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.

Preview: Arsenal vs. Liverpool

Key tactic: Both sides have played 4-2-3-1 formations in their opening two fixtures. I think the key tactic here might just be how the two sets of holding midfielders cope with their defensive responsibilities. From the sounds of things Jordan Henderson will be out for Liverpool with a foot injury. This could be a good thing for Brendan Rodgers' side. It likely means Emre Can will partner James Milner at the base of midfield. I'm not convinced the Henderson-Milner partnership is a great one. They are similar players in that both are more all-action box-to-box types than calming, assured figures in the middle of midfield. Double pivots tend to work better when there's an obvious deeper lying midfielder partnered with one that performs the box to box role (in other words there's not much actual pivoting between the two). I think Can will offer tactical discipline in front of the back four and provide a platform for Milner to drive forward and help in the attack. Arsenal tend to overload the middle of the pitch in attack so Milner and Can will have to remain disciplined.

 For Arsenal, Francis Coquelin could be given a decent test by Adam Lallana and Coutinho. The two have consistently rotated between the #10 and a slighter wider role in Liverpool's opening two matches with Jordan Ibe maintaining a wider position on the opposite flank. Lallana and Coutinho will look to combine in the spaces between Arsenal's defensive and midfield lines. Coquelin will have to be conscious of their movement. He played well overall last week but committed a couple of fouls after already being booked and was perhaps lucky to not get sent off. (He committed 4 fouls which is a lot but how often do we see Fernandinho commit 4 fouls over the course of a game to cynically break up opposition counter attacks without anyone calling for him to be sent off?)

It's also probably worth pointing that Arsenal need to do a better job of closing down the opposition when they get into shooting positions around the 18 yard box. In both of the Gunner's opening fixtures they were guilty of not committing themselves to get blocks on opposition shots that resulted in goals. In Coutinho, Liverpool have a player that has proven he's capable of scoring magical goals from outside the area. He won't hesitate to have a go if he isn't closed down.

Key stat: I'm not sure how "key" this stat is to Monday's game but it highlights the difficulties Liverpool have had in their visits to the Emirates: the Reds have won just once at the Emirates since it opened in 2006. That win came after Emanuel Frimpong was sent off in the second half, followed shortly after by an Aaron Ramsey own goal. Luis Suarez sealed the points late on.

Liverpool were battered 4-1 at the Emirates last season in a match where they had a golden chance to go ahead early but failed to convert. They'll need to take advantage of any opportunities that come their way Monday evening to take anything from this one.

See our match week 3 Everton vs. Manchester City preview here.

See our match week 3 Leicester City vs. Tottenham preview here.

See our match week 3 Manchester United vs. Newcastle preview here.

Preview: Everton vs. Manchester City

Key Tactic: I think a key tactic in this one will involve how well Everton can execute counter attacking opportunities. They were brilliant playing on the break in their 3-0 win last weekend at Southampton, the opening two goals coming from textbook counter attacks. Although they'll be the home side Sunday, Manchester City don't tend to take a more conservative approach on their travels.

Yaya Toure has had a magnificent start to the season but his lack of urgency in making defensive recovery runs still leaves his midfield partner Fernandinho doing an immense amount of defensive work. Towards the middle of the second half of their convincing 3-0 win over Chelsea, Toure's unwillingness to make defensive recovery runs began to leave City remarkably open and Chelsea created a couple of decent chances on the counter. The best of those chances fell to Eden Hazard with the score at 1-0 but the Belgian missed his opportunity to equalize, putting his shot straight at Joe Hart.

Recognizing his side were too open, Manuel Pellegrini brought in Martin Demichelis to play at the base of midfield alongside Fernandinho and moved Toure forward into the #10 role. This gave City far more solidity defensively and they went on to score two additional goals. It was an astute move from Pellegrini, one that Mourinho acknowledged (while managing to compliment himself in the process as he tends to do), but one I thought he nearly waited too long to make. While Mourinho's claim the 3-0 result was "fake" is asburd- Chelsea could well have conceded three or four in the first half- it is true that they had opportunities to get back into it in the second half and had Hazard finished his chance it may have been a different result. An Everton side firing on all cylinders as they were last weekend, led by a central attacking partnership of Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukuka, will be far more lethal on the counter than the ineffective Costa and surprisingly tame Hazard. The Everton duo were brilliant last weekend- Lukaku scored a brace and Barkley scored the third and provided an assist. City will have to be mindful of the Toffees on the counter.

Key stat: They key state here comes courtesy of whoscored.com. Manchester City have been leading at halftime and full time of their last 8 Premier League matches. I think it's important Everton don't allow City to go ahead. Although the Toffees showed decent fight in coming from behind twice at home to Watford on opening day to secure a draw, coming from behind against a side that has finished second and first in the last two seasons and boasts the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Toure is a different prospect than doing so against a newly promoted side that hadn't played a top flight match since 2007. If Everton manage to take the lead they'll need to retain their focus as they did last week. They lost more points from a winning position last season than any side so going ahead is no sign they'll actually emerge with any points.

See our match week 3 Arsenal vs. Liverpool preview here.

