Arsenal and Tottenham faced off in the North London derby match, where Arsenal cruised to a 3-0 victory over their rivals.
Stefan Vasilev, the Arsenal co-community leader, and Willie Gannon, the Tottenham community leader tell their predictions about how the season could go for both teams.
1) There was big talk about the needs of Arsenal for a holding midfielder. With eight games in hand, do you think that problem has been solved, or further measures are needed in the January transfer window?
Willie: I wouldn't neccessarily think that Arsenal need a holding midfielder, to me a midfielder should be able to do everything anyway. Song has been good this year without really standing out, while I expect Denilson to be a big big player for Arsenal in the coming years, Nasri is on his way back, but I do fear for Rosicky over a 50 game season, and Diaby is a decent replacement for any of the named while I can never see him being a definite name on the team sheet.
If I was to look for a midfielder, it would be one to compliment Fabregas. Song does it to a degree but you could always get better. But I don't see Wenger buying a midfielder unless Cesc picks up a really bad injury. Part of his philosophy is built on giving younger players a game, and if he replaced Song or Diaby now it would contradict his last 13 years of management.
You can never have enough good players, but I don't see Wenger going all out to add to midfield, especially when I would consider it Arsenal's strongest department.
Stefan: I think after two-three years, the young and “inexperienced” players at Arsenal have matured quite a lot. And that is one of the main reasons that I think the Arsenal team is a lot more balanced than in the previous years.
Alex Song has been able to fit quite well at the holding midfielder position and he’s been at the club for four years now. With his development continuing at a very good rate, I see the holding midfielder position filled adequately at the moment. With nine games played, it is quite obvious, also, that Vermaelen is adept to play there as well, although, his best position would be at the centre of defense due to his good positioning—a quality which a defensive midfielder needs—and his jumping ability.
But he is also not afraid of physical challenges which is also an ability important for playing aspect of a holding midfielder. Add to that Denilson’s ability to provide adequate cover for this position and you will understand why Arsenal does not really need to buy a DM in January.
Do you think Tottenham still has a chance in qualifying to the Champions League this season?
Willie: Plain and simple, no. Spurs have come on great strides in Harry's 12 months in charge, but they haven't come that far. There is a huge gap between the top 4 and the rest of the Premiership.
Spurs have closed that gap a bit, but not enough. The fact that they've conceded nine goals against United, Chelsea, and Arsenal show the gap is there. Where Spurs have improved is in beating the lesser teams of the EPL. They now have a team and a squad that can expose almost every other team in the league, and if a top four team have an off day they can beat them, ala Liverpool.
I said fifth or sixth at the start of the season and I haven't seen anything to change my mind.
Actually, the only thing that will get Spurs into the top four is if Liverpool and Manchester City implode. And so far Liverpool and Rafa are doing their level best to give the game away...
Stefan: They are currently fourth and it’s still too early in the season, so—yes—they can qualify.
Talking about transfers, it became obvious that there is another problematic position at the Arsenal team—goal keeper. Should Wenger buy in January? Who do you suggest should be bought? (Of course, Wenger will not listen to you)
Willie: Goalkeeper is a big problem area for the Gunners. I've never seen a team win a league with an average keeper between the sticks and the Gunners have one average one and two below average 'keepers on the books.
It would seem that Wenger is going to give Almunia the benefit of the doubt, and this seems are very humane gesture considering on how the 'keeper found it difficult to cope with death of his mother in law. But that sympathy will only go so far. Especially for the fans who don't have the emotional link with the individual that the manager has.
In a brutal world, and football is very brutal, I would say that Wenger will have his scouting network looking for 'keepers as we speak. Akinfeev is the obvious choice, but he is also being tracked by just about every top team in Europe, although Arshavin's presence at the club might entice him to the Emirates, especially as Russian players are notoriously hard to settle.
I also think that Arsene missed a trick by not moving for Given. City eventually signed him for next to nothing and the Irishman has consistantly been the best 'keeper in the EPL over the last 10 year, and is arguably in the top three 'keepers in the world.
Stefan: I’ve always been an admirer of Shay Given’s goal-keeping qualities. I think he would fit well in the team, so that is who I would buy if I was Wenger. Although, Arsenal have pretty capable keepers in the squad. Almunia is quite prone to errors, and is mediocre according to many.
But still he has good shot-stopping ability and compared to the other goal keepers in the squad he is the best choice at the moment. Also, Vito Mannone proved that he is very good prospect for the future—maybe in the next three-four years he will have what it takes to be a first-choice keeper.
Buying a keeper is still a good idea and maybe the finishing touch of Wenger’s project at Arsenal. I would suggest Shay Given as I also know that Wenger is also an admirer of his skills. Mr. Wenger, are you listening?
