Arsenal vs Spurs Preview
November 30, 2018
Another week, another derby in England’s capital. This time between the two rivalling sides of North London. Currently, Spurs sit in third place, three points above Arsenal, thanks to their best ever start to a Premier League season. In the last fixture between the two, it was Tottenham who emerged victorious in a slender 1-0 victory. Spurs’ squad will probably set up in a very similar way to that match, but it’s a completely different story for Arsenal.
The arrival of Unai Emery has seemingly reinvigorated the Gunners and now they have a chance to leapfrog their arch-rivals into third place. They’ll have to be at their best to come out on top, but this isn’t the side that has rolled over for oppositions in recent years and it may be their best chance to quiet the football revolution taking place over the road in London.
For Spurs, the match could not come at a more perfect time. It’s been a great week for the team in white, ending Chelsea’s long-standing unbeaten run this season and beating Inter Milan in the Champions League midweek fixture. Topping it off with an away win in the North London derby would be the icing on what is a very tasty cake.
Team News: Injuries and Predicted XI
Arsenal go into the match with a number of fitness problems, with Nacho Monreal, Danny Welbeck and youngster Dinos Mavroponos all ruled out with injuries. The good news for the Gunners is that star striker Alexandre Lacazette should be fit in time to start after recovering from a groin problem suffered against Bournemouth. Spurs could see a trio of their star men return for the derby, with Kieran Trippier, Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose all in contention to start, though they will be without midfield duo Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama.
I expect Arsenal to start in a 4-2-3-1 formation, playing Lacazette up front as the lone striker with Aubameyang and Iwobi playing off him either side of the wings. The pace up top needs to be backed up by technical prowess in the middle and, despite Emery dropping him occasionally this season, Mesut Ozil should start as he can dictate the play like no one else in the team. Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira should start together, slotting in front of the defence to provide a stabilising effect in the midfield. Hector Bellerin will probably be the first name in the backline, having been exceptional so far under Emery, with Sead Kolasinac on the other side, operating in a slightly more defensive capacity. Shkodran Mustafi will most likely be called upon to marshal the defence and we might see a start for Rob Holding who has impressed in recent weeks. Despite the experience Petr Cech has with London derbies, Bernd Leno offers more to the system and I think he’ll be chosen ahead of the veteran number one.
Tottenham will probably line up in a similar formation but perhaps operate in a more rigorously structured system. Barring a last-minute injury, there should be no surprises for who’ll lead the line with Golden Boot winner Harry Kane firing on all cylinders so far this season. Behind him, Heung Min Son and Christian Eriksen will be counted upon to provide some width on the flanks and Dele Ali will work in the middle of the two. With both Dembele and Wanyama out, Eric Dier will be called upon yet again to protect the backline and Mousa Sissoko may be given a start alongside him to give the midfield a little bit of energy. I’m backing Rose, Trippier and Vertonghen to make returns to the starting line-up, with Alderweireld joining them. In goal, there’s only one option; captain Hugo Lloris.
Stability or Innovation? Different Needs for Different Teams
Arsenal were the dominant side in the region for years, but there has been a power shift in recent times, albeit without yielding any silverware for Spurs. This begs a difficult question for fans of both sides; does success mean different things for each?
Look at Arsenal. For years there was a popular campaign among the fans to oust their long-serving manager due to perceived stagnation. The last decade of Wenger’s career, the period most Arsenal fans call a failure, saw him qualify for the Champions League in every season barring the last two, advanced past the knockout stage for every European competition he was involved in and also winning the FA Cup three times. He did this with a strict budget that was limited by a move to a new stadium, whilst also navigating the ever-changing landscape of football and the growing corporate influence on the game. In short, Wenger was a manager who managed to sustain a high-level, if not, the top level of success, despite the limitations put in front of him and created stability at Arsenal between the squad’s strength and the club’s finances. Sound familiar?
Now, Pochettino’s Tottenham reign has obviously lasted nowhere near Wenger’s time at Arsenal, but there are already some striking similarities. He too prefers to stick to within his budget, choosing to develop the talent already at the club or, when they do sign players, buying for potential rather than instant success. Tottenham’s move to their new stadium has played a big part in the club becoming the first in Premier League history to make no signings in the summer transfer window. It’s all very reminiscent of the Wenger years that caused Gunners fans so much misery.
The difference is that Poch still has time. For Wenger, that stagnant period came after the most successful teams in the club’s history. After experiencing such highs, the fans were expecting to replicate the continued success of their greatest rivals at the time, Manchester United. Instead, they went on a trophyless run that spanned the best part of a decade. Pochettino has taken Spurs from a team pushing qualification spots to a permanent fixture in the top four. They’re on the cusp of realising the fan’s ambitions and the prospect of silverware is tantalisingly close. Time is a luxury rarely afforded in football though and Pochettino can’t count on Champions League qualification to keep him in the good books for much longer. That might be the definition of success for Spurs currently, but it won’t stay that way for long. Progress must translate into trophies, lest he suffers the same treatment as Wenger.
For Unai Emery, the stakes are a little bit different. It’s his first North London derby and a win will do wonders for his relationship with the fans and his burgeoning reputation in England. However, the work he’s done already this season has won over large parts of the fanbase and even please the harshest of critics. Piers Morgan’s twitter feed is noticeably calmer during matches nowadays. It’s a season of transition for him and most fans seem to have accepted this. Even in matches where they’ve seemed well below par, like last week against Bournemouth, they’ve still managed to grind out results. This is the mark of a top team and it’s a promising sign early on in Emery’s tenure.
Success won’t be determined on whether he wins the league or not, in the same way his tenure so far won’t be judged by a single match, even if it is against their greatest rivals. The only real expectation is that Arsenal play well, that their players exude a bit of passion and that they actually take the game to Spurs. Based on their current form under Emery, they’re capable of doing all the above and much more.
Last week I thought Chelsea would overpower Spurs but I was proven wrong in emphatic fashion. Because of that, you might think it unwise to bet against them again but I think that every single one of those Arsenal players, and the manager, will go into the match with a point to prove. However, I don’t think they’ll win. Spurs have more than enough strength in their squad to match them, but I can’t see them losing either. The attacking sides of both teams has been lethal this year, but they have players behind the frontline now who really add something to the team. For that reason, I’m predicting a pretty tight draw with both teams grabbing a couple of goals each.
Cyrus has been writing about sports and many other topics for major publications over the past five years. Now working in digital marketing, he spends his days arguing over football and dreaming of his beloved Manchester City winning the champions league.