The 2013-14 English Premier League season is underway! During the season Sports Unbiased will select our EPL Match of the Week, where we will preview, debate, and predict some of the biggest matches in the Premiership. Taking part in this series of predictions are Mike Santangelo and Kimani Gregoire.
Week Three: Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur
Mike: Well, it’s week three of the English Premier League season and we have another massive Match of the Week to look forward to. Actually there are two huge matches this week – our Match of the Week, and Manchester United taking on Liverpool. An argument could be made that the United/Liverpool match is bigger, but we’ve done United matches for the first two weeks of the season, so we decided to highlight another match this week: On September 1st, Tottenham will travel over to the Emirates to take on arch-rival Arsenal. The North London derby is one of the most heated rivalries in the Premiership. Since 1913, these two teams have existed only four miles apart from each other. That sort of proximity lends itself to intense, high tempo, games – and these two sides never disappoint. Just last year, Tottenham looked on their way to a 4th place finish in the League and a Champions League slot. Instead, Arsenal charged back to end the year and stole that slot out from underneath Tottenham in gut wrenching fashion.
Kimani: It was tough passing over Liverpool vs Manchester United as the game of the week. United are going to be featured in alot of these in this early part of the schedule – the tough fixture schedule was the reason why manager David Moyes was crying foul in the first place. But there is nothing quite like derbies in the EPL, and the North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham is a big one since both sides are so evenly matched.
Mike: Normally, any analysis of Tottenham’s offense would start with Gareth Bale. However, we’re making the assumption as we write this that Bale will have completed his move to Real Madrid by the time this match happens, and will not be a factor. So, for Spurs, we have to focus in on Roberto Soldado. So far this year he has won both of Tottenham’s games for them scoring the only goal in both of their 1-0 victories. We knew coming in that Soldado was going to be a difference maker, and so far he has not disappointed. For Arsenal, Olivier Giroud is the big target man up front and he has not disappointed this year either, with one goal in each of the Gunners two league games so far. With both of their main strikers being on form, Arsenal and Tottenham have to feel good about their chances up front going in to this match.
Kimani: Soldado has looked like the best signing by any English club thus far this summer, having scored both goals (and match-winners to boot) for Spurs in their first two matches. But make no mistake – they will miss Bale. The guy has only been the best player in the league the last couple of years. Now the Arsenal defense can focus on taking out Soldado because frankly none of the attacking players for Tottenham has shown much. Arsenal depend more on a group effort for their offense. Last week, it was Lukas Podolski who scored a brace against Fulham. This week it could be someone else like Walcott or Giroud.
Mike: In the midfield I think we have a decided advantage to Arsenal. Without Bale there, Tottenham’s midfield is pretty ordinary. They have some skill and speed on the wings with Defoe, and Paulinho brings some added creativity to the middle of their midfield. Lacking for Spurs however, is a top class scoring threat coming from the wings. On the opposite side, Arsenal’s midfield is top quality. They have Santi Cazorla orchestrating the midfield and being the creative force, the speed and striking power of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the all around play of Lukas Podolski, Aaron Ramsey, and Jack Wilshere; Arsenal’s midfield, when on-form, is one of the best in the Premier League.
Kimani: I gotta agree with you there. Arsenal’s speed, skill and overall depth at midfield (in addition to the loss of Bale) gives them a significant advantage. Another big boost for the Gunners is the return of Jack Wilshere. The 21-year old English international has been suffering from an ankle injury but came on as a second-half substitute last week and should be ready to go this week. Bad news for Spurs!
Mike: Defense is a problem for both teams I think. Arsenal had thought they found something at the end of last year with Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker as their two center backs, and Gibbs and Sagna roaming up the sides. Aston Villa, on opening weekend, put that thought to rest as they drubbed Arsenal 3-1. In their defense, Arsenal’s back line responded well and the next week kept clean sheets against both Fenerbahce in the Champions League and Fulham in their week two league match. Tottenham’s defense has fared better over the first two weeks of the season, keeping two clean sheets against Crystal Palace and Swansea City so far. Neither of those teams have the goal scoring capability of Arsenal however, and the weaknesses in their back line could easily be exposed by the speed and creativity of Arsenal’s midfield.
Kimani: I would say that, given the fact that they haven’t been scored upon so far this season, that Spurs may have the advantage on defense. However, bear in mind that those two matches were against Crystal Palace and Swansea City. Arsenal should provide a much sterner test with their pace – particularly out wide. However I will give Spurs the slight edge here because of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, whom we both agree is one of the top goalkeepers in the world right now. Ok now, how about the X-factors?
Next: X-Factors and Predictions