The games do not come much bigger as the nation returns to club football following the international break. Tottenham travel to face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday as the Premier League returns in full force. There is no time for an easier game for the two sides to ease themselves back into club duty, instead, they must lock horns with their fiercest rivals in one of the most hotly anticipated north London derbies for years.
With both sides chasing three points for very different reasons, how should the two outfits set up, and who will come out on top?
The Gunners currently find themselves in sixth-place in the league with 19 points from 11 games. A 3-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester City was a disappointing loss as it means that their title aspirations are in tatters. While it is in no way an embarrassment to lose to Pep Guardiola’s men, the game was billed as a must-win, and Arsenal failed in their objective to claw themselves back into the title race.
In conjunction with this, Chelsea won and moved three points ahead of the Gunners, while Liverpool beat West Ham to move above Arsenal, seeing the London side slip into sixth, three points shy of fourth-place. A win over their rivals would give them a chance to cut the gap on their opponents, while it would also put them back into the top four mix, which is vital in keeping the pressure off the side. Their game against Tottenham is a must win then.
What must Arsenal do to win?
This is a question that the fans have been asking themselves for years. The Gunners will so often embark upon a good run that sees them pick up points as they look like they will challenge at the top again. However, they are inevitably beaten by a better and more battle-hardened top six team, with the Gunners once again exposed as a side that cannot always compete in the biggest games.
Against Tottenham, their first objective must be to stifle their opponent’s most prolific player: Harry Kane. The English striker is outstanding and he has been the driving force behind Tottenham going from a top-six side, to potential title winners. Kane his netted 13 goals this season and he is once again proving that he is right at the top when it comes to strikers in the league, and the world for that matter.
To stop Tottenham then, Arsenal must nullify Kane, which is far easier said than done. Far better defences have been beaten by the striker, with goals coming naturally in his last few seasons. However, perhaps the best way to stop the supply to Kane is to get under the skin of Dele Alli.
The English-midfielder is vital to the way that Spurs play with his all-action style giving them a player that is both comfortable playing an eye of the needle ball as he is making a bustling run through the heart of a defence. However, he has at times found it diffiuclt to have a positive influence in a game when he misplaces his first few passes or his touch lets him down. Therefore, Arsenal must look to put as much pressure on him as possible, as it could almost entirely disrupt his and Tottenham’s game.
Arsene Wenger should also be looking to dominate the possession. Most teams will go to the Emirates Stadium and look to counter-attack, with Tottenham likely to be no different. Arsenal must utilise this time on the ball to starve their opponents of possession, which will, in turn, apply a huge amount of pressure, forcing uncharacteristic mistakes.
What is most important for Arsenal is the fact that Tottenham will struggle to score without the ball. Barring a horrific own-goal won through huge off the ball pressure from Spurs, Arsenal will be safe with their own feet on the ball as it keeps Tottenham’s influential players out of the game.
Defensively, Arsenal should look to utilise a five-man defence, with their three centre-halves making them more robust at the back. Importantly, Sead Kolasinac and Hector Bellerin provide a pace and attacking flair on the flanks that give the Gunners a different point of attack, which they can exploit most when Olivier Giroud takes to the pitch. The wing-backs are also able to tuck in when they are under pressure, turning that three into a five at the back, meaning space in and around the box is at a premium.
Finally, Arsene Wenger must start Alexandre Lacazette. The striker came off the bench against Manchester City and gave the league leaders problems. In fact, he scored their goal with a superb drilled-finish, with many questioning why he did not start. If the Frenchman is used from the beginning, it will allow Alexis Sanchez to move back to his position out-wide, where he is at his best. Wenger’s experiment against City last week failed, and he cannot afford to try and fail with the same plan again.
For Tottenham, it has been a far better season. 23 points from their 11 games sees them sitting in third place in the league. While they are eight points behind Manchester City, they know that they can still take six points from the league leaders, while they will be confident that Pep Guardiola’s men will drop points in other matches too.
Spurs are currently four points clear of their next opponents and they will not be willing to allow the Gunners back into the top four race, with a win on Saturday putting a huge dent in Wenger’s ambitions. A victory for Tottenham sees the London side further their title ambitions, with their focus very much on taking three points from Arsenal as they look to hunt City down.
What must Tottenham do to win?
Confidence will be a key element for Tottenham on Saturday as Mauricio Pochettino’s men go from a great team to a world-class one when they are full of belief. Their 3-1 dismantling of Real Madrid in the Champions League will have shown them that they can beat anyone, while the fans will feel that Arsenal are small fry considering they took the scalp of the reigning European champions.
It will surely be a case of business as usual for Spurs then. While Arsenal will likely see more of the ball as they are at home, Pochettino will know that his own players are adept at keeping possession, moving the ball around the back when needs be, and playing incisive passes when an opening presents itself. Even though Arsenal are touted as one of the better passing sides in the league, Spurs will feel no fear.
The presence of Harry Kane is probably their biggest asset, with the striker in incredible form yet again. Whether Kane is on the end of a cross, a long pass, with his back to goal or faced by a number of defenders, few would bet against him scoring somehow, and that is not even mentioning his ability when one-on-one.
Tottenham need to focus on getting Kane into the game as much as possible, as Arsenal will look isolate him between the lines of their defenders and midfielders. However, what makes Kane such a good striker is the fact that, unlike Romelu Lukaku for example, the forward is more than willing to drop in and link up the play, as he is very good with the ball at his feet, unlike the Manchester United striker.
Defensively, Pochettino is very fortunate to have a player like Eric Dier. With most other teams, to have Toby Alderweireld ruled out for the long-term, it would dent their ability to defend, while they would also be losing a real on the pitch leader. However, Dier is adept at playing as a centre-midfielder, defensive-midfielder and centre-back, while he also captained England against Brazil this week, meaning he is almost the perfect replacement for the injured Belgian.
Of course, the likes of Lacazette and Sanchez will look to benefit from any unrest in the defence, but Dier does not seem like a player that is easily panicked, instead providing a calming influence that Arsenal have lacked at the back for some years.
The game itself could be one that sees a lot of fireworks and excitement. Both sides need to win for different reasons, and neither will want to give their biggest rival any cause for celebration. Wenger’s job may yet hang on a result like this with the pressure rising on the Frenchman, while Tottenham cannot afford for City to increase their lead.
Ultimately, this will likely come down to whether or not Arsenal can stop the goal scoring behemoth that is Harry Kane, and as said earlier, better defences have tried and failed to stop him. Will Arsenal be the latest team to go on that list?