Today, G4L’s Chris Towers takes a butcher’s at some historical stats behind Saturday’s Norf London Derby…
It’s North London derby weekend, and if each of these clashes has a theme, perhaps this one’s is which end of Seven Sisters can cobble together a side that closest resembles their first-choice starting XI. That’s the impression if you go by the pre-match press conferences. Arsenal are nonetheless set for the return of Jack Wilshere from suspension and are hopeful over Wojciech Szczesny and Theo Walcott, resuming battle with Gareth Bale. Tottenham have their own selection problems, but it’s likely that Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud’s compatriot Hugo Lloris will again be on the bench, with Brad Friedel the man the Gunners have to beat to score.
The 41 year-old American has faced the Gunners 30 times for four different clubs since his arrival in England in 1997. In those games, he’s achieved nine clean sheets and let 53 goals in – a close enough record to Mark Schwarzer, who broke the 50 mark of concessions to Arsenal during last weekend’s 3-3 draw with Fulham. While Friedel has faced the Gunners more than any of his younger team-mates (much younger in most cases; he was 20-and-a-half when Steven Caulker was born), Jermain Defoe probably comes in second on that score. He lined up against Arsenal for the first time in 2001, aged 19.
Defoe is fast closing in on 100 league goals for Spurs – combine his two spells at the club and he’s 16 away from that milestone – but he hasn’t found the net against Arsenal for seven years, dating back to that 5-4 win for the Gunners at White Hart Lane in November 2005, when he was 23 years-old and fresh enough out of West Ham. That’s no goals in his last 14 appearances – 13 for Spurs – against the club that (at least according to Football Manager) he supported as a boy.
With Defoe’s midweek scan on a hamstring injury and the fact that Emmanuel Adebayor got the nod for their last fixture against Man City, it’s likely Adebayor will start again – he found the net for Togo against Morocco on Wednesday and enjoys North London derbies about as much as Robert Pires used to. After eight goals in eight games against Spurs for our side, he scored against Arsenal from the penalty spot on his 28th birthday last February, which put Spurs well on course for a 13-point lead over us in the top-four race before it all went, well, a little bit wrong for them.
Failing a goal from conventional sources, we might see one from the full-back positions, if last season’s fashion has crossed over into this one. Kyle Walker’s speculative effort won it for Spurs at their doss hole, while fellow right-back Bacary Sagna’s all-important header in the return fixture got Arsenal back into the game and triggered the electrifying comeback.
In fact, this is a game that’s there to be won and lost in the wide positions. Bale’s goal tally this season matches his career total in North London derbies (three) while Aaron Lennon is in a race for fitness for a spot a right flank which would look far less threatening in his absence. Sagna returned for just his second home appearance of the campaign last weekend and promptly fired in seven crosses against Fulham – more than his deputy Carl Jenkinson had managed in a game all season. Ahead of him, Walcott remains Arsenal’s top scorer with eight goals (two ahead of Giroud) and could profit from Jan Vertonghen’s eagerness to attack. Andre Santos has unsurprisingly been dribbled past more than any of his team-mates this term, so with Kieran Gibbs’ injury dragging on, Thomas Vermaelen should retain the left-back spot with Lukas Podolski further upfield, looking to drag inside to evade Walker and influence this pivotal match more than we’ve seen him do consistently so far.
Of course, Podolski will be playing in his first NLD along with Santi Cazorla, Giroud, Vertonghen, Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson. It’s a fine line between embracing the intensity of the fixture while keeping your cool in the midst of it all to show your quality and perform at your best. Nothing less will do, and perhaps the side whose derby debutants find the balance the fastest will prevail. That said, like Vermaelen, Vertonghen’s no stranger to fierce derbies having played in Ajax’s clashes with Feyenoord, and scoring in one of them at the Amsterdam Arena last season.
One concern may lie in the form of the lunchtime the kick-off. These stats via @JA_Watts: Arsenal’s record in their last ten fixtures scheduled at 12:45 reads W4 D2 L4, coincidently going back to our 2-3 collapse against Tottenham almost precisely two years ago – which gave them their first win on Arsenal turf for over eleven years. Spurs, meanwhile, are probably altogether more accustomed to ruthlessly varying kick-off times. Remarkably, their last 3pm start of last season came against Wolves on the 11th of January – after that, it was all middays and evenings for them.
The Gunners have also kept only one clean sheet in their last ten lunchtime kick-offs – that was against a Champions League-distracted Chelsea at home last season. Given the fact that Arsenal have conceded two or more goals in five of their last six games and the likely-to-return Szczesny has yet to get through a Tottenham match without picking the ball out of his net at least twice, it might be over-ambitious to expect a shutout here. The same can be said of Spurs though, in spite of the fact that the last time Arsenal scored fewer than this season’s tally of 19 from their first eleven league games was in 2005/06. We’re accustomed to high action after the heart-stopping, nerve-shredding goalfest derby days of recent years and it’s six meetings since either Arsenal or Tottenham kept a clean sheet against each other.
So strap yourself in (or, preferably, do just the opposite if you’re in the stadium. Stand, jump, cheer, make noise). The hope is that, at the end of the day, the all-time record between the Gunners and the other lot reads “Tottenham wins 81, 62 draws, Arsenal wins 99″.
Then we’d be on the brink of a whole new milestone.