Paul Merson on Spurs: "They play three centre-halves and two holding midfielders and yet they let in two goals in virtually every game. That amazes me." Watch Tottenham vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm on Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm
Saturday 14 January 2023 15:13, UK
Paul Merson says Tottenham's problems are not behind them despite their 4-0 win over Crystal Palace and is amazed by the number of goals Antonio Conte's side are conceding given their defensive set-up.
In their most recent Premier League outing Spurs secured a morale-boosting victory over the Eagles after a poor first-half performance at Selhurst Park and followed it up by beating Portsmouth in the FA Cup third round ahead of this weekend's hotly-anticipated north London derby, live on Sky Sports.
In his latest column, Merson outlines why it would be a mistake to consider Spurs' problems solved after the dismal run of results that preceded the win over Palace, and explains why he feels Arsenal won't be able to hold off Manchester City for long at the top of the Premier League table.
I think Tottenham beating Crystal Palace was a great result for Arsenal because in my opinion it just covered over the cracks.
If Harry Kane played for Crystal Palace, they would have won easily. Tottenham were atrocious in the first half.
If they had lost that game, as it looked like they were going to before half-time, then on Sunday everybody goes: 'Oh, Arsenal are going to wipe the floor with Tottenham.'
That would have increased the pressure on Arsenal but it just doesn't happen in big derby games. These games are never as easy as they might look for either side.
Now, though, Arsenal can get four points out of their next two against Tottenham and Manchester United, and, however they do it, it would be seen as a very good return.
When I watch Tottenham, one of the biggest problems I see is that they have no guile in midfield.
Their best three players are their front three, but they've got nobody to give them the ball.
On top of that, their wing-backs are nowhere near good enough to play in Antonio Conte's system.
If you look at Chelsea, their major successes in recent years have been because they've had very, very good wing-backs.
If you are going to play three at the back, your wing-backs have got to be very good, but Tottenham's aren't, and they just don't get the ball forward enough.
If you look, their defenders touch the ball twice as many times per game as Harry Kane. He's their best player by a million miles, so how does that work?
They play three centre-halves and two holding midfielders and yet they are letting in two goals in virtually every game. That amazes me. It's nigh-on impossible to do that.
We see Newcastle go to Arsenal the other day and, let's be honest, Arsenal could still be playing now and they wouldn't have scored. That's how good Newcastle were defensively.
Tottenham play the same way, so why can't they defend like that?
I could understand it if they were playing three at the back with three footballers in midfield.
You would think, 'OK, I get that. They're a bit loose in midfield, but they are an attacking team. They let in goals, but they score goals too.
But it is some doing to play the way they play, with two holding midfielders as well as three centre-halves, and let in that many goals. I can't explain how hard it is to do what they do.
They shipped at least two goals in 10 games on the trot until the Palace game. I find that extraordinary.
Arsenal have done amazingly but they are a long way off being title contenders, in my opinion.
Just look at that Newcastle game. They couldn't bring anybody on when they needed to change it.
There's nobody on the bench bar Fabio Vieira, who Mikel Arteta paid £34m for and doesn't seem to trust.
Then, two days after that game, Man City are looking like they might draw against Chelsea, but they just bring on Grealish and Mahrez and one crosses it, one scores.
That showed the quality Pep Guardiola has to work with and I just don't see how Arsenal are going to be able to live with Man City over a period where there are 60-odd points up for grabs.
Arsenal would have to take four points off Man City in those two games to have absolutely any chance of winning it.
Otherwise, I just don't see how Arsenal are going to do it.
I think we're going to see a lot more teams do what Newcastle did because Arsenal have earned the right for that. They are a good team.
I go to Stamford Bridge and teams do that every week against Chelsea. It's only Man City who don't.
Now that's going to be the same for Arsenal.