Ahead of the 194th meeting between Arsenal and Tottenham in the Premier League, we take a look at what’s set to be the most fascinating North London Derby in recent years.
The Season So Far
Both teams have near identical records going into Sunday, sitting on thirteen points each, though Tottenham edge in front on goal difference. Only 2-2 draws blemish their otherwise winning records, starting the season with that result at Brentford while Arsenal stumbled to one at home to Fulham.
Due to a disappointing eighth-placed finish last season, Spurs have the advantage of a whole week of recuperation between last week’s latest late victories against Sheffield United. Though Arsenal will have less time to prepare, they will carry the momentum of an emphatic 4-0 win over PSV Eindhoven in their return to the Champions League on Wednesday.
Ange’s AudacityEmbed from Getty Images
It will be a particularly intriguing affair for Ange Postecoglou’s side. The Australian has transformed Spurs in a much quicker time than was expected, with a number of players excelling in his gung-ho style of play. James Maddison thrives on being the main creative force, Yves Bissouma has found his perfect role as the play-breaking number six and Pedro Porro and Destiny Udogie have flourished as flying full-backs that also invert into the midfield when in possession or transitioning.
However, Tottenham will have to deal with something they haven’t yet encountered: a lack of possession. Being the home team with a similar love of possession-based play, Arsenal will likely dictate the majority of proceedings, but anyone who knows Ange Postecoglou will know that he won’t shy away at the Emirates.
While at Celtic he never swayed from those principles. In the Champions League last year Celtic racked up over ten shots in every game in a group that included RB Leipzig and Real Madrid. Postecoglou is also no stranger to big rivalries, having won 55% of his Old Firm matchups in Scotland. He certainly sticks to his mantra of ‘We never stop’ and Spurs fans should expect no different against their bitter rivals.
Arsenal’s ControlEmbed from Getty Images
To combat Postecoglou’s relentless approach, Arteta will hone in on Arsenal’s control of the game. Arteta has always been big on possession play and pressing when the Gunners lose the ball, but also being direct in attack. However, when out of possession there has been a tendency to be caught out on the breakthrough loose defending.
Arsenal’s slip-ups in last season’s title race were characterised by losing control of games in key areas. To prevent such mistakes happening this time round Arteta has opted to pin the opposition back further, utilising the likes of Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah and Martin Odegaard to suffocate spaces for the opposition to play within and get the ball back as soon as possible.
The crucial battles in midfield and both sets of full-back’s desire to invert means the central areas of the pitch will be congested, so each team getting their respective wingers on the ball will be paramount.
Arsenal’s directness could work very well against a Spurs defence that has, at times, been caught out from low crosses and passes getting in behind their high line. Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Leandro Trossard could be poised to exploit this effectively, with Nketiah providing a fox-in-the-box presence and runners from midfield, such as Odegaard and Kai Havertz, also providing options for them to offload.
Meanwhile, Tottenham wingers Son Heung-Min and Dejan Kulusevski are instructed to stretch the play as much as possible as wide wingers. Though Son is still adjusting to this more traditional role, Kulusevski is very well suited to the role of a creative wideman. The pair could potentially ideal to make the most of Arsenal’s inverted full-backs, especially when Spurs win the ball back and seek to transition quickly.Embed from Getty Images
Brandon’s Key Players
Arsenal: Leandro TrossardEmbed from Getty Images
Due to Gabriel Martinelli being a doubt and his recent goal-scoring form, Trossard looks set for his first North London Derby start. Saka will rightly be a target for Spurs defenders, but Trossard’s dribbling, pace and ability to beat defenders should not be underestimated. His awareness in the final third is extremely impressive, combining a sharp eye for goal with the composure to pick out teammates as he did so well against PSV.
Despite being one of the more undervalued players in Arsenal’s… arsenal, the Belgian is certainly someone who can light up a game and whom Tottenham should be wary of.
Tottenham: RicharlisonEmbed from Getty Images
After an explosive, game-winning appearance off the bench against Sheffield United, the Brazil frontman should likely be spearheading the Spurs attack. Postecoglou’s system is suited to have a reliable number 9 up top and before last week there were questions over Richarlison’s ability to be that player, particularly after Son Heung-Min’s dazzling display in the same role away at Burnley.
Since returning from the international break, in which he shared that he was seeking “psychological help”, Richarlison proved his mental fortitude in the best way possible footballing-wise with a goal and an assist in the turnaround. His efforts in snatching victory from the jaws of defeat were widely lauded, particularly by Captain Son, and should be enough to earn a start in the derby.
Making the most of chances will be crucial for him this time out, but for a player who often relishes making himself a nuisance to the opposition, his tenacity and hard-working nature fit this derby very well.
Prediction (or Non-Prediction)
As a Tottenham fan myself, I am, to quote a Football Manager, not in the business of making predictions. The manager’s style of play and the intensity of the rivalry make for an incredibly interesting encounter.
Though it will certainly be bold to go toe-to-toe with an in-form Arsenal at the Emirates, it’s the kind of guts that Tottenham have lacked when travelling to the Gunners, even in Pochettino’s heyday.
On the other hand, Arsenal should be emboldened by the fact that Spurs have only won twice as the away team in this fixture since 1993. And I’m sure there’s nothing that Arteta’s men would want more than to cast some gloom over the newly brightened Lilywhite sky.
From a neutral perspective, it will be a great watch. From my perspective, I’ll just try and enjoy what I can as I watch through my fingers.