See our match week 3 Leicester City vs. Tottenham preview here.

See our match week 3 Manchester United vs. Newcastle preview here.

Preview: Leicester City vs. Tottenham

Key tactic: One key tactic will likely be how Tottenham cope with Leicester's nominally wider midfielders Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton. Mahrez is the Premier League's leading goalscorer with 3, Albrighton leads the league in assists with 3 and also has scored a goal of his own. Both tuck inside and take up narrow positions as shown in the player influence graphic below. This means Tottenham's fullbacks- likely Kyle Walker and Ben Davies- will have to communicate with the two holding midfielders- two of Eric Dier, Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb- when Albrighton and Mahrez tuck into the middle of midfield. If Walker and Davies follow them inside it could open up space in the channel for Leicester's fullbacks to bomb into, if they instead pass them off to the holding midfielders, the holding midfielders could become overloaded in the middle of the pitch. Leicester are one of the sides I haven't watched yet so I'm really looking forward to this one.

Key stat: My key stat for this one relates to Tottenham's pronounced drop in performance in the second half of their 2-2 draw at home to Stoke. In the opening 45 minutes of that contest Tottenham completely controlled the game and took a deserved 2-0 lead into halftime. Stoke looked overwhelmed, evidenced by the fact Tottenham completelED more than twice the amount of first half passes as the visitors, 263 to Stoke's 131. That all changed in the second half. Stoke introduced a motivated Stephen Ireland, Tottenham's energy level fell and the game was turned on its head. In the second half Stoke outpassed Tottenham 220 to 144. In other words Tottenham's net passing (Tottenham completed passes- Stoke completed passes) fell from +132 to -76. They'll likely have to put together a complete 90 minute performance to get anything from an in form Leicester side.

See our match week 3 Arsenal vs. Liverpool preview here.

See our match week 3 Everton vs. Manchester City preview here.

See our match week 3 Manchester United vs. Newcastle preview here.

Preview: Manchester United vs. Newcastle

I'm going to try to do a new weekly feature in which I briefly preview the 3 or 4 most intriguing Premier League fixtures over the coming weekend. Then as the weekend progresses and the matches are played I'll try to do match analyses for as many as possible. The format of these previews will be fairly simple: I'm going to offer up what I think will be one key tactical feature of each contest and one important statistic that I think may provide some insight into how a match will play out.

I spent a few hours last night trying to do this feature as a video blog. I should have thrown in the towel sooner than I did. Spouting a 10 minute monologue is difficult stuff so big ups to the YouTubers that are able to wax poetic about the game sitting in front of a camera- I have a new respect for just how difficult that is. I'm not sure if it was an attempt at being more expressive than I typically am but for whatever reason I did a lot of talking out of one side of my mouth, Xhedran Shaqiri style (yes, I'm missing all my top teeth in half of my mouth). Anyway, that idea has been closeted for the foreseeable future.

This weekend I'll be watching Newcastle at Manchester United (7:45 am ET Saturday), Tottenham at Leicester City (10 am ET Saturday), Manchester City at Everton (11 am ET Sunday), and Liverpool at Arsenal (Monday 2:45 pm ET).

Here's the Manchester United vs. Newcastle preview. I'll post the other three shortly. Woop woop!

Newcastle at Manchester United

Key tactic: One potentially key tactic here could be the battle down Manchester United's left channel. United's Memphis Depay is coming off an excellent performance down the left wing in Manchester United's 3-1 Champions League qualifying win over Club Brugge Wednesday. He scored two fantastic goals cutting in from the left and provided the assist to Marouane Fellaini for United's third with a perfectly weighted cross to the back post.

Memphis is a dynamic player. He's quick and athletic, able to beat the opposition fullback with the dribble, a prolific finisher when cutting inside onto his right foot and is capable of providing good crosses into the penalty area from the channels. He also scored more goals from free kicks than any player in Europe last season.

His presence will be a particular concern for Newcastle given they'll will be without first choice right back Daryl Janmaat who was foolishly sent off for two bookable first half offenses in their 2-1 defeat to Swansea. Steve McClaren may elect to slide Massadio Haidara across from his normal left back position to fill in for Janmaat, then drop Jack Colback to left back from the midfield. Haidara has had a solid enough start to the season- he's Newcastle's highest rated player according to whoscored.com's statistical model- but is prone to the occasional lapse in concentration. Whoever plays right back for Newcastle will have to be dialed in on Memphis to contain the electric Dutchmen.

Key stat: The key stat here is the difference in goal difference between the two sides. Newcastle have conceded twice in both of their opening fixtures. Manchester United have yet to concede in the league. A solid defensive effort is going to be the most likely way to get a result at Old Trafford. I can't see Newcastle getting anything out of this if they concede two. United under Van Gaal haven't always been the most exciting side but they are capable of methodically controlling a game when they take the lead.

See our Arsenal vs. Liverpool preview here.

See our Everton vs. Manchester City preview here.

See our Leicester City vs. Tottenham preview here.

