As Andre Villas-Boas goes into his first north London derby he has the task of getting Tottenham back to winning ways against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday. Having lost the last two Premier League games, Spurs are now in sixth place a point ahead of Arsenal but in danger of dropping further off the pace in the race for a top four finish and a place in next season’s Champions League competition. Not that Arsenal haven’t been short of problems this season but Arsene Wenger has the knack of somehow getting a result against Tottenham.
In his last two matches, Villas-Boas who is often regarded as a thinking, tactical manager has been out thought by the managers of both Wigan Athletic and Manchester City. At home to Wigan, a match which should have been a formality for Tottenham, Wigan deservedly took the points as Roberto Martinez set up their team with five across midfield to deny Tottenham the opportunity to create problems through Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon wide on the wings. It worked perfectly and Villas-Boas showed no insight as to how Spurs could break down the Wigan system, even though it was one that they had used for a number of games.
Last weekend, at Manchester City Spurs took a first half lead which Villas-Boas tried to hold at all costs. As has happened previously this season, when Spurs have tried to do that and showed a lack of attacking intent, they have conceded goals which have cost them points – at home to West Brom and Norwich City as well as in the Cup and Europa League matches. Throughout the match, City’s manager Roberto Mancini was making changes to the system looking for ways to get past the Tottenham defence and in time he succeeded as City scored twice in the second half to maintain their unbeaten run in the Premier League. Mancini sent on Maicon who caused Jan Vertonghen and Tottenham difficulty for the last thirty minutes but Villas-Boas didn’t make any changes to counteract that problem. Mancini negated the threat of Bale and Lennon by having his full backs get forward in attack which forced the Spurs wingers deeper to defend, thus reducing their effectiveness. There was an inevitability about the defeat against City last Sunday. City had the skill in midfield to cause the Spurs defence problems but for for the second successive week, Spurs were unable to respond positively to the difficulties created by their opponents.
One of the accusations thrown at Harry Redknapp by supporters was his passivity and lack of tactical awareness last season as Tottenham’s season capitulated. The major turning point for Tottenham was at the Emirates where they lost a two goal advantage after Louis Saha and Emmanuel Adebayor scored inside thirty five minutes only for Arsenal to be level by the interval. Arsenal went on to score three more in the second half and put life back into their season and their drive for a the Champions League qualification. In that match and in subsequent games, a lack of response by the team and the manager to the situation left Spurs floundering. Wenger has managed to outsmart numerous Tottenham managers during his sixteen years with Arsenal. While Arsenal have had the upper hand in matches during this period, there have been occasions when Arsenal have met Spurs during a dip in form or when crucial players have been out with injury but Wenger has managed to overcome those setbacks and mastermind a result to put one over his Tottenham counterpart.
Is AVB Up to the Challenge?
Will Andre Villas-Boas manage be up to the challenge, one that for so many Tottenham managers has been beyond them? One of the difficulties with Tottenham this season has been their predictability. Tottenham have the players, in Bale and Lennon, to put defences under pressure but have failed to provide them with a sufficient supply of the ball. Similarly, with Jermain Defoe in goal scoring form, he has often been isolated as the lone striker and had few goalscoring opportunities created for him. Injuries, have been a problem for Spurs in the past month, especially the absence of Mousa Dembele as a powerful, controlling presence in central midfield.
Will Villas-Boas spring a surprise that could upset the Arsenal manager’s plan or will it be more of the same with Spurs endeavouring to eke out a result? The latest team news from Tottenham indicates additional injury concerns over Kyle Walker, Lennon and Defoe so Villas-Boas’ task becomes more difficult with each passing day. A win over Arsenal would give the manager a boost and receive a rapturous welcome from every Tottenham fan, simply for the reason that it’s against their north London rivals.