Eddie Griffin from Soccerlens.com looks at Arsenal’s trip to White Hart Lane and the challenges facing the Gunners.
It’s only the seventh match of the Premier League season, but as many ups and downs as there have been in just the first month and a half for Arsenal, it’s not unreasonable to look at Sunday’s visit to Tottenham as a potentially pivotal point in the Gunners’ campaign.
Last season’s three meetings were a perfect example of why things like football betting trends, recent form, and predictability can be forcefully drop-kicked out of the window when Arsenal and Tottenham meet. And while Arsenal need to be a little forgetful when they head to White Hart Lane, they can’t be at the same time, as contradictory as that might seem.
Despite winning three matches on the trot in all competitions for the first time since a six-match run from mid-January to the start of February, there are still just as many questions as there are answers for the Gunners. And though this season’s first installment of the North London derby is extremely important for both sides, is it even more important for Arsenal?
With their recent away form, their position in the Premier League, how they let two wins against Tottenham get away last season, and lingering questions about their mettle in games such as these, yes.
The numbers don’t really bear repeating, but to sum it up, Arsenal have found the going tough away from the Emirates for a while now. Dating back to last season, the Gunners are winless in their last seven away league matches, losing four and drawing three. In that span, they’ve been outscored 22-10 and have conceded two or more goals six times, with the lone exception being the season-opening goalless draw at Newcastle. Overall, Arsenal have only two wins in their last 15 away matches in all competitions, a run that started with ‘that’ draw at St. James’ Park in February.
Among the matches in this stretch was April’s 3-3 draw at White Hart Lane, in which Arsenal led 3-1 late in the first half, only to see Tottenham rally to land a draw via Rafael van der Vaart’s penalty with 20 minutes remaining. As if missing a golden opportunity to close the gap on Manchester United wasn’t painful enough, it was something Arsenal supporters had seen before. When the two sides met at the Emirates last November, the Gunners led 2-0 inside the opening half hour, but Spurs scored three without reply in the second half, the final blow coming courtesy of Younes Kaboul’s 85th-minute header, to record their first away win against Arsenal since 1993 in stunning fashion.
To put last season’s disasters behind them, break their away hoodoo, and notch win that could serve as a serious boost for their season, Arsenal need to find a way past a Tottenham side that has found their form after being outscored 8-1 by Manchester United and Manchester City in consecutive losses to start the season. Since those two thumpings, Spurs have won their last three Premier League matches in a row, including a 4-0 battering of Liverpool two weeks ago. They’re also unbeaten in the Europa League, following up a draw at PAOK with Thursday’s 3-1 win over Shamrock Rovers. Against their Irish opposition, Harry Redknapp opted to rest some key players, and it could have proved costly, as they fell behind 1-0 early in the second half. But they scored three quick-fire goals over a six-minute stretch to take control of the match and ward off a potential shock result.
Tottenham’s resurgence has come about thanks in no small part to instant production by none other than Emmanuel Adebayor, who has gone from scoring against them to scoring for them. Adebayor, who notched eight goals in nine games against Tottenham while with Arsenal, has three goals and an assist in his first three games with Spurs since signing on loan from Manchester City late in the summer transfer window, and he’s sure to start on Sunday.
He’s not the only reason for their upswing, as Luka Modric’s recommitment and return to form after spending much of the summer attempting to engineer a move to Chelsea has also provided a boost, deadline-day acquisition Scott Parker made an instant impression, and they’ve been far sharper defensively, allowing only one goal in their runs of wins. Rafael van der Vaart, arguably ‘the‘ key figure of both league meetings between Arsenal and Tottenham last season, and Gareth Bale haven‘t yet had the same impact they had last season, but both scored their first goals of the season in a win at Wigan last Saturday.
So, Arsenal don’t face an easy task in the least. But after all of the early bumps and lumps, there’s positive momentum from the wins over Shrewsbury, Bolton, and Olympiakos, and Arsene Wenger must find a way to translate that momentum into a much better away performance than has been seen in some time.
More than getting performances from the likes of Mikel Arteta, Gervinho, Robin van Persie, and Theo Walcott, Arsenal need to be stand tall defensively against Tottenham’s multiple threats, but more importantly, they need to stand tall mentally. Failing to do so on both counts cost them two wins against Spurs last season, and it’s cost them numerous times over the last several months both home and away.
Given recent history, the odds are in favor of a draw on Sunday, as that’s been the result eight of the last 11 league encounters between the two sides at White Hart Lane. But if the Gunners can step up and produce a win on Sunday, they’ll not only move up the Premier League table, but it’ll also be a massive mental stride forward. Sometimes all it takes is one win to really get things going, and the opportunity is there to do just that.
But if they come up short or fail to make the most of a lead yet again, the same old tired questions will persist, and rightfully so.
Eddie Griffin writes for Soccerlens.com.