Premier League: How Tottenham Hotspur Will Line Up Against Arsenal

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Premier League: How Tottenham Hotspur Will Line Up Against Arsenal
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
The chase for a top-four place is not far off its conclusion. Are Aaron Lennon and his Tottenham teammates still in the race?

Heading into last season's North London derby at White Hart Lane, Tottenham Hotspur were a team with good reason to feel confident.

Fresh off a dramatic last-minute win over West Ham United, Tottenham were entering March unbeaten in the Premier League since mid-December. Looking good for a sustained challenge for a top-four finish, Andre Villas-Boas' side beat Arsenal 2-1, the goals coming from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press
Ex-Spur Gareth Bale played a leading role in Tottenham's 2-1 win over Arsenal this time last year.

A year on, the major change heading into the same fixture this weekend is a different man in charge.

Potentially as pertinent an influence on the game's outcome is the difference in Spurs' psyche after suffering two disheartening losses.

Spurs were not flawless 12 months ago, but they were in a slightly better place. Playing Arsenal had the usual stakes of rivalry bragging rights, but in hindsight, their season clearly did not hinge on victory. After all, they won and still finished below the Gunners.

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It is hard to escape the notion that Sunday's match is just that important.

Not only for the vital points that could keep them in touch with fourth place and above the teams below them, but also because this team needs to remember they have been contending for a place in the Champions League and battling it out in Europe for a reason.

Arsenal would relish disproving such notions. Putting Spurs firmly in their inferior place would be a nice consolation after exiting the Champions League midweek.

Manager Tim Sherwood and his side know outwitting Arsene Wenger's men will not be easy. Spurs have lost twice already to Arsenal this season in games where they were dealt with relatively comfortably—though not outclassed.

Finding the bravery, focus and intelligence that were largely absent in both of those games and their recent losses is a must.

In selecting their defence to face Arsenal, there is little Sherwood and his coaching staff can do about that other than hope they perform better than they did over the last week.

Sang Tan/Associated Press/Associated Press
Younes Kaboul avoided suspension for Sunday's game, but he and his fellow defenders will need to be much-improved from the Chelsea and Benfica debacles.

Hugo Lloris will be back in goal, natch. Barring any injury problems from Thursday's Europa League loss, Younes Kaboul and Jan Vertonghen are the probable centre-back pairing.

At right-back and left-back, respectively, the league returns of Kyle Walkerwho played in midfield last weekand Danny Rose are likely if both are fit enough.

Team news had not been officially confirmed at the time of writing, but Sky Sports and BBC Sport were in disagreement about Walker's exact status.

Further forward, Sherwood has plenty more to think about, not least summoning more quality from an attack that has decidedly underwhelmed in the last two gamesand to a certain extent before that.

Their movement was sporadic, their passing equally lacking in imagination and resolve. Squawka demonstrated the poorness of Spurs' play in the final third with the following statistic against Benfica:

Christian Eriksen returned against the Portuguese to some effect. Against Benfica's disciplined, well-organised defensive and midfield lines, the Dane was unable to find much room to influence from left midfield in the way he has against lesser teams.

This writer argued post-match that the time has come for Eriksen to again be deployed centrally.

While that could be on the agenda at some point, the strong possibility that Sherwood will favour two up front might mean the player is fitted in out wide again.

Aaron Lennon has rarely been out of the team under Sherwood. While this weekend could see the manager favouring Nacer Chadli or Andros Townsend, the size of the game will likely mean the longtime Spurs winger keeping his place.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
The dynamism of Mousa Dembele has been missed from the Tottenham midfield of late.

According to Sky Sports' preview, Mousa Dembele's recent hamstring issue could be healed. If fit, the Belgian's return would be welcome, with Spurs having missed his dynamism.

Alongside him, Sandro could be selected for a midfield as much designed to stop the likes of Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta from playing as causing the visitors their own problems.

Emmanuel Adebayor will almost certainly try his luck once more against his former club. Partnering him in attack should be Roberto Soldado.

Dropped for Chelsea and Benfica, the Spaniard's ability to at least get in goalscoring positions was missed. Spurs will hope he has found his finishing form again at the right time following his winner in his most recent start against Cardiff City.

North London derbies are always the biggest games of the season for Tottenham. As has been the case over the last few years, the ramifications for both clubs' campaigns are noteworthy.

For Spurs, though, it really is do or die for them in 2013-14.

 

Predicted Tottenham line-up versus Arsenal: Lloris; Walker, Kaboul (c), Vertonghen, Rose; Lennon, Sandro, Dembele, Eriksen; Adebayor, Soldado.

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