Arsenal host bitter rivals Tottenham for a crucial North London derby on Saturday lunchtime and are in desperate need of a morale-boosting win. Defeat at the hands of Man City last time out left the Gunners 12 points off the top of the table and winning the league looks to be a pipe dream. Once more they look like having to settle for a scrap for fourth place and the bookmakers have them as outsiders in that race. Spurs have been on an upward curve for years now and finished comfortably ahead of Arsenal last season – the first time St Totteringham’s Day was not celebrated since the mid-1990s. Gooners must be sickened by the sight of Spurs sitting three places above them in the table once more, and nothing would lift the grim mood at The Emirates like taking three points from Mauricio Pocchetino’s men.
Arsenal go into the game as narrow favourites and that is solely down to having home advantage. Check out Intertops when wagering on game and you will see that the betting is exceptionally close. Tottenham have the league’s second best away record, having won four and lost one of their five games on the road this season. That defeat came in their last away game, when they lost 1-0 to Man Utd. Jose Mourinho laid down a blueprint for how to beat Tottenham, but Arsene Wenger is unlikely to follow it as he never really tailors his approach to specific opposition, preferring instead to send out his players in tried and tested fashion and hope for the best.
Since that Man Utd defeat, Spurs have spanked European champions Real Madrid and beaten Crystal Palace to move up to third in the Premiership table, so they will be full of confidence going into this game. Star striker Harry Kane is back and that makes grim reading for Arsenal fans, as the England forward loves playing in North London derbies and has a great goal scoring record against the Gunners.
However, Arsenal’s home form has been perfect this season. Their away performances have let them down, but at the Emirates they have won five out of five and scored 13 times in the process. That should buoy them for this massive game. There are key battles that will see this game won or lost for Arsenal. The most important will be the efforts to contain Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. Arsenal let Sergio Aguero and co run riot against them at the Etihad and they will need to show a lot more organisation and discipline against Tottenham if they are to get a result. Fans will have to hope Francis Coquelin does not start in defence again as that was a disaster.
Tottenham have an extremely strong defence and Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette will have to use every ounce of their guile and creativity to penetrate it and create chances. Again, fans will have to hope all three start rather than Wenger giving the ineffectual Alex Iwobi the nod. Lacazette is Arsenal’s £52 million record signing and deserves the chance to start up top in the big games, with Sanchez instructed to wreak havoc from wide areas. The Chilean was poor once again in the City game and is not doing a great job of putting himself in the shop window, so if he plays he will need to buck his ideas up if he still wants to earn a move to high-flying Man City.
But the biggest challenge for Arsenal will be gaining a foothold in the middle of the park. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey have failed to form an effective central midfield partnership thus far this season and it is a worry that neither is particularly disciplined. Neither is inclined to sit back and provide a screen for the defence, and neither can tackle, so Arsenal are often outfought and overrun in midfield. The likes of Mousa Dembele, Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama are big, strong, tactically astute and good on the ball, so Ramsey and Xhaka will have to find another gear if they hope to win the midfield battle on Saturday. We can but hope.