Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Tottenham Hotspur

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, February 26
8:30 a.m. EST, 1:30 p.m. GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Steve Child and Simon Long
    • 4th Official: Phil Dowd
  • Reverse Fixture: Tottenham 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 3 Tottenham
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 69 Arsenal wins, 53 Tottenham wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-L-L-D-W-W
  • Tottenham's League Form: W-D-L-W-D-W
We're getting way too used to images like this one.
Photo: Daily Mail.
So. Big game, this.

When was the last time a North London derby had this much riding on it for Arsenal? The Gunners have had an extremely trying week, digging themselves a massive hole against Milan in Europe, then crashing meekly out of the FA Cup in Sunderland. Now, fourth place is essentially all Arsenal has to play for this season. But, if you want to put a positive spin on things, Arsenal do sit in fourth place right now, so it's not like they have to gain ground on anybody. They just have to do as well as Chelsea, Newcastle, and Liverpool from here on out.

But, given Arsenal's performances of late, do you really trust them to match results with some of these other sides (though, have you seen Chelsea lately?) That's why getting back on the right track in the league right away is so important.

That's why this is going to be a season defining game for Arsenal.

There are really only two ways this kind of game can go. An Arsenal win can be a springboard moving forward. An Arsenal loss can seriously damage this team's aspirations. A draw can go in either of these directions, depending on how it's played out. There's really no other way around it. It won't be possible to feel any sort of middle-ground mediocre after this game. It'll either be a really high high or a really low low. So, let's hope for the former and reclaim North London for the red and white.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Squillaci (groin), Ramsey (ankle), Coquelin (hamstring), Mertesacker (ankle), Frimpong (knee), Santos (ankle), Diaby (hamstring), Jenkinson (back), Wilshere (ankle)
Doubts: Gibbs (knock), Chamakh (toe), Koscielny (knee)

Really, Kieran Gibbs might not be fit again? Really?
Photo: Telegraph.
Oh look, nine players are out with injuries. Three more face fitness tests. How about that...

Arsenal have lost seven of those 12 names in the past two weeks. Laurent Koscielny picked up his knee injury at Milan, but is in contention to start on Sunday. Rumors are he'll pass fit, but it's too early to be certain. Kieran Gibbs was going to play for the reserves this week, but he picked up a knock in training and now he too faces a fitness test. Marouane Chamakh did play in that reserves match, but came in carrying a toe injury and left on the half hour mark.

That reserves match was a 5-0 win over Norwich with a very strong line-up that included Chamakh, Ju Young Park, Andrei Arshavin, and Yossi Benayoun, not to mention 45 minutes for Carl Jenkinson, who is on his way back from his... er... back... injury.

Last week, all three Arsenal substitutions came because of injuries. Francis Coquelin was first, looking like he pulled his hamstring as he had against Leeds in January. I haven't heard anything, but it's probably three weeks again. Sebastien Squillaci came on, messed things up for a while, then left with his own groin injury that should keep him far away from the pitch for this one. Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey picked up a knock to his ankle in the Sunderland match as well, and while I haven't heard anything yet, my feeling is that he's going to be missing this one, too.

Meanwhile, it looks like Per Mertesacker's season with Arsenal is done, since he's right now just proclaiming that he'll be fit to play for Germany in Euro 2012. None of the long-term injuries look ready to return just yet.

The number of big names playing for the reserves this week has brought up the question of squad rotation. We did not see the likes of Andrei Arshavin and Yossi Benayoun in the listless display in the FA Cup last week.

Arsenal's best case scenario for the line-up would involve both Koscielny and Gibbs passing fit, otherwise the back four will be a mess (it would be Vermaelen on the left with Song and Djourou in the middle.) No Ramsey could mean a start for Tomas Rosicky or maybe Benayoun or Arshavin. Which two wingers will start among Gervinho, the Ox, and Theo? Questions, questions, questions... so many questions, I feel it would be pointless to venture a guess at the starting squad right now.

Tottenham Squad News

Out: Bentley (knee), Gallas (calf), Jenas (Achilles), Huddlestone (ankle)
Doubts: Adebayor (knee), Assou-Ekotto (groin), Modric (illness), Sandro (calf), van der Vaart (calf), King (calf)

Photo: Daily Mail.
Despite being listed as doubts, what do you think are the odds that players like Emmanuel Adeabyor (knee injury) and Rafael van der Vaart (calf injury) actually miss a match like this? Tottenham's doubt list looks larger than normal because they're coming off an FA Cup match where a lot of the bigger names were rested with knocks (that worked out well for them, no?)

Among the other doubts, Benoit Assou-Ekotto had minor groin surgery and Spurs will sweat over his late fitness test. Luka Modric missed last week with the "flu," so he's probably more likely than not. Captain Ledley King is always 50/50 with some sort of injury. Brazilian midfielder Sandro has struggled with a calf injury all year.

Tottenham have four long term injuries, which includes ex-Arsenal ex-Chelsea defender William Gallas, out with a calf injury. Tom Huddlestone is out as well. Jermaine Jenas was on loan, but sent back to Spurs from Aston Villa after rupturing his Achilles.

Continuing punchline David Bentley is out with a knee injury which he suffered on loan at West Ham. Spurs were considering loaning him to the MLS.

