Arsenal v Tottenham
Emirates Stadium, North London (is ours!)
Kickoff: 11 AM EDT/8 AM PDT/4 PM BST
The first North London Derby of the 2013-14 season takes place tomorrow at the Emirates Stadium. It is, undoubtedly, the biggest game of the season thus far for both teams, but it's not the massive POWER SHIFT game that it has been built up as. Whatever happens tomorrow, there are 35 games left in the Premier League season. Having said that, it'd be pretty damn nice if Arsenal won, seeing as the first league game of the season was a bit of a downer.
One of the reasons it's being described as a POWER SHIFT game is that Tottenham have spent a club record amount of money this season. They've broken their transfer record fee twice. Comparatively, Arsenal haven't spent much money at all: compensation for Yaya Sanogo and Daniel Crowley, and wages for Sanogo and Mathieu Flamini. It's a point that's being used to say that Spurs are already better than Arsenal; that Arsenal are falling behind, etcetera, etcetera. And, yes, it's frustrating Arsenal have spent very little; no one will deny that. But, for the time being, forget all about Arsenal's own transfer woes because it's the North London Derby, and it's at the Emirates Stadium.
And while Tottenham have spent, and bought some damn nice players, they also lost the man who almost single-handedly (as much as a single man can) brought them Champions League football last season: Gareth Bale. By game time, Bale's transfer will either be confirmed, or it'll be the final stages of a godawfully long saga. He's going to Madrid; he won't be in the Premier League. Bale scored against Arsenal twice last season, was a threat against everyone, and was Tottenham's best player by a lot. He's gone; on Sunday, he'll be replaced by Nacer Chadli or Andros Townsend: both fine players, but not as a devastatingly good as Bale. Erik Lamela may have been registered in time for the match, but it's likely he'll feature from the bench, if at all.
Conversely, Arsenal have not sold anyone this summer that they didn't want to. While this policy has left the club with approximately 15 fit senior players, almost all of them are first choice in their position. The major absence is Mikel Arteta, and those of us who saw how Gabriel Agbonlahor tore Arsenal's midfield to part on the opening weekend will be rightfully worried about Aaron Lennon and company doing the same. Since then, though, we've seen more discipline from Arsenal's midfield, and, the signing of Mathieu Flamini gives Arsenal a more defensive option. With Lukas Podolski out, Santi Cazorla will start from the left; Theo Walcott will continue on the right, and the in-form Olivier Giroud will start up front. Bacary Sagna will presumably return to right back with Laurent Koscielny available once more.
The key, though, will be the best Welshman in the Premier League: Aaron Ramsey. He's run the midfield against Fulham and Fenerbahce, with tremendous displays of energy and filling of space. It'll be tougher against Tottenham, as there'll be the physical presences of Paulinho, Moussa Dembele and Etienne Capoue, and the key for Arsenal will be Ramsey's ability to make runs beyond midfield pressure, as well as tracking the dangerous runs of Paulinho. If Arsenal can control the midfield, they can control Tottenham's counter attacks, and create chances of their own.
Fearless Prediction: Aaron Ramsey dominates all-comers before him, and Olivier Giroud's handsomeness destroys Jan Vertonghen and Michael Dawson. Arsenal win, and afterwards, Arsene Wenger announces the signings of ALL THE PLAYERS.