The North London rivals meet off the back of prosperous form (Tottenham: WDWW; Arsenal: DWWW), albeit one that has stretched their beleaguered squads.
With Tottenham and Arsenal occupying the top two spots on the Premier League injury table (11 and nine injured players, respectively) both managers would likely have wished for a far easier tie that afforded the luxury of rotation.
Considering the bitter nature of the rivalry, the importance of sustaining momentum and the ample rest period that follows this game (there are no midweek Premier League matches), you’d expect Tim Sherwood and Arsene Wenger to field near full-strength sides—perhaps with a few minor surprises.
With the caveat that it’s near impossible to predict the exact line-ups, let’s explore some possible battles that could shape the outcome of this tantalising fixture.
Theo Walcott vs. Danny Rose
Walcott has been in impressive form since his return from a lengthy spell on the sidelines, netting five goals in five appearances, including a brace at the Etihad.
It goes without saying that Walcott’s blistering pace is his greatest attribute. Rose, although also fleet of foot, will have to be extra diligent with his positional awareness by reining in the attacking side of his game.
The young full-back is sometimes guilty of misguided forays into the opposition's half, as evidenced by the chastising he received from Sherwood in the dying embers of the Manchester United game.
It’s imperative that Rose protects Tottenham’s centre-backs from a straight foot race with Walcott, lest Michael Dawson be inclined to launch a last-ditch tackle—a sight no Spurs fan relishes.
Emmanuel Adebayor vs. the Arsenal centre-backs
Whether Wenger opts to stick with his trusted pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker or perhaps rest the towering German—as B/R Featured Columnist Charlie Melman has suggested—Arsenal’s centre-backs will their hands full with a resurgent Emmanuel Adebayor.
A major contributing factor to Tottenham’s reversal of fortunes in recent weeks stems from the reintroduction of the outcast forward. His excellent hold-up play, in tandem with the intelligent movement of Christian Eriksen and Roberto Soldado, has lent fluidity to the football exhibited under Sherwood’s tutelage.
A well-marshalled Adebayor would stifle Tottenham’s attacking impetus, so you’d expect him to drift deeper to receive the ball, particularly in light of Mertesacker’s aerial prowess.
Mousa Dembele vs. Mikel Arteta
Dembele’s form has been patchy this season, but his performances of late bespeak a player whose confidence has returned. At times, the Belgian appears weightless as he glides past opponents with astonishing ease—a glorious sight.
As the deepest-lying Arsenal midfielder (should he start ahead of Mathieu Flamini), Arteta will be partly responsible for restricting Dembele's influence on the game.
Dembele is at his most effective when he's got the freedom to take on an opponent one-on-one (a duel he invariably wins) to drive into that pocket of space between midfield and defence.
Arteta must be alert to this eventuality by creating two-on-one situations that force Dembele into distributing the ball to his team-mates—a much weaker facet of his game.