Michael Cox discusses the tactical battle in a game where Arsene Wenger has no specific plans to stop Gareth Bale...
Tottenham v Arsenal, Sunday 4:00, Sky Sports 1.
For once, this is a Super Sunday fixture that needs no artificial hype - Tottenham versus Arsenal is always a big match, but this time around it's an absolutely huge match. There's more than mere local pride at stake here, of course - the North London rivals are directly competing for a Champions League place. Arsene Wenger has never finished outside the top four as Arsenal manager, and has never before finished below Tottenham in the league table. A victory for Andre Villas-Boas' side, and Tottenham will move seven points clear.
The key to this game, inevitably, is Gareth Bale - with eight goals in his previous six games, the Welshman is in the best form of his career. Furthermore, Arsenal are without first-choice right-back Bacary Sagna, which means the relatively inexperienced Carl Jenkinson will come into the side. The former Charlton player has improved hugely since his debut last season, but this will be the toughest test of his career.
Wenger has never been a reactive manager, and has no special plans for coping with Bale. "We don't plan for anybody", he said in his Friday press conference. "It is always the same - focus on our strengths and forget about your opponent. There is nobody special that you least like to face, all players have different qualities."
While Manchester United recently used Phil Jones to help Rafael da Silva cope against Bale, Jenkinson might be left more exposed. His booking stats are interesting: in 21 Premier League matches, he's only been booked four times - unfortunately they came in two games, and Jenkinson has been sent off at both Manchester United and Sunderland.
The line-ups for this match are predictable - the biggest selection dilemma is for Wenger, who must decide whether to use Santi Cazorla on the left, and Jack Wilshere as a number ten, or move Wilshere deeper, play Cazorla in the middle, and deploy Lukas Podolski as a left-sided attacker. Both approaches are possible - the former would provide an extra passer in midfield, the latter would give Arsenal more of a direct attacking threat.
Arsenal must be careful of Kyle Walker's overlapping threat - he scored a belter in this fixture last season - but should also attack him, as the young right-back has been poor defensively this campaign.
Aside from Bale, Lewis Holtby might be Tottenham's key player. He's already faced Arsenal twice this season with Schalke, and could cause problems with his clever positioning between Arsenal's defence and midfield. He's also good at leading Spurs' pressing - expect them to close down early on and force Arsenal into misplaced passes, though Emmanuel Adebayor could do with exercising more caution than he showed when being dismissed in the reverse fixture earlier this season.
Still, at least Adebayor opened the scoring in that game - when Arsenal struggled to deal with Spurs playing two-versus-two high up the pitch, with Jermain Defoe also used. He's out of this game, but Villas-Boas might ask Holtby to play high up, pressuring Arsenal's backline immediately.
Tottenham's major area of concern will be in front of their defence. Scott Parker hasn't been completely assured in the holding position since replacing Sandro - his rash tackle in Monday night's victory over West Ham United was a challenge the Brazilian wouldn't dive into. Regardless of the format of Arsenal's midfield, Parker will have Cazorla drifting around behind him, and Wilshere threatening to run past on the break. Mousa Dembele has been quiet an attacking sense recently, but it's partly because he's been forced to support Parker.
Expect goals here - in the last five years, matches between these two (at Highbury or White Hart Lane) have produced scorelines including 5-1, 4-4, 3-0, 2-3, 3-3, 5-2 and 5-2. These are two attack-minded teams who will defend with high line and attempt to dominate the game. Backing Over 3.5 goals at 2.75n/a looks good to me.