31 August 2013

North London Derby: Walcott wins it from wide

As we go into the North London Derby, a great deal of talk will focus, rightly, on the differences in each squad's actions in the transfer window. We all know our own sob-story, having only brought in Flamini and Sanogo on free transfers and having unloaded almost 30
players (including a great number of Academy players in their teens). Spurs, though, have been intensively active, signing seven players in anticipation of selling Gareth Bale. With his price-tag looking to be somewhere in the £90m range, Spurs have spent about £84m on transfer-fees. Bale hasn't played a minute for Spurs so far this season, with explanations ranging from he was given a "rest" to his being fined for missing training. However, Spurs don't seem to have missed him so far, having won all four of their matches to this point (including two in the Europa) without conceding once and scoring ten.

And that brings me to the focus of today's column: Theo. I've called on Theo to have a break-out season with 20 league goals. After scoring 21 across all competitions last season, it looked like he would vault himself  to the next level this season. I compared him favorably to his former teammate Bale here, for what that's worth. However, he's off to a bit of a slow start so far, with no goals to show for himself in our first four matches. He did look sharp in the preseason, with a goal against Man City and against Galatasaray, each of them the match's opening score. Despite his slow start to the official season, I'm certain that Theo will revive the form that he's shown against Spurs over the last few seasons, a form good enough for him to tally four goals in our last five derbies.

Of course, he'll be lining up opposite Vertonghen and Rose, who on paper are no slouches. However, Vertonghen frequently presses forward to join the attack, at times playing almost as if he's a box-to-box midfielder, and this can expose him on counter-attacks (sounds a bit like Vermaelen, come to think of it). Rose is a fine player on his day, but he's a perpetual loanee, most recently to Sunderland last season. Given Vertonghen's eagerness to join the attack and Rose's relative inexperience, especially in an atmosphere as pitched as the North London Derby, I see Theo getting lots of opportunities. The service he's gotten from Ramsey, Rosický, and Cazorla so far have been strong; all he's lacked is the final touch. While I don't see another 5-2 win in the offing, I wouldn't put it past the man to bag a brace.

If there's a downside to Spurs' signings, it's that they may not fully understand what this match means. Soldado had some nice words about it earlier this week, calling it "beautiful". However, listening to teammates explain it differs immensely from experiencing it directly. Their new signings have done well for themselves so far, but the stiffest competition they've faced is arguably Swansea, and they have yet to score a Prem goal from open play, relying on spot-kicks from Soldado to defeat Swansea at White Hart Lane and to defeat newly promoted Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

For all of the hand-wringing over our failure to bring in new players, we still field a strong XI on Sunday. There's little use in speculating on who will start where, as this suggests that there is a great deal of competition in the squad. Cazorla will almost certainly slot in on the left, and the middle of the pitch will be patrolled by Wilshere, Ramsey, and Rosický, hopefully reprising the rotating midfield that so befuddled Fulham. Flamini may make his debut, what with Arteta out and Ramsey nursing a sore groin (does one get those massaged? One wonders...). It'll be a tense one, that's for sure, but I have a good feeling about this one. Theo, make me look like I know what I'm talking about.

The clock is ticking...