As you may or may not know, there is the small matter of the North London derby on Saturday morning. Tottenham Hotspur are comin'-a-callin' to the Emirates. In order to get more of the skinny on the state of the Spurs, I sent some questions to Kevin McCauley of Cartilage Free Captain, SBN's Tottenham blog, and he was kind enough to take time from his schedule to send his thoughts along. Find them below the jump:
TH: Lately, if one talks about Tottenham, one talks about Gareth Bale. He's always been a player with tremendous potential and has given Arsenal some trouble in the past, particularly from free kicks. In your mind, what has sparked his recent explosion?
KM: Simply, it's been getting playing time. For a couple of years, Gareth Bale hasn't gotten a lot of playing time with the first choice team in big games. This is partially because of injuries and partially because of the preferences of his managers. He's shown flashes of brilliance since he was 16 years old so I don't get why anyone would be surprised that he's become a star. A lot was made of his long stretch of games without being part of a winning team, but he was often the best player on a lot of those teams, especially when we got off to the awful start the year Jol was fired. All Bale needed was some time with the first choice team at left midfield, and in the middle of last year, he finally got it.
TH: Can you talk a bit about the impact that signing Rafael van der Vaart has had on the team?
KM: It's been massive, especially with the injury to Jermain Defoe. Obviously, van der Vaart plays a different position than Defoe, but he does a lot to help replace Defoe's goal output. Without van der Vaart, we would have been lacking in quality attacking players who can create and score goals as long as Defoe was out. It will be interesting to see how Harry puts the team together when all of our attacking players are healthy, but for now, Rafael van der Vaart is first choice in the hole and he's been spectacular for us.
TH: How has the step up to the Champions League affected the squad this year?
KM: Based on a lot of our results against mediocre teams in the league, it's probably affected us in a negative manner. Harry has been rotating the team to make sure no one gets too tired from the number of tough games that the team has to play, but players still seem to be a little less focused and less fit for a lot of their league matches. Our ridiculous volume of injuries hasn't helped either. There have been a couple of games where we've had seven or eight first team players completely unavailable. Champions League has been a very cool experience, but it's probably a contributing factor to our mediocre league form.
TH; How important to you feel the signing of William Gallas was, and did you expect him to play as much as he has had to so far?
KM: I'm disappointed that it has been important at all. I expected Gallas to just be cover, but injuries have dictated his constant selection. He's generally a competent player, but he's also proven that he's really good at running into people and allowing the other team to score goals. Basically, Gallas has kind of sucked, but we have no one better. I hope that we feed Ledley King and Michael Dawson lots of HGH because I am very sick of William Gallas.
TH: Jermaine Defoe has recently returned to training. Do you see him playing a part in the match on Saturday, or do you suspect Harry Redknapp might keep him fully rested?
KM: I expect Defoe to be available off the bench and not start. I doubt he'll come in if Spurs are not losing.
TH: Spurs are coping with a large number of injuries right now, particularly to the center of defense, Tom Huddlestone, Robbie Keane, and Aaron Lennon. Have these injuries forced any tactical shifts? The two-striker formation against Blackburn seemed to work well.
KM: Robbie Keane is a body at this point, nothing more. We can't get anyone to take him for free and I don't really care that he's unavailable. Aaron Lennon is a big loss and Tom Huddlestone is a very big loss. The only tactical shift that has occurred has been as a result of Defoe getting hurt and us signing van der Vaart. The two striker setup worked against Blackburn for two reasons. One, Roman Pavlyuchenko decided that he felt like running, which is very rare. Two, Blackburn really suck.
TH: Given the long list of injuries, do you anticipate any January signings? Are there any players you have your eyes on?
KM: Most teams don't spend big in January and I doubt we'll be any exception. If we need anything, it's a striker. Crouch and Defoe are one trick ponies, Pavlyuchenko is lazy, and Keane sucks. If we want to play VDV behind a lone striker, our options are pretty thin. I'd like to see us buy someone who is fairly similar to Pavlyuchenko but with a much better work rate, and maybe some more creative tendencies.
TH: Are there any Arsenal players you're concerned about matchup-wise?
KM: Yes, Arsenal. The whole team. You guys are pretty good. Specifically, though, I worry about whoever you play on the wings catching Hutton and Assou-Ekotto out of position. I could see Arshavin and Nasri having big games.
TH: Do you have a predicted lineup for Saturday's match?
KM: It's really tough to predict a lineup since the entire damn team is injured, but I'll pick one based on who I know is 100% healthy. Gomes / Assou-Ekotto, Gallas, Kaboul, Hutton / Bale, Modric, Palacios, van der Vaart / Crouch, Pavlyuchenko. We could potentially see King, Defoe, Lennon, or Bentley feature in the starting lineup, but I'm guessing that none of them will be fit enough.
TH: Finally, do you have a prediction for the result?
KM: Arsenal 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur.
My thanks again to Kevin for taking time to answer my questions.