This Saturday’s meeting between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur is perhaps the most exciting and important in recent memory. While it’s still relatively early days in the 2017/18 campaign, both teams can make good cases going into the upcoming derby; the same could not be said prior to their clashes in previous seasons.
While they currently sit four points behind their rivals, the Gunners are arguably favourites going into the match. This is due to the location of the fixture more than any tactical or individual advantage – they have been exceptional at home this term.
Arsenal have won all five of their opening league games at the Emirates Stadium – 4-3 against Leicester City, 3-0 against Bournemouth, 2-0 against West Bromwich Albion and Brighton and Hove Albion, and 2-1 against Swansea City.
It’s the first time they’ve managed five successive home wins since 2009/10, and the run comes within an overarching ten-match winning run at their own stadium. Arsène Wenger is aware of the importance of that form, saying: “At home we have been very strong and our home strengths will certainly be vital to decide where we finish at the end of the season.”
For his side to stretch that run to 11 consecutive home wins, however, they must overcome a Tottenham side who appear to have overtaken them in the north London footballing hierarchy in the past three years. This change in situation is largely down to the tactical and psychological prowess of manager Mauricio Pochettino.
The Argentine took charge at Spurs in 2014. Since then, the club have gone from strength to strength, with constant improvement in their league position. Last term, they finished above Arsenal for the first time in over two decades. And, in six league derbies, Pochettino has yet to lose, winning two and drawing four.
Despite his exceptional record in the match, he is determined not to underestimate the task at hand, saying: “Arsenal is a great team, and for me there is not a favourite in this type of game. In the last 22, 23 years we have only finished above Arsenal one time…We must respect them.”
The respect is mutual. Six Premier League meetings without a win is Arsenal’s longest winless run in the north London derby, and Wenger wants that to end. “I think that Tottenham is a good side,” he admitted. “But we have the quality to win this game and that’s what we want to show. It’s very important for us…to win…because in the table we have to make some ground up with the top teams.”
Wenger’s belief in his own side’s quality could lead him to take a more aggressive approach than he has done in other big games this season. Against both Chelsea and Manchester City his side were more conservative than usual, conceding the majority of possession in both matches. However, it’s worth noting that both of those games came away from their Emirates fortress.
Tottenham may well allow Arsenal to take the front foot on Saturday, with the aim being to counter-attack the space behind their hosts’ back line. This strategy was deployed to great success against Liverpool, as Pochettino’s men operated a middle press and used the pace of Son Heung-min to exploit gaps in attacking transitions.
However, if Spurs are to continue their run of good form against their rivals, they will likely need Harry Kane to step up once again. The Englishman should start tomorrow despite having missed his country’s recent friendlies against Germany and Brazil through injury, and he is perhaps the only individual capable of defining the match on his own.
On five occasions he has taken to the pitch to face Arsenal in Premier League action. On each of those occasions, he has found the back of the net at least once. Overall, in five league games against the Gunners he has scored an exceptional six goals, including some crucial strikes.
Wenger stated that he is keen to take away Spurs’ best assets, saying: “We have no fear. We are just focused on nullifying their strong points and expressing our strong points.” In order to achieve the first part of that match plan, he must somehow eliminate the threat posed by Kane.
Both Arsenal and Tottenham have mixed things up tactically this season, switching between high pressing and deeper defending. They both also have reason to be confident ahead of this weekend – the former for their home record; the latter for their derby record. Considering the quality and confidence on show, the two teams’ latest meeting should more than live up to expectations.