Are you in favor of the financially self-sustaining model that Arsenal uses or the count-on-a-billionaire model? Why?
Willie: I wouldn't exactly call the Arsenal model self sustaining, especially as they have such massive debts and are so heavily reliant on Arsenal Holdings PLC, but I take your point. To be honest it is not something that I would lose sleep over.
It's very easy for fans of other teams to sit back and throw stones at the likes of Manchester City for "ruining the game" by having such a huge budget, but people tend to forget that the entire EPL is in debt to the tune of £3 Billion, and the top four own £2 Billion of that debt, so I think it's a bit rich to say to any team "you can't do that."
If UEFA and Platini force their new proposals on transfer spending being based on turnover through it will only favour big teams, and I really wouldn't think that's fair.
Stefan: Arsenal is on the right track. While teams like Chelsea and Manchester City are rich at the moment, and can buy pretty much everyone the set their eyes on (if we disregard Chelsea’s transfer ban), their financial stability is closely tied to their owner’s wishes.
Who could know what is on their mind except themselves of course. Arsenal has gone for stability. Even though they have been criticized for its initial after-effects, I think that is the right way to do it because only now or in a year or two they will start to reap the fruits of this massive project.
I also think that to save the integrity of football and in order to guard it from turning into strictly business kind of game, some financial limits need to be imposed by UEFA.
Do you believe that Arsenal are capable of winning a major trophy this season?
Up until the Spurs game I hadn't considered them as genuine contenders, but it was a good professional performance, and that impressed me. I still see the league as Chelsea's to throw away, but the Gunners will be there or there abouts.
I tipped them to have a real go at the Champions League this year, and after the easy group they got, nothing has changed my mind.
The way Arsenal are set up, they will encounter more problems in the EPL than in Europe, and if they avoid Chelsea I think that this could be their year.
They always have a chance in the likes of the FA Cup, but I think the current City team might be a bridge too far in the League Cup. They will have pin pointed that trophy as they start of their new empire, and I expect a really fired up City team when the meet in the Quarter Finals.
Stefan: As I said before, the young players at the squad have matured and team has stricken some vitally needed balance. There is still work to be done of course, but doesn’t it always.
Things are looking bright at the moment, but the deciding period will of course be the one after Christmas.
Then comes the time when the mentality of a team is revealed. If Arsenal can keep their form until after Christmas I wouldn’t be surprised to see them snatch their first major trophy in five years.
Do you think Arsenal lack the squad depth to compete with the other teams, most notably Chelsea, who is the current leader in the league?
Willie: Hard to say.
I don't think any team can match Chelsea's squad. Just think of all the crap they went through last season and where they still managed to finish. The Pensioners are strong everywhere, and it is only in goal that they don't have a top class replacement, so they'll be monitoring Akinfeev too.
I think Arsenal lack strength in depth in defence, especially in the centre. Although they have four recognised internationals there, the likes of Silvestre has seen better days and Sanderos has the concentration levels of a shovel, so it leaves a heavy burden on Gallas and Vermaelan.
The Frenchman has a flaky character, and Arsene has to be very careful with him if they hit a bad patch. Matthew Upson is up for sale, and he would be a brilliant signing, but I can't see Arsene spending the £15 million it would take to bring him back.
Another position is up front, van Persie is scoring for fun at the moment, but Bendtner and Eduardo are lagging behind. If Arsenal really want to challenge this year it is here that I think the club need to sign a new player.
An Adebayor type player would be perfect, Chamakh is more a right sided support player so I'd be surprised if they went back for him, although if they did it would mean RVP moving slightly to the left as the likes of Bendtner would come in.
Stefan: No, they are fine and they have already proved it this season. At times, they had seven or eight injured players and they still were able to record victories.
Problems could stem from important players, like Fabregas, Van Persie, Vermaelen, and Gallas, getting injured—a problem which, realistically looking, every team has.
Arsenal has the needed depth to compete with Chelsea, and if their important players stay fit, they have the ability to defeat them. Again, I must say that it will become evident after Christmas. It is at that time when injuries and fatigue start to reflect on a team’s form.
Big season ahead for the Gunners. They have threatened to deceive over the last number of years and it's now time to put up or shut up.
Willie: It might sound strange to say it but Wenger needs a trophy as much as the players. Kroenke is on the verge of buying the club, and nobody wants to own a club that haven't won ar won't win trophies.
Stefan: I still think Arsenal has been going to an important transition. But they are getting there—new stadium, better income, better results on the field, maturing players. Personally, I would be happy to see then materialize their efforts so far with a trophy or two, but still I think their time will come sooner or later.
I would like to thank both Stefan and Willie for their contribution, and hope that both teams have a good ending to the season.