What Should Tottenham’s XI Be Against Arsenal?


This isn’t a question of what Tottenham’s lineup in the Capital One Cup game against Arsenal Wednesday will look like, but rather what it should look like.

The disparity between those two exists largely between Mauricio Pochettino and the fan’s expectations for the club this season. In recent years the Premier League has been emphasized above just about all other competitions, mostly due to the fact that it was the best – or only – way to ensure Tottenham qualified for the Champions League by the end of the season. Cup competitions, be they English or European, were a distraction from that endeavor.

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That’s not to say Tottenham tanked in those competitions. They actually made it to the Capital One Cup final last term, losing to eventual league champions Chelsea 2-0. Still, the league took priority, even if Tottenham only managed fifth place in the end.

So when the draw for this season’s Capital One Cup third round slated Tottenham face off against perennial rivals Arsenal, the question of how this game would be approached became murky. If Tottenham were to play one of the many minnows still present in the competition – as many other Premier League teams are – then the lineup would be simple: put on the reserves and the kids. With pride now on the line, it might provoke Pochettino into a stronger effort.

Arsenal, of course, face a similar conundrum. They’ve had to rotate their squad through their opening Champions League match last week ahead of their crucial Premier League meeting with Chelsea Saturday. Compared to those two games, an early round cup game against Tottenham easily ranked third.

That they lost both of those games – and Tottenham has won three games on the trot – might change how Arsenal views Wednesday’s game however. We shouldn’t be surprised if Arsene Wenger names a relatively strong squad despite the fact that they’ll have a tricky test against Leicester City Saturday. In response, Pochettino would likely name a squad roughly similar to the one he named against Qarabag FK last Thursday.

Tottenham - Tottenham v Arsenal - 23rd September 2015 - Football tactics and formations
Tottenham - Tottenham v Arsenal - 23rd September 2015 - Football tactics and formations /

This lineup would at once rotate back into the squad many of the bench and reserve players fielded in the Europa League last week while also giving a rest to many of the first team regulars in the squad. Summer arrivals like Kevin Wimmer and Kevin Trippier get their second starts of the season while key first team players Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier get much needed breaks ahead of Saturday’s early match against Manchester City.

Dier’s absence might be most palpably felt. He’s been a rock in defensive midfield so far this term. Tom Carroll proved last week against Qarabag that he’s no slouch in the position as well though. His relatively diminutive size should play less of a role against an Arsenal side that is also relatively diminutive.

This lineup also gives first career starts to academy product Harry Winks and newcomer Clinton Njie. Both are largely untested at this level but might actually benefit for having their starting debuts occur in a comparatively low pressure match.

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All of this is speculative, perhaps unreasonably so. The strong side Pochettino fielded against Qarabag last week suggests that he might believe Tottenham has both the depth and the lungs to reliably compete on multiple fronts. Especially against Arsenal he might feel compelled to be more daring, perhaps giving Son a fourth successive start or hoping that more minutes means more chances for Harry Kane to rediscover his goals.

Regardless, Wednesday’s game should be viewed by the club and fans for exactly what it is: a match whose label as a North London Derby represents almost all of its meaningfulness. Neither club will be especially disappointed to be relieved of further midweek distractions this winter as they seek to improve over last term’s results. The best outcome might be a contest won – or lost – narrowly enough to preserve some semblance of pride, preferably one that is decided without having to take the match into extra time.

That kind of result can be achieved with the lineup above. We’ll have to wait and see if Pochettino thinks the same way.

Next: Spurs' Weekly Update: 9/16/15-9/23/15