Kick-Off – 1600hrs.
It is that time again.
For rivalries to once more bubble beyond banter and surface into a more heinous incarnation. Past matches which once created scars now swell and seem more relevant than ever.
With derby matches though, form and previous matches are on the peripheral in terms of attempting to decipher who will take the spoils.
Today’s game at The Emirates ( which I will be fortunate enough to be present at for the princely sum of £95 ) sees Arsenal vying for top spot with Manchester City – only goal difference separated them before the weekends matches kicked off – and their lilywhite neighbours five points worse off, in fifth position. Even though form is a variable of which normally has no bearing, both teams can boast of enviable results thus far – The Gunners have won the last five games and Spurs haven’t lost since the opening day reverse to Manchester United.
Arsene Wenger’s men however, are fresh from a Champions League humbling at the hands of German titans Bayern Munich. The 5-1 hammering punished any mistake Arsenal made – and defensively, they made plenty. One ray of light for Gooners to latch onto from this horrid memory would be the chances they created. If not for profligacy, Arsenal could have walked away from the Allianz Arena with three or four goals. The problem is that Bayern could have had another three or four themselves.
Mauricio Pochettino saw his side earn a win in the Europa League which furthered their belief that this season could finally be one that sees them achieve their potential. Add to this the fact that star striker Harry Kane is now back on the goal trail and you have a potent threat to Arsenal’s twenty year run of dominance in the Premier League.
A factor in this game that will have some sway is injuries. Tottenham have all their game changers at their disposal, with Erik Lamela, Kane, Eriksen and centre-back combination Alderweireld and Vertonghen fit and raring to go. Defensive midfielder Eric Dier has been called up to the latest England squad and will be brimming with confidence, but perhaps his biggest test is if he can quell what amounts to an evolving threat.
Mesut Ozil is showing spectators what made Cristiano Ronaldo so melancholy at his departure from the Bernabeu. Recent games has seen him top most stat tables in terms of miles covered, chances created and of course, assists. If Ozil is the flint which creates the spark, then Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud are the explosive gunpowder. Giroud in particular is enjoying a fruitful patch and of his six league goals, three have been laid on a platter by Mesut Ozil.
It isn’t all rosy though, and Arsene Wenger is fully aware. He commented on Arsenal’s sick list in the run up to this fixture and is without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey. A vital cog in the shape of Laurent Koscielny is expected to shrug off a hip complaint which saw him avoid the horrors of Munich and Gooners everywhere will be breathing a huge sigh of relief that the talismanic Frenchman is back alongside Per Mertesacker.
Tottenham have many incentives to win, but their dire record at the home of Arsenal must be chief among them. Only one win since 1993 is a sure sign that a mental block exists, and Pochettino will be well aware that the open and vulnerable Arsenal that was swept aside on Wednesday will not be the same side which line up today at 4pm.
The Gunners have scored thirty nine times in the last sixteen home games versus their North London nemesis. They have scored sixteen goals and conceded only three in their last five games. Arsene Wenger is the longest serving manager in the Premier League and if anyone is aware of the importance of this game and the necessity for Gooners to send the spurs fans home without cheer, it is the suave Arsenal boss.
So, once again, both teams lock horns and both sets of fans will expect glory and settle for nothing less, even of one team has been dwelling in the others shadow for quite some time. Surely though, this would be ample motivation to send a lesson that they will no longer be happy to reside underneath their rivals?
No matter who has been enjoying the purple patch, or who has the most prolific players, the North London Derby does provide one certainty – fireworks.
A red card, a smattering of contentious decisions and a trait for goals. This game is not to be missed. Dependent on the result though, the replay may be X-Rated.