At exactly noon on Sunday, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will lock horns once again, in the perpetual battle for superiority in North London. Recent matches between the two sides have reached even higher levels of importance, beyond just local bragging rights, as both teams have shared beady glances at the ultimate prize in English football.
This clash is no different, as Arsenal sit 2nd in the Premier League only by an inferior goal difference to Manchester City, whilst Spurs sit three places and three points behind their arch enemies. Whilst Arsenal have swaggered their way to the summit, Spurs have quietly assumed the position as the only unbeaten side left in the league, and have conceded just five goals in doing so. It is these contrasting features between the two sides that will make for a truly intriguing encounter.
Team news will have a huge impact on the game, as both managers have difficult decisions to make as key players slowly return to full fitness ahead of the match. Arsene Wenger will be waiting on the fitness of both of his left backs, Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal, with the latter most likely to start after recovering from a recent niggle, whilst Gibbs picked up a fresh knock in the Champions League on Tuesday night.
Crucially, Hector Bellerin should return at right back after not being risked midweek, whilst Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla have also recovered from minor knocks. However Cazorla did not train earlier in the week, which could leave him short for the derby, leaving Wenger with a conundrum at the base of his midfield.
Conversely, Tottenham have been hit by the news that key performers Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela are out of the derby, whilst Mousa Dembele is a doubt, and Moussa Sissoko serves the final match of a suspension. However, Mauricio Pochettino did provide some good news, in that star striker Harry Kane is fit enough to make the squad, but unlikely to start the game.
Therefore, Pochettino will have to field a much weakened starting XI, with Eric Dier continuing to deputise at centre-half, whilst youngster Harry Winks may have to step into the midfield if Dembele is ruled out. Victor Janssen is likely to start as Tottenham’s main focal point up front, with Kane to come on off the bench. Spurs attacking hopes lie largely with the creative duo of Christian Erikson and Son Heung-Min, who started the season in lethal form, but have dropped off recently.
However, Wenger must also make some important decisions to his starting XI. If Cazorla doesn’t play, he must choose his midfield pairing wisely. Will he continue with the conservative Coquelin-Elneny partnership, or introduce big summer signing Granit Xhaka into the mix. The Swiss midfielder will provide a better range of passing, allowing Arsenal to be more expressive, but is a ticking time bomb in a disciplinary sense. This may well play on Wenger’s mind as he prepares for a passionate and committed grudge match.
In addition, Olivier Giroud has staked a big claim for the centre forward position, by scoring three goals in his last two matches. But Wenger should revert Alexis Sanchez back to the role, as it has served Arsenal so well recently, with the Frenchman an option from the bench.
Therefore, looking at the potential starting XI’s and both side’s recent form implies a quite simple outcome of this match – An Arsenal win. Spurs haven’t won in six matches and have scored just three times in the run, whilst in the same period Arsenal have recorded five wins from six, scoring 17 goals in the process. But as we all know form counts for nothing in derbies. When the game commences on
Sunday, recent form will be forgotten as motivation and commitment levels take on a greater importance in the deciding of the game.
Looking back at recent North London derbies, honours are staggeringly even. In the last five matches, Arsenal and Tottenham boast one victory each, whilst the other three games ended as draws. Consequently, I predict a tight, low-scoring affair as Tottenham will make up for their poor form and weakened side with a combative performance, aided by a tight defensive unit. Having said that, Arsenal will get chances to score, as they aim to take home the bragging rights in this explosive and crucial North London Derby.