Koscielny v Kane: Key battle in Arsenal-Spurs derby
Arsenal defender must return to stop in-form Spurs striker
ARSENAL v TOTTENHAM
(Sunday, 11.55pm, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
As long as the hip isn't broken, Laurent Koscielny can fix Arsenal.
The crocked defender doesn't need to swivel like Elvis, but he must start against Tottenham to avoid turning the Emirates into Heartbreak Hotel.
He was the missing link in the brutal beating at Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday (Nov 4). He is Arsenal's best defence against the onrushing battering ram.
Harry Kane can kill the Gunners tomorrow. His tall rangy frame allows him to play the Monster to Mauricio Pochettino's Frankenstein, spearheading Tottenham's template.
They play fast and loose, sustaining a high-pressing game until Kane cuts down opponents.
His fine finish against Anderlecht in the Europa League on Friday (Nov 6) morning (Singapore time) was his fifth in three games, making a mockery of the premature criticism from a dry spell early in the season. Rumours of his demise had of course been greatly exaggerated.
Like Robert Lewandowski at Bayern, Kane profits from his manager's intense emphasis on transitional play, turning possession into penetration before retreating defenders can regroup.
Tottenham can't rival Bayern's quality, but there are distinct echoes of Pep Guardiola's philosophy, a system built on quick turnovers and swift deliveries to the men who matter; men like Kane.
Pochettino keeps a paternal eye on the 22-year-old Englishman, polishing his prized possession with the care and attention of an ageing assassin putting his beloved rifle together.
Kane didn't feature heavily against Anderlecht but, when he was called upon, his aim and execution were firm and true. Pochettino's high-pressing game demands significant returns from an economy of effort.
Kane usually delivers.
With each goal, the striker resembles a perfectly-formed finisher designed in a laboratory by men with clipboards punching in the ideal height, weight, speed and agility to achieve an unstoppable scoring machine.
When Arsenal faced similar opponents with the same objectives in midweek, they fished the ball out of their own net five times.
Twenty-five points from 11 games make for impressive Premier League reading, but the Gunners weaved a darker tale in Europe. Three defeats in four Champions League fixtures told part of the story. Bayern filled in the blanks.
A high-pressing game doesn't just hurt Arsenal. It haunts them. The lack of pace between the centre-backs leaves them spinning like a carousel as opposing thoroughbreds canter through the middle.
Koscielny's absence was keenly felt in Munich. He felt a twinge in the hip before the game. His manager must have felt heart palpitations after.
Arsene Wenger gambled on his defensive selections and failed. He spared Koscielny and spoiled the German side.
Mathieu Debuchy picked the wrong night to endure one his worst performances, underscoring the incomparable value of Hector Bellerin at right back. Bellerin won't recover for the London Derby, but Koscielny must.
Without his regular partner in defence, Gabriel wandered around Munich like a little boy lost. His positioning was poor and his offside decision-making amateurish, springing traps with the finesse of a blindfolded animal poacher.
Alongside Gabriel, Per Mertesacker again confused stature with statuesque, a legend whose legs have run away from him.
Bayern blew away Arsenal's silverware credentials, highlighting the porous defending that continues to undermine the attacking panache.
Tottenham did the same last season, when Kane's double at White Hart Lane snared derby-day honours. Faster and fitter this time round, Spurs prey on precisely the kind of artistic dawdling that can inhibit Arsenal's game.
The Gunners can be the football equivalent of an impressionist painter standing over his canvas, holding his brush in the air and debating for three hours which shade of red to use. In the meantime, Kane has smashed the canvas, snapped the brushes and nipped off with the paint pot.
The Arsenal faithful can only wonder what they could be with such an incisive scalpel in their forward line. They'll get an idea if Koscielny doesn't feature.
Backed by Christian Eriksen and outstanding Dele Alli, Kane's already set for an inevitable sale to the highest bidder next summer.
He's too good for Tottenham and too good for the bruised back four that fell in Munich. It's a mismatch without Koscielny, a human mallet against raw meat.
Of course, history favours Arsenal. They haven't lost at home to Tottenham for five years.
But if that record is to continue, the Gunners' best centre back must overcome his injury. Besides, Koscielny's hip won't bother him if he can keep a grip on Kane.
BY THE NUMBERS
Arsenal and Tottenham have two of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League. Petr Cech (84 per cent) and his Spurs counterpart Hugo Lloris (83 per cent) have fended off a higher percentage of shots on target than any other EPL goalkeeper. The league average is 71 per cent.
- Bournemouth v Newcastle
- Leicester v Watford
- Man United v West Brom
- Norwich v Swansea
- Sunderland v Southampton
- West Ham v Everton
- Stoke v Chelsea
- Aston Villa v Man City
- Liverpool v Crystal Palace
Harry expects Arsenal backlash
Tottenham striker Harry Kane is wary of a wounded Arsenal when he visits the Emirates for the first time in his career tomorrow.
While Spurs have registered two wins in four days against Aston Villa and Anderlecht this week, the Gunners head into the north London Derby on the back of a 5-1 thrashing by Bayern Munich.
Arsenal's Champions League woes, however, have not dampened their domestic form, with Arsene Wenger's men winning their last five matches and scoring 16 goals in the process.
The run means Spurs start tomorrow's game five points behind their rivals in the Premier League table and Kane is expecting Arsenal to feel added motivation after Wednesday's heavy defeat.
"They took a bit of a hiding in midweek and they are going to want to put that right," Kane said.
"We have come off two very good wins so we are going into the game on a high and, hopefully, we can finish the week off well.
"It is going to be a great battle and everyone is looking forward to it. We want to go there, set a high tempo and play well.
"It was not a good night for them (against Bayern). A lot has been said about that result and, as fellow players, you know they will come out firing to try and put things right. So we know what to expect."
Kane scored twice, including a dramatic 86th-minute winner, when Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-1 at White Hart Lane in February but last season's 1-1 draw at the Emirates came before the forward had shot to prominence under manager Mauricio Pochettino.
With five goals in his last three games, the 24-year-old appears to be back in form.
"We are going there to win," Kane said.
"I have never played at the Emirates before, so hopefully we can go there and get the win."
- PA Sport.
Get The New Paper on your phone with the free TNP app. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now