The Gunners will have to find their way through the midfield shield of Wilson Palacios and Tom Huddlestone in the North London derby.
He wasn’t able to find away to stamp his quality over Arsenal’s midfielders during a trial with the club two years ago but Wilson Palacios now has a chance to do just that for the Gunners’ biggest rival.
Recommended by Wenger to Steve Bruce, he followed the manager from Birmingham to Wigan, where he made his name as an aggressive box-to-box midfielder with a touch of skill as well. That convinced Harry Redknapp to splurge £14million on the Honduran after a money fight with Chairman Daniel Levy and Palacios has now become a key figure in Tottenham’s midfield. His early season partnership with Tom Huddlestone has been impressive as the pair create an imposing physical barrier in front of the defence. Indeed it was as early as the first match where the duo shone, as Huddlestone dictated their play in their 2-1 win while Palacios’s tactical nous ensured Steven Gerrard’s influence disappeared into thin air.
This was made the even more impressive as Palacios was better known in his country for his progressive, all-action style and not in a disciplined role. But his movements and actions in that same match were reminiscent of Arsenal old boy, Mathieu Flamini which allowed the attacking players to play with more freedom. “Palacios is giving us that, they know he is going to be in there putting his foot about and as strong as anybody. That is important,” said Harry Redknapp. He is a powerhouse. If you were a midfield player, he would not be top of your list to play against because I don’t care how good you are, he ain’t gonna let you play. When he is after you, he really is after you – not in a nasty way but in an aggressive way.”
And in the upcoming North London derby, Harry Redknapp will no doubt be having his man of Cesc Fabregas watch to prevent the Spaniard exerting any influence on the free-scoring Gunners. West Ham packed the midfield and remained discipline forcing Fabregas to drop deep in the 2-2 draw at Upton Park and expect to see Huddlestone and the Honduran create a midfield shield to protect the defence. Arsenal’s task will be to create many angles and options in the pass to counteract Tottenham’s discipline but will also have to be wary of the movement of Robbie Keane, if the Irishman does start, playing in between the lines. Alex Song had gone from strength to strength and it will be his job to patrol this area and watch the running of Keane.
Abou Diaby will also have a crucial role to play in to doubling up and to impose his stature on the midfield which should allow Fabregas to dictate. But the key man in attack for Arsenal could be Robin van Persie who is hoping he can continue his good form as the ‘false No. nine’, dropping into space and disrupting Tottenham’s marking.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song, Diaby, Fabregas; Arshavin, Bendtner, van Persie. Subs: Mannone, Silvestre, Gibbs Ramsey, Nasri, Eboue, Eduardo.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Gomes; Corluka, Bassong, King, Assou-Ekotto; Bentley, Huddlestone, Palacios, Krancjar; Keane, Crouch. Subs: Cudicini, Hutton, Dawson, Jenas, Bale, Giovanni, Pavlyuchenko.