Arsenal FC: 5 Things the Gunners Must Do to Beat Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday
With the second installment of one of the English Premier League's most anticipated rivalries set to take place this Sunday, both teams involved—Arsenal and Tottenham—will undoubtedly be gearing up for different reasons.
Several ex-Arsenal legends are touting this game to be Arsene Wenger's most important one since taking the helm as the Gunners manager in 1996. His team have been anything but impressive in their quest for another top-four league finish and consequent UEFA Champions League spot so far, and several observers and analysts are speculating this to be make or break for both the team and the manager.
Tottenham Hotspur meanwhile seem to have added consistency to an already impressive style of attacking play. For the first time since many Tottenham fans can even recall, they now find themselves with a genuine chance of finishing the campaign on top of their arch rivals.
Essentially, it's a must-win game for both parties. Arsenal fans, though, will be hoping to take more than three points from the encounter, as a high-profile victory might just rejuvenate their bid for a UEFA Champions League berth.
With Tottenham going into this one as favourites, it has become an undisputed reality amongst fans that if the Gunners are to take something from this match, they're going to have to shake things around.
This article lists five possible moves Arsenal must do differently if they are to win this game.
Play a 4-4-2
We all saw it employed in Milan at the start of the second half, and we also saw that it immediately made Arsenal a more potent side, as they tested AC Milan's keeper Christian Abbiati more times then, than they did the the whole of the first half.
I, for one, would love to see Arsene Wenger employ the formation that served him so well throughout the successful era of his reign, where his teams on the whole looked like a more attractive and threatening outfit. Few will forget the Arsenal Invincibles of the 2003-2004 season, and many will even allude to the title challenging side of 2007-2008 as being the perfect blueprint solution for this current team.
With both Mikel Arteta and Alex Song more than capable of filling in the "box-to-box" role in the center of the park, it almost seems like a no-brainer. The fact that Wenger himself shuffled his formation to a 4-4-2 at halftime at the San Siro, indicates that he too senses its potential. And in truth, it can only fare better than the current one, which was originally designed to accommodate Cesc Fabregas in "the hole."
In the absence of an out-and-out playmaker, it seems playing a 4-4-2 would be the ideal solution for tomorrow's game. Arsenal would seem more compact in the midfield in the wake of less specialized roles, and the presence of two strikers up front could only assist in carving out quick counter-attacking moves.
And with this Arsenal team clearly drained of any creativity under the current formation, it's fair to say that a sudden shift simply couldn't make matters worse.
Play Gervinho Next to Van Persie Up Front
A controversial move no doubt, but it's a wild-card maneuver that might just pay dividends given Gervinho's abilities on the ball.
The Ivorian has pace, skill and dribbling abilities in abundance. However, the only thing lacking from his game is composure, as he can, on occasion, even be seen to provide finishes of the highest quality (remember his preseason finishes versus FC Koln).
In a 4-4-2, he may just thrive up front, as he has an unmistakable knack of beating and getting around his defender. Essentially, it'd be hard to see him not getting past his defender if he plays up front and gets the opportunity to run straight at him. His pace, combined with his skill, could be just enough to cause havoc amongst the opposition defence, especially on the counter, ultimately providing more breathing space for Robin van Persie to operate between opposition lines "in the hole."
It may be risky, but given the manager's inability—or unwillingness—to trust either Marouane Chamakh or Chu Young Park in the big games, and of course Theo Walcott's dismal finishing skills, means it's a move that may just pay dividends.
Drop Wojciech Szczesny
Only a few months ago this suggestion would have seemed so farfetched that, had Arsene Wenger even hinted at doing this, an uproar from the fans would undoubtedly have made its way to the crossfires of the media.
Unfortunately right now, though, it seems Wojciech Szczesny is undergoing somewhat of a dip in form. Whether it's because at such a tender age he's been almost all but assured of his position as "No. 1" between the sticks, or his perceived arrogance—that has been constantly mistaken for confidence—cannot really be determined.
What has been seen from the "Pole in goal" in his last few outings (Swansea and AC Milan away spring to mind) is poor positioning, poor decision-making and even a lack of general command in the area.
At 21 years old, he still has plenty of years left to make the eventual step up as Arsenal's starting keeper. For now though, it may seem a wise decision to let Arsenal's other Polish keeper, Lukasz Fabianski, a stint in goal.
Some may say it's an impulsive decision and that Szczesny will only regain confidence if kept in the line of fire. However, it's worth mentioning that it was only as recently as last season that Arsenal's current backup keeper was dazzling the Emirates faithful with some eye-catching displays between the sticks.
He's a player desperate for more game time, and with the Euros just around the corner, I wouldn't be the only one surprised to see him turn a performance of admirable quality if given the opportunity to do so.
Ditch the High-Line Defense
As much as it kills me to say it, Tottenham are a team adept at tearing up opposition defenses, as they've proved time and time again this season that they are one of the league's more potent attacking forces.
With playmakers in the likes of Rafael van der Vaart, Luka Modric and even Niko Kranjcar, it would be akin to suicide for Arsene Wenger to employ his favoured high-line defense when considering the pace outlets the aforementioned midfielders are likely to look towards.
Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and even Emmanuel Adebayor possess pace in abundance. If Arsenal were to assemble their back line high up the pitch, it would easily be breached by a barrage of through balls and consequent forward runs that Tottenham are now famed for playing.
Simply put, Arsenal cannot afford to risk a high line when they face Harry Redknapp's team this Sunday, as it would likely be exploited by the creativity and speed Tottenham seem to exude at the moment.
Play on the Counter
Make no mistake about it, Arsenal are underdogs in this game and will likely have to soak up most of the pressure and play on the back foot.
Unfortunately, Arsene Wenger's track record suggests that instead of assembling his team to play to the opposition's weakness, he prefers to play to his own team's strengths. Though it's an admirable strategy that should more or less always be employed when going into games as favourites, as underdogs it's a setup likely to backfire on Arsenal.
As much as I hate "parking the bus," if Arsenal are as serious as their fans are in winning this game, doing just that might be the perfect transitional setup the Gunners would need to adopt between defense and offense. It worked against at Stamford Bridge earlier this season against Chelsea, where Robin van Persie's last goal as well as an early Gervinho miss, both involved moves started from the back.
Stationing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott on each side of the flank outside the penalty box may seem like a masterstroke idea in this game, as Arsenal can simply launch the ball in their path and start a forward run.
In addition, this sort of setup will likely see Tottenham push up more—a move that would inevitably create room and space that can ultimately be exploited. If Arsenal can utilize their pacey wingers and quickly turn defense to offense while catching the Spurs on the break, they're more than capable of causing the required damage.
The author is an Arsenal Featured Columnist on Bleacher Report, as well as a Football/Soccer contributor for FanFeedr Hot Takes. You can follow him on Twitter @saqibddb