North London derby day rolls around again at the ideal opportunity. Separated by just four points with European football about to return to our schedules, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsene Wenger are set to go toe-to-toe for the 12 remaining Premier League matches this season.
It is rather unlikely that both these sides make it into the Champions League spots this term.
Of course, they could go all the way in their respective European competitions to book a place in next season’s group stages instead, but top four was the clear aim at the beginning of this season. At least one of Pochettino and Wenger will likely fail.
This is bigger than this season, though. Derby days always are. It will be a second look at Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and a chance for Spurs to quash the Gunner enthusiasm over their blockbuster transfer window.
Aubameyang could thrive from Spurs’ defensive line. They will always give space to attack behind them, and it requires great pressure in the middle third to pull off. Stopping Mesut Ozil is the key to halting Aubameyang and this Arsenal side.
The German will drift wherever he pleases, and can tear any defence apart given the opportunity. Aubameyang is the likely beneficiary of such Ozil freedom, the former Dortmund man is 5/1 to open the scoring.
We cannot take too much from Arsenal’s decimation of Everton last weekend. Sam Allardyce’s side were awful from the off, and – as good as the attacking play was – it would be foolish to expect any similarities in Spurs’ defensive display.
Wenger may well have to leave out one of the four from that match in an attempt to bolster the midfield. Tottenham were once regarded as the underdogs in this fixture but times have changed; Spurs will be confident of winning this one.
Spurs’ astonishingly dramatic draw at Anfield last time out might be of more relevance. The way Liverpool pressed – as we are now accustomed to – hounded the Lilywhites during the first 45 minutes. Unable to ever have time to pick a pass or get the ball into the feet of Christian Eriksen, Spurs’ creativity was nullified.
The second half, however, showed just how good this Tottenham team are. The return of Erik Lamela gives them options off the bench, and we could well see Lucas Moura make his debut at Wembley this weekend.
Moura is 7/1 to score the last goal. I’m sure that could tempt a few Spurs fans hoping for a dream debut off the bench.
This match is all about the middle third. The attacking stars on each side are put under pressure prior to the game, but stopping the supply for Eriksen and Ozil is where this will be won.
They are amongst the best creators in the league (ranking sixth and first on key passes per match respectively) and without them getting space to orchestrate, their play can quickly look limited.
Arsenal could again be bemoaning their lack of a defensive midfielder on Saturday afternoon. Their best chance will be to replicate Liverpool’s press, but I am sceptical they can make it work half as effectively as Jurgen Klopp’s side. Not to mention how it makes teams fatigue, as we saw in the second half.
I think this might be another case of two steps forwards, two steps backwards for Arsenal.
TIP: Tottenham to win 2-1 @ 15/2
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*