Plenty of reasons for optimism at Arsenal

The mood surrounding Arsenal has changed dramatically since the same time last year when the club were coming off an 8th consecutive season without a trophy and going into their season opener having failed to make a significant summer signing. That opener ended with an embarrassing 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa. An increasingly frustrated Arsenal fan base implored Arsene Wenger to spend the sums of money required to bring in established, world class players. Wenger obliged, shattering the club's previous record signing on Mesut Ozil a day after Arsenal beat Spurs 1-0 for their 4th straight win after that opening day defeat. The Gunners went on a blistering run of form and were top of the league as late as match week 23. Key injuries and a dip in form that saw four heavy defeats to Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Everton derailed Arsenal's title challenge. The season ended on a high however after their FA Cup triumph over Hull, a win that has certainly had a meaningful impact on the psyche of the club this summer. Rather than the narrative heading into this campaign being focused on a poor second half of last season, another 4th place finish and a 9th trophyless season, a huge weight has been lifted off of the shoulders of Wenger and his players and they'll be approaching this season with a sense of optimism not felt at the Emirates in some time.

Important summer signings will have increased those good vibes. Alexis Sanchez is an immensely talented player that will increase Arsenal's tactical flexibility. He can play on the right of a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, as the lone striker in those two formations or even alongside Olivier Giroud in more of a 4-4-2. He can dribble past defenders, provide the final ball and is a gifted finisher. His 21 goals in all competitions last season at Barcelona was second only to Messi. He provided 11 assists- tied with Messi and Pedro behind Cesc Fabregas's 14. Key to Arsenal will be his eagerness to make runs in behind the back four. After Theo Walcott's injury in January, the Gunners lacked a vertical threat in behind the defense. Giroud is a striker that links play well and plays with his back to goal but doesn't offer the pace to dart behind the defense. Sanchez will make those runs and in Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere has three midfielders that ranked in the top 6 in the Premier League in accurate through balls per game.

Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil were all in the top 6 in accurate through balls per game (stats via whoscored.com)

Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil were all in the top 6 in accurate through balls per game (stats via whoscored.com)

Sanchez's ability to rotate in as the lone center forward will also be key in providing Wenger with depth at that position. Giroud was Arsenal's only battle-tested center forward last season and was therefore forced to feature in nearly all of Arsenal's games- his 51 appearances was second only to Per Mertesacker. Unsurprisingly, his form tailed off in the back half of the season after a strong start as fatigue set in. Yaya Sanogo's strong preseason should see him feature more this campaign, providing further depth up front.

The gap in squad depth between the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea and Arsenal has shortened considerably over the last couple of years meaning the Gunners should be better able to cope with a congested fixture list with fewer injuries than in past seasons (the acquisition of renowned American fitness coach Shad Forsythe should also help). In Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Sanchez, Walcott, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joel Campbell, Arsenal have 11 strong options to play in the 5 midfield positions in their usual 4-2-3-1 shape. While Arsenal supporters maybe wouldn't be comfortable with some of those players featuring in the most difficult fixtures, they're all good enough to get results in a domestic cup and provide valuable rest for the 7 or 8 midfielders expected to play the most minutes in the league and Champions League.

The sale of Thomas Vermaelen to Barcelona means Wenger should sign an additional center back before the end of the transfer window. As of now Arsenal's only cover at center back in the senior squad is new signing Calum Chambers. While the former Southampton player has impressed in preseason in the middle of defense and appears to be one for the future, he's still just 19 and his only Premier League experience has come as a right back. It's hard to envision Arsenal challenging for the title without more defensive cover if Koscielny or Mertesacker were to miss any large spell of the season through injury.

Mathieu Debuchy is an experienced and capable replacement for Bacary Sagna at right back and was Didier Deschamps' first choice right back ahead of Sagna at the World Cup. Nacho Monreal will again provide adequate cover for Kieran Gibbs at right back.

For me Arsenal's biggest weakness will be their lack of a true defensive holding midfielder against the league's strongest sides. Mikel Arteta has served the club admirably but doesn't have the athleticism or power to slow opposition counter attacks. As much as Arsenal like to possess the ball in the opposition half, they're inevitably going to leave themselves vulnerable on the break and need a defensive midfielder that can get across the pitch to slow down quick transitions. Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool were too easily able to blow past the Arsenal midfield last season. The Gunners have been linked with Sporting holding midfielder William Carvalho, a signing that I feel would turn them into genuine title contenders.

In Ramsey Arsenal have one of the best box to box midfielders in the Premier League. The Welsh international was a revelation last season before a Boxing Day thigh injury kept him out until early April. He scored the winner in the FA Cup and has impressed this summer. He was the best player in Arsenal's convincing Charity Shield win over Manchester City and could be an outside favorite for PFA Player of the Year if he stays healthy.

In recent seasons picking Arsenal to finish outside the top 4 has been a popular trend among pundits. Significantly fewer are betting on that this time around as new signings coupled with Wenger's long term player development have made this a more talented Arsenal side than we've seen in the last several seasons. I think they're still a couple signings away from being able to challenge Manchester City and Chelsea for the title- they particularly need a defensive midfielder- but are not far off.