Sunday sees the Premier League’s first north London derby of the season, and it’s time to reflect.
Since March of 2013, Spurs have only won two of their seven meetings with the Gunners – the last fixture resulted in a 2-1 League Cup win for Arsenal in September. Mathieu Flamini was the unlikely hero for Arsène Wenger’s men, and there is an unpredictability about who could lead either side to victory tomorrow.
In midweek the clubs had contrasting results. Arsenal were mauled away from home in Bavaria, leaving their Champions League hopes hanging on a thread, while Moussa Dembele’s excellent strike from range helped Mauricio Pochettino’s men top Group J in the Europa League.
In his presser on Friday, Arsène Wenger said the Tottenham team are “strong defensively”, and have the ability to play at a high pace – in a committed way.
“They’ve done well, had a few draws – but look stable.
“I enjoy [the derby] because I believe that what you want in football is to play games that are important and where there is an excitement in the preparation, games that have meaning for everybody. Football can give special emotions to people and you want to be part of that.”
With Petr Čech one of Arsenal’s best players on an otherwise forgettable evening in Germany, he is only one clean sheet away from equalling David James’ Premier League record of 169 – Wenger hailed the experienced goalkeeper as “one of the greatest” to have ever played in England.
In terms of clean sheets in the league this season, Čech is level with West Brom’s Boaz Myhill and Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart at the top with six thus far this campaign already.
On Friday, Wenger stated that, thankfully, there were no new injuries. Laurent Koscielny (hip) was on the substitutes’ bench on Wednesday as a precautionary measure, but Wenger said he should be available to play on Sunday.
Hector Bellerín will miss his first Premier League game since the opening weekend defeat against West Ham as a result of his groin strain, but should return after the international break. Mikel Arteta and David Ospina have both resumed full training with the first-team squad as they attempt to regain match fitness, whilst there are six other absentees.
Jack Wilshere (calf), Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck (both knee) will not feature until the beginning of 2016 as a result of their long-term injuries.
Theo Walcott (calf), Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (both hamstring) are expected to return following the international break in two/three weeks’ time.
Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Čech; Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Cazorla; Campbell, Özil, Alexis; Giroud.
Tottenham will go into the derby with muted optimism, considering they are on a 10-game unbeaten run in the League and have shut out the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City in recent weeks.
Their 3-1 win over Aston Villa was an epitome of their displays this season: getting the job done effectively, even when they’re not playing particularly well.
To beat Arsenal, they’ll need certainly need to take their opportunities. Although Harry Kane has scored five in his last three fixtures (all competitions), he’d only scored one in his previous thirteen matches this season.
Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Walker, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Rose; Dier, Alli; Dembele, Eriksen, Dembele, Lamela; Kane.
If you disregard the faltering start to the Champions League group stages this term, you’d recognise the fact that this is probably Arsenal’s best chance of securing Premier League silverware in a long time.
Chelsea are struggling, Manchester United and Liverpool are still in transition, whilst Manchester City are remain unpredictable defensively. Currently level on points with City, Arsenal need to win this match to keep pace with the league leaders, not just for bragging rights.
They come up against a Spurs side that has failed to really assert themselves as a force in Europe over the years. Though they’ve got Champions League aspirations, they must maintain consistency to warrant a proper challenge.
It’s time to throw down a gauntlet, and both sides must see Sunday as a perfect chance to do just that.