Arsenal's plan to stop Gareth Bale, Villas-Boas' striker dilemma

ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT and Opta, available now – to preview the best of the weekend's Premier League action...

Sunday’s North London derby is the biggest Premier League fixture of the weekend, with Tottenham threatening to finish above Arsenal in the Premier League table for the first time since Arsene Wenger arrived in England back in 1996.

An obvious threat is Gareth Bale down the left, and although he’s recently been given more of a free role to come inside into the centre of the pitch – and was actually fielded as the central playmaker in a 3-4-1-2 last week at Stevenage – he generally stays wider in bigger matches. Against Manchester City recently, for example, he hugged the touchline and battled Micah Richards.

He’ll be up against Bacary Sagna in this game, and the Arsenal full-back will draw on experience from last season to stop the Welshman – he won both his tackles, and all seven aerial duels.

Manchester City’s game with Blackburn Rovers is a clash between the two sides in the league most potent from set-pieces. City have scored from dead ball situations 15 times this season, while Blackburn are next best on 14

However, Blackburn will be weakened by the imminent departure of powerful centre-back Chris Samba to Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala. He was their main threat in the air at set-pieces, although he had missed many games through injury anyway in recent weeks.

Samba always stood in the same position for corner kicks – generally quite deep just behind the penalty spot, and slightly towards the far post. Corners would be hung up towards him in that position –and as shown by the away game with QPR, he generally got his head to the ball.

When Samba was absent from the reverse fixture, Blackburn’s corner style changed – they instead put the ball into the six-yard box, and were much less successful.

Saturday sees QPR’s Bobby Zamora taking on his old club Fulham, where he enjoyed the best football of his career in Fulham’s Europa League run in 2010.

The short trip across west London hasn’t resulted in a big change in the way Zamora plays – he still spends most of his time challenging for long, straight balls down the centre of the pitch. However, at Fulham he frequently drifted to the right of the pitch, where he could allow Damien Duff inside onto his left foot, or cut inside and shoot with his own favoured left side.

Mark Hughes is also taking on his former club, and it will be interesting to see who he chooses to support Zamora – last weekend he played a 4-4-1-1 with Adel Taarabt behind, but at home he will probably use another forward, despite Djibril Cisse’s suspension.

Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas again has to choose between Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba upfront. The Spaniard’s woes in front of goal are well known, but Drogba hasn’t been in particularly good form either – he’s only scored twice from open play in the league this season, the same as Torres. Drogba has played 954 minutes, Torres 1195.

With little to choose in terms of form, it’s style that Villas-Boas will consider ahead of the home meeting with Bolton. Drogba continues to receive longer balls and stay in central positions, while Torres moves to the channels and becomes involved in build-up play more. Drogba’s goal return is better, Torres suits the system more – but neither are currently promising options.

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