The EFL Cup is reaching its latter stages and on Wednesday four of the Premier League’s best will meet for a place in the semi-finals.
The north London derby at the Emirates promises to be a typically entertaining clash, while Chelsea host Bournemouth in the night’s other quarter-final.
In both games, players will inevitably be rested, but that should not detract from the entertainment. These are sides with enviable squad depth, capable of fielding strong teams made up entirely of fringe players.
Arsenal had, of course, been on an impressive 22-game unbeaten run under Unai Emery. They appeared to have a newfound resilience, no longer collapsing under pressure and repeatedly fighting back from behind.
That came to an abrupt end on Sunday with a 3-2 defeat at Southampton, made all the more disappointing by the nature of the loss: Charlie Austin scored a late goal after Arsenal had twice equalised.
It is a setback for Emery’s side, but far from a terminal blow. They know, having already done it, that they are capable of beating Tottenham, and they will have home advantage on Wednesday.
Tottenham Hotspur come into the game in good, if unspectacular, form. After the 4-2 defeat at the Emirates earlier this month, Pochettino’s side have won three Premier League games in a row and earned a draw at the Nou Camp. They will be in confident mood, eager to continue their progress in the EFL Cup as they search for some elusive silverware.
Chelsea have recovered well from their dip in form, recording wins over Manchester City and Brighton in their last two league games. They will be favourites against Bournemouth, although the visitors may benefit from what is likely to be a weakened Chelsea side.
Maurizio Sarri is unlikely to take too many chances ahead of a busy period. For Eddie Howe and Bournemouth, this will be a chance to get back on track. They have lost six of their last seven games, although it has been an unenviable run of fixtures.
Emery opted to field a three-man defence against Southampton. He did so against Huddersfield Town and Manchester United, too, but on this occasion it did not prove successful. Arsenal, who continue to be plagued by defensive issues, may revert to a back four against Tottenham, depending on the personnel involved.
In last week’s Europa League dead rubber victory over Qarabag, the Gunners played in a 4-2-3-1. Emery might do the same in the EFL Cup, perhaps giving more game time to the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette.
Tottenham are settled in Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1 system, although they will hope to have learned from the mistakes of their last trip to the Emirates. They were far too open and were repeatedly exposed at the back by Arsenal’s incisive attacking play.
For Chelsea, Sarri’s tactical instructions appear to be sinking in. He will likely continue with his 4-3-3 system, although there will undoubtably be changes made. Eden Hazard, who has played largely as a false nine this season, could make way for a recognised striker: perhaps Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud.
Bournemouth boss Howe tweaked his tactics slightly for Saturday’s trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Cherries have most often played in a 4-4-2, but at Molineux they lined up in a 3-4-3.
That did not prevent another defeat, although it is evidence of Howe’s willingness to adapt. He may revert to a more familiar shape against Chelsea, or he might prefer to experiment further. What is clear is that he needs to find a way to slow down the worrying rate at which they are conceding goals.
Lucas Torreira, Arsenal: If the diminutive Uruguayan starts on Wednesday night, his performance will no doubt have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.
He has established himself as a key part of this Arsenal team, shielding in front of the back four and contributing equally as effectively in attack. Torreira was arguably the standout performer in the last north London derby. Do not be surprised if he puts in a repeat performance.
Christian Eriksen, Tottenham: When Tottenham appear bereft of ideas, when they need a moment of creative ingenuity, it is invariably Eriksen who steps up. He did so against Burnley on Saturday, to score a vital injury time winner.
His vision, his ability to pick out a teammate or the top corner of the net, makes him an indispensable member of this Spurs team.
N’Golo Kante, Chelsea: Kante is playing in a new role under Sarri, breaking forward more regularly and acting more as a box-to-box midfielder than a holder. He has thrived in it. His defensive contribution is still extremely high, but now he has added a new element to his game.
Ryan Fraser, Bournemouth: Only Hazard has more assists than Ryan Fraser in the Premier League this season. If Bournemouth are to threaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, they will need their Scottish winger to be at his best.
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