Premier League

North London’s Perpetual Footballing Pendulum Looks to Swing Once Again

North London’s footballing pendulum has perpetually swung in recent seasons. Last season saw Spurs finish above the Gunners, and they will go into this weekend’s grudge match one place above their neighbours. However, the Gunners will be optimistic going into the clash on the back of a successful transfer window and a 5-1 win over Everton at the Emirates.  Both sides will go into Saturday’s match in good spirits, wanting to reassert their bragging rights over their neighbours and renew their claims to North London.

Pochettino will be eyeing all three points

Spurs host Arsenal on Saturday to complete a hat-trick of huge six-pointers in the battle for Champions League football next season.  They will be delighted with how the first two of these matches have gone, convincingly beating Manchester United 2-0 at Wembley and then salvaging a point at Anfield with a last minute penalty from top-scorer, Harry Kane.  If they can secure even a point at the weekend they would be delighted to have come through the three matches unbeaten, but I suspect Mauricio Pochettino will be going for the three points to cap off a great start to 2018.

The Gunners will come into the match in good spirits after their first-half demolition of Everton in last week’s 5-1 victory, though their form, in general, has been less impressive.  In recent weeks they have been defeated by Swansea, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest.  The team will be under the spotlight at Wembley as they must prove that their exploits in the transfer window will be enough to turn around their season and establish themselves in the top four.  The biggest worry for Arsene Wenger will undoubtedly be his defence, as they have gone eight league matches without keeping a clean sheet.  It is no good having a star-studded attack if they are leaking goals at the current rate, especially considering they have conceded more than bottom of the table West Brom thus far.

If the Gunners are to keep Tottenham’s strike force in check, their keeper will have huge job on his hands

They will be making a late decision on whether Petr Cech has recovered from an injury sustained last week, with the alternative being Colombian shot stopper, David Ospina.  The match against Everton saw Wenger switch to a 4-2-3-1 system, so it will be intriguing to see if he retains that against Spurs or whether he opts for a back three.  I fancy him to stick with a back four, with Nacho Monreal preferred to Sead Kolasinać at left-back, as he aims to continue his fine goal-scoring form.  Alex Iwobi was chosen to play as one of the three behind the striker against the Toffees, but I wonder whether Alexandre Lacazette may be given a recall as Arsenal seek to overload the Spurs defence.

The hosts were boosted by the return of Toby Alderweireld from injury in midweek against Newport County, though I would be surprised to see him thrown into such a hotly contested clash as the North London derby . Spurs are likely to line up with a very similar side to that which earned a point at Liverpool in their last league match.  Pochettino opted to rest up against Newport County in the cup replay on Wednesday night, so most of their key men should be fresh when Arsenal visit.  The only dilemma Pochettino will be facing is which combination of full-backs to play, as he may choose a more defensive pairing against Arsenal’s dangerous wingers.  He will need to choose two of Kieran Trippier, Ben Davies and Serge Aurier to attempt to compromise the threat posed by Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang and Lacazette.

The key battles in the match could well take place at the top end of the pitch for each team

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Harry Kane are two of the more deadly strikers in the Premier League, while Özil, Mkhitaryan, Eriksen and Alli are all creative threats who can pick a match-defining pass.  With both sides prioritising attack over defence, we could be in for a high-scoring game at Wembley.

With the title all but wrapped up, the race for the top four becomes ever more important as teams look to secure Champions League football for next season. Spurs will want a repeat of their European exploits this season, while the Gunners will be desperate to ensure they do not miss out in consecutive seasons. More importantly, though, they will both want to assert their dominance in North London. If the hosts win they will go seven points clear of their rivals which, while not being insurmountable, would mean there was a real prospect of finishing above the Gunners twice in two seasons.  If Arsenal win, however, it would be a real statement of intent to show that their transfer dealings have seen the club turn a corner and restore what they see as the natural historic balance in North London.

Saturday’s North London Derby will be an intriguing contest between two of the most entertaining teams in the Premier League, and will further dictate the balance of power in North London. Neither side will abide losing and forfeiting bragging rights – not to mention vital points in the battle for the top four.

Whatever the result is on Saturday, we will have the pleasure of seeing two great attacking teams.  There will be goals, and lots of them.

 

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