Current Form

Spurs failed to win at...the circus? last week.
Photo: Daily Mail.
I have found it very difficult to talk about form in recent weeks, mostly because the trends have been so bizarre. Arsenal had a stirring comeback in the FA Cup against Aston Villa, only to go out a few days later and lay an egg against Bolton. Then, they scored seven goals against a beleaguered Blackburn side, beat Sunderland at the death a week later, and then promptly forgot how to play the sport again over the next two matches. Make up your mind! What team are you gonna be this week? All that craziness aside, Arsenal have won their last two in the league, and will look to win three straight for the first time since their five match winning streak in October-November.

Arsenal have not played at home since that 7-1 thrashing of ten man Blackburn. They have won 15 of 21 home matches this season, losing three (Liverpool, United, and City in the Carling Cup) and drawing three (Marseille, Fulham, and Wolves.)

Aside from beating Watford (barely) in the FA Cup, Spurs have not won away from home since December 27 against Norwich. Let's break this down, match by match, going back to December. Spurs lost at Stoke 2-1 on December 11 (you can blame that damn cyclist referee!,) then beat Shamrock Rovers in the Europa League on the 15th. Their next away game was a win at Norwich on the 27th. On New Year's Eve, they drew at Swansea. Then, their next away game was on January 22, when a late penalty sent them to a loss at Manchester City. This was followed by the close win at Watford, a 0-0 draw at Anfield, and a 0-0 draw at Stevenage.

Overall in the league, Spurs have six wins on their travels, but have dropped points on six occasions as well, drawing three and losing three. They have not won on the road against any team in the top seven.

Match Facts

Great moments in North London derby history.
Oh, Rocky Rocky... Photo: Arsenal Collective.
Tottenham Hotspur have not done the league double over Arsenal since 1993. Even in spite of that, Arsenal knocked Spurs out of the FA Cup in the semifinal that season. That being said, Spurs have had the better mix of results in the derby over the last few seasons. Tottenham won the reverse fixture this season, 2-1 at White Hart Lane. Rafael van der Vaart opened the scoring despite a handball in the build-up, Aaron Ramsey equalized in the second half despite having a poor match on the whole, but Spurs won it late on a long range goal from Kyle Walker that Wojciech Szczesny really should have stopped.

Last year, Spurs took four out of six points from Arsenal in the league, coming from two goals down on both occasions to win at the Emirates in November and draw at the Lane in April. Arsenal had previously knocked Spurs out of the Carling Cup in extra time at White Hart Lane that September.

Arsenal's last league win over Tottenham came on Halloween 2009. Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas scored a minute apart late in the first half, as Arsenal went on to win 3-0. Spurs won the reverse of that fixture in April 2010, 2-1. You may recall Danny Rose's wonder-goal in that match, during which I just found myself yelling at Manuel Almunia for not catching the cross in the first place, his punch out setting up Rose's strike.

The Referee

Here's a screengrab of John Terry trying to grab the red
card out of Mike Dean's hand. This picture is just full of
fail. Photo: Who Ate All the Pies.
The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean, harbinger of Arsenal doom. Arsenal's record with Mike Dean as the referee now stands at one win from 13 across all competitions; that win was last January, in the FA Cup replay at Championship side Leeds United. The last time Arsenal beat a top flight side with Dean as the referee was in November of 2008, as the Gunners beat Chelsea 2-1 at the Bridge, with Robin van Persie's second half brace canceling out a first half own goal from Johan Djourou.

I've documented this stretch of matches pretty much every time Arsenal gets Mike Dean, so this is like beating a dead horse. But, here is the rundown, yet again: 0-0 draw at Spurs, 0-0 draw at Manchester United, 2-1 loss at Manchester United, 1-1 draw at Burnley, 2-0 loss at Chelsea, 0-0 draw with Manchester City, 2-0 loss at Chelsea, 1-0 loss to Newcastle, the one win over Leeds, the loss in the Carling Cup Final last year, the reverse fixture of this week at Spurs, the 1-1 draw with Fulham in November, and the 2-1 loss to United last month.

As for Tottenham, he has worked two matches this year and Spurs have won both (both were at White Hart Lane.) They beat Arsenal in the reverse fixture with Dean, then in December, beat Sunderland 1-0 with the balding man in the middle.

For a great, in-depth piece on Mike Dean, check out this piece from October, written before Arsenal dropped three more games with Dean in the middle.

Around the League

Sheffield Wednesday was the last non-top flight side to
win a domestic cup, winning the League Cup in 1991.
Photo: Down By 20.
The North London derby serves as the prelude into the Carling Cup Final, pitting Liverpool against Championship side Cardiff City at Wembley. The last time a team from outside of the top flight won a domestic cup in England was in 1991, when Sheffield Wednesday won the League Cup over Manchester United, 1-0. Liverpool's involvement in the final means the team they would have played in the league this weekend, Everton, will have the weekend off.

That means there are only eight other league fixtures this weekend instead of nine, and oddly, two others will be played on Sunday. That includes Manchester United's visit to Carrow Road to face Norwich, which kicks off at the same time as the North London derby, followed by Stoke City taking on Swansea at 10:00 a.m. Both of these matches were moved to Sunday due to United and Stoke's involvement in the Europa League.

Manchester City's Europa League second leg with Porto was played on Wednesday instead of Thursday for some reason, which allows City to play on Saturday this weekend. They'll play in the late game as they host Blackburn Rovers at Eastlands. There's no early game (that would have been the Liverpool derby,) so the other matches are the five played in Saturday's normal time slot. They include Chelsea hosting Bolton at the Bridge, Newcastle hosting Wolves at Not St. James' Park (you'll get arrested if you spray paint that it is,) QPR hosting Fulham in a West London derby, West Brom hosting Sunderland at the Hawthorns, and Wigan hosting Aston Villa at the DW.