Tottenham vs Arsenal: Why the midfield battle will be key in Sunday’s North London derby | football news

Arsenal battled valiantly to a draw in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final with Liverpool on Thursday night, but their efforts following Granit Xhaka’s dismissal could play a big part in the outcome of their London derby. North London in Tottenham. weekend.

That is the view of Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith, who told the Essential Football Podcast that the midfield zone will be key to deciding the contest at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with his former club Arsenal battling for numbers in midfield.

Arsenal will be without the suspended Xhaka and will also be without Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny, who are in the African Cup of Nations, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who left on loan to Roma, and Martin Odegaard, who has given positive for Covid. Emile Smith Rowe is also a doubt.

That leaves Albert Sambi Lokonga as Arsenal’s only first-choice central midfielder, although Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli filled in after Xhaka’s red against Liverpool.

“The midfield battle is going to be key with Arsenal’s problems there,” Smith said. “If Tottenham can control that area of ​​the pitch and get a good serve from Harry Kane and company, then Arsenal will have to defend extremely well.

“Going into such an important game is far from ideal. Arteta might have to be creative in midfield. Ben White could step up, he’s done it for Brighton, for Leeds. But I don’t think you want to interrupt that central defense partnership that is working so well. Calum Chambers did very well for Fulham in that holding role… He may have to play one or two out of position.

“Hopefully Smith Rowe will be okay, he doesn’t seem too far away. But it’s unusual to have so many problems in one area.”

However, Arsenal’s relatively new improved defensive resolve was on display again at Liverpool and Smith was impressed by how the Gunners held on in that draw.

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Highlights from the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg between Liverpool and Arsenal

“Arsenal showed a lot of backbone, a lot of steel to hold on,” he said. “They defended very well. It hasn’t always been the case with Arsenal at times. It was a challenge that would have tested any manager.” [going down to 10 at Anfield] but Mikel Arteta went to a back five.

“I gave Ben White the man of the match, but they all defended very well. You expected Liverpool to play better than they managed, but from Arsenal’s point of view, there will be a lot of tired bodies before Sunday, but as for the spirit.” The room would have been packed afterwards.”

Given the rapid recovery of Arsenal, whose midweek game came the day after Tottenham’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg defeat to Chelsea, attitude will be key if they are to overcome fatigue to win a result on their rivals.

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Summary of the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final between Tottenham and Chelsea

And Smith is backing them to do just that, despite poor mental focus in their shock FA Cup loss to Championship Nottingham Forest last weekend.

“I said a few months ago there would be bumps in the road because they are a very young team, and especially when you have to make so many changes for the FA Cup tie as Arteta did, the team cannot cope at the moment. Smith said.

“They should have played better against Forest. Their attitude wasn’t right from the start. But you have to bounce back and they did in Liverpool. That points to good character. We know they have talent, but Arteta would have been delighted with that.”

If Arsenal can pick up three points on Sunday and complete the derby double over Tottenham, Smith also believes they will have a very good chance of winning the race for fourth place ahead of Spurs, Manchester United and West Ham.

Smith would certainly edge Arsenal ahead of Spurs in that contest at the moment.

“Without being biased, I think Arsenal are better placed,” he said. “There are fewer questions to answer there. Spurs boss Antonio Conte is trying to reshape the whole team and try to make them play his way. But he’s desperate for more quality in that team.”

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“Arteta has been in the job longer, he’s made some signings and he looks like his team. And there’s an understanding within that XI when they step onto the pitch. If that translates into the top four, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

“Spurs’ two-legged performance against Chelsea would have hit the fans hard and damaged confidence in the dressing room a bit. They know they are way behind, but one would hope they put up a better fight. Conte looks a bit subdued on the touchline and that can get across to the players and fans, but a North London derby is probably the best game for him and his players at the moment.

“One would expect a noticeable improvement in attitude and body language from Spurs. They have great strikers and a threat up front. In midfield and at the back there are more doubts.”

“Derbies are so hard to predict. Arsenal were so much better at the Emirates and if they could do something similar again it would set them up wonderfully for the rest of the season.”

“It won’t be easy, there will be tired bodies in North London, but once you get out you can push yourself and get through that to a certain extent. Arsenal are short on body but not lacking in spirit.”

Premier League preview: Will Spurs or Arsenal win the North London derby? | Chelsea’s last chance at Man City | Bowen’s brilliance at West Ham

On the latest Essential Football Podcast, host Alicia Piper is linked by Nick Wright, charlotte Swamp, Y Peter blacksmith to get a preview of this weekend’s Premier League action. Plus, we heard from an expert from Sky Sports allan blacksmith before the North London derby.

FIRST PART | Alan Smith delivers his verdict in the North London derby ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Tottenham and explains why the midfield battle will be key after the Gunners’ grueling 10-man battle at Liverpool on Thursday.

SECOND PART | It’s first versus second in the Premier League on Saturday when Manchester City host Chelsea. Is this the London club’s last chance to keep in touch with the City leaders? And could a win for Thomas Tuchel’s side open the door for Liverpool too? Also, we look ahead to Philippe Coutinho’s debut at Aston Villa, with Steven Gerrard’s men facing an insane Man Utd for the second time in a week.

PART THREE | Jarrod Bowen is in fine form and we take a look at the numbers behind his recent purple patch and discuss how he’s leading West Ham back into the top four race after their December slump. Before his game with Leeds, we also examine how injuries have made life difficult for Marcelo Bielsa this season. And finally, will Brighton or Crystal Palace emerge victorious in their rivalry matchup on Friday night?

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