Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

Offshore drilling, England: at Arsenal 5, Tottenham Hotspur 2

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The season’s first North London Derby was defined in the 18th minute when former Arsenal forward Emmanuel Adebayor was dismissed after a studs up lunge on Santi Cazorla. Tottenham, up one at the time though Adebayor, went on to concede the next four goals, Spurs losing their fourth in five when full time blew on the Gunners’ 5-2 victory.

The result may amplify the already tedious criticism of Tottenham manager André Villas-Boas, with English football determined to permanently brand the man who had to audacity to try (and fail) to change Chelsea. Few pundits will note that Tottenham looked the better side before going a man down. Conceding possession while waiting to utilize their speed, Spurs looked set to expose an Arsenal side that had no way to contain Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.

Thanks to Adebayor, Arsenal didn’t have to, Arsene Wenger’s team comfortably winning a match which will be spun into another strike against Villas-Boas.

Man of the Match: It’s difficult to honor a best player when 72 minutes of 11-on-10 soccer allowed Arsenal to dominate without star performances. With Santi Cazorla, however, there was reason for Gooners to be encouraged.

After being among the best players in the league for over the season’s first month, Cazorla’s been merely very good since. Today, after a slow start, he recaptured that early season form, and while that stride may not be as easy to replicate when the opposition’s not debilitated, Arsenal has reason to think their best player may ready for another run.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Emmanuel Adebayor changes matches.

Last week against another of his former clubs, Adebayor provided a small spark, his return from injury reminding us there are few forwards in the world that can match the Togo international’s grace, speed, and athleticism. The performance gave Villas-Boas cause to switch his formation, the 4-3-3 coach going to a 4-4-2 so he could get both Adebayor and Jermain Defoe into the team.

Today, we were reminded of another of Adebayor’s gifts – the gift of very poor judgment. For the fourth time in his career (the third time from Howard Webb), Adebayor saw red in a Premier League match, with today’s challenge being inexcusable.

Even if you put the health concern aside (and that’s really the biggest concern), lunging studs up is an indefensible decision. Let alone in the opponent’s half. Let alone so early in the game. Let alone with your team up 1-0.

Adebayor’s decision cost his team the match.

MORE PREMIER LEAGUE: Phil Neville out 6-8 weeks.

Podolski, Giroud continue to contribute.

We brought it up after Arsenal’s trip to Schalke, but with the duo combining for two goals today, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud appear to have fully woken up. Having combined for six goals in the last three games, the pair have left their early season struggles behind. For the season, the two summer buys have combined for seven goals and three assists.

Their emergence, along with Theo Walcott claiming the right wing role, have solidified an attack that struggled for goals at the season’s onset. Arsenal went 211 minutes without scoring to start the season. Over their last four games, the Gunners have scored 13 times.

MORE PREMIER LEAGUE: Man City unload on Guzan, Villa

Villas-Boas is willing to change it up.

Throughout his short coaching career, André Villas-Boas has been a 4-3-3 man. And he probably still is a 4-3-3 man, even though he came out in a surprise 4-4-2 today. Adebayor and Defoe started up top, with Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale pushed back into traditional wide midfield roles.

With Adebayor suspended for next week’s match versus West Ham United, we’ll likely see a return to the 4-3-3; however, going forward, the new formation could remain an option, especially with Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson failing to make an impact at their new club.

Those two attacking midfielders are the biggest losers in a possible formation switch, but it’s a loss they’ve brought upon themselves. Neither Dempsey nor Sigurdsson have done enough to keep one of the forwards on the bench. Against Manchester City, Adebayor showed what he can bring to the team, and Defoe is contributing too much, too often to be relegated to the bench.

Villas-Boas is putting his best players out there and finding a system that suits them. Right now, neither Dempsey nor Sigurdsson are among them.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Arsenal had five different goal scorers: Per Mertesacker (which first for Arsenal), Podolski, Giroud, Cazorla, Walcott.
  • Thomas Vermaelen got another start at left back ahead of André Santos, who came on late for Podolski. There’s no reason not to persist with playing the center half out of position until Kieran Gibbs returns.
  • Hugo Lloris was back in goal for Tottenham. We talked about that and Dempsey’s benching here.
  • Despite playing on a shorthanded team, Gareth Bale still terrorized Arsenal’s defense, the Wales international eventually scoring Tottenham’s second goal.
  • As you’d expect when Arsenal’s up a man, they dominated possession, posting a 66 percent Opta number.

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.