games including the final. Luke Shaw (19) was excellent at Southampton last season and came with a hefty price tag. Louis Van Gaal was unimpressed with his fitness this summer and he's probably more suited to playing as a traditional fullback in a four man defense than a wing back in Van Gaal's 3-4-1-2 but LVG is tactically flexible and may well change shape in the near future. United's key big players Wayne Rooney (28), Robin Van Persie (31) and Michael Carrick (33) all have their best years behind them. Van Gaal has never been afraid to install youth players and he'll need to consider how he'll replace those three sooner rather than later.

Young player grade: B


Tottenham can be cautiously optimistic about [most of] their five young starters from week 1- (Christian Eriksen (22), Nabil Bentaleb (19), Eric Dier (20), Danny Rose (24) and Erik Lamela (22). Eriksen already established himself as a quality Premier League player in his first season, compiling 7 league goals and 8 assists. Bentaleb started in 3 of Algeria's 4 games at the World Cup and should continue to get opportunities to develop under Mauricio Pochettino, who showed in his time at Southampton he's more than happy to field capable youngsters. Dier's Spurs debut got off to a flying start as he picked up a stoppage time winner over Spurs and MOTM honors. Danny Rose is inconsistent and prone to errors but Spurs have just signed 21 year old Ben Davies from Swansea. Davies became a regular starter early last season under Michael Laudrup and was a surprising success- he could secure the left back position over Rose. The verdict is out on Lamela- Spurs' record signing was certainly a disappointment in his first season, struggling to get a game before succumbing to injury- but he enjoyed a strong preseason and should enjoy a stronger rapport with fellow countrymen Pochettino than with Tim Sherwood in the second half of last season. Spurs are also currently missing 24 year old right back Kyle Walker through injury. Walker is exceptionally athletic and likely would have been England's starting right back at the World Cup. Under Pochettino the young players will get their chances.

Young player grade: B


Four of Liverpool's five starters under 25 played an integral part in the Merseyside outfit's impressive second place finish last season. Daniel Sturridge scored 21 goals, second only to then teammate Luis Suarez in the Premier League. Raheem Sterling was something of a revelation, scoring 9 goals and assisting 5. Coutinho's 7 goals and 7 assists were likewise impressive while Jordan Henderson provided 4 goals and 7 assists of his own as he improved vastly from the previous season. Those four players combined for 41 goals and 28 assists. Liverpool's fifth starter under 25 from match week 1 was right back Javier Manquillo, on loan from Atletico Madrid. Brendan Rodgers has also added 20 year old winger Lazar Markovic from Benfica, a player with high expectations after impressing in Portugal. Liverpool look poised for a bright future but like Arsenal need to do what they can to hold on to their best players.

Young player grade: A


Chelsea boast an outrageously talented collection of young players. Of their five starters under 25 in match week one, Cesar Azpilicueta, Oscar, Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois were all regular starters at the World Cup. The fifth player, Andre Schurrle, was Germany's second leading scorer off the bench and provided the assist for Mario Gotze's winner in the final. Add in Diego Costa (25), Willian (26) and Nemanja Matic (26), it's a Chelsea side you'd expect to remain stable for quite some time. Chelsea also won the under-21 Premier League last season though few of the club's youth players end up getting a chance with the senior side. After years spent shelling out on big money signings at or just past the peak of their best, Chelsea's recent signing of younger talent bodes well for the future.

Young Player Grade: A

Manchester City

The five teams that started five or more players under 25 make up five of the six Premier League teams you'd expect to compete for a top four finish consistently. The sixth, Manchester City, have quite a different squad makeup. The defending league champions started just one player under 25 in match week one, forward Stevan Jovetic. New center back signing Eliaquim Mangala is the only other City player under 25 likely to play any sort of a prominent role this season. Jovetic and Matija Nastasic are the only City players under 25 to have appeared in more than 10 league games last season; Nastasic is certain to depart for Italy before the transfer window closes after the arrival of Mangala. The lack of young players in the squad suggests the club aren't terribly concerned with FFP compliance in the coming years since they'll need to continue to purchase players as current squad members pass their peak. City's plethora of veteran players with title winning experience certainly contributed in part to their success last season but in the near future its squad will need an overhaul.  With FFP City won't be able to make that overhaul in one transfer window. Of City's five signings last summer only Jovetic is under 25 while Fernandinho is 29, Jesus Navas is 28, Alvaro Negredo is 29 and Martin Demichelis is 33. They need to start making signings with an eye towards the future. Their U-21 side finished 4th in the U-21 Premier League last season so there are promising young players at the club but, like Chelsea, promotion to the senior squad for youth players has been all but impossible in recent years.

Young player grade: C-