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Arsenal v Tottenham preview: Emery’s first North London Derby

Can Emery and the Gunners paint the town red in the season’s first derby?

Thierry Henry of Arsenal
Like we weren’t going to lead with this photo.

It’s here folks. That moment that comes twice a season in the league for Arsenal that instills equal parts excitement and apprehension in the fanbase. This is the week where we shed all semblance of decency and courtesy toward our competition as we channel our vitriol and fury at the club’s architecturally incompetent little brother traditional cross-town rival, Tottenham.

That’s right. It’s the North London Derby.

This season will mark the first time in over 20 years that Arsenal will be facing their bitter rivals Tottenham Hostpur without Arsene Wenger patrolling the touchline in his trademark puffy jacket. In his first season as Arsenal’s manager, Unai Emery has done an admirable job of keeping the Gunners competitive, as Arsenal (5th place, 27 points) sit a mere three points behind Tottenham (3rd place, 30 points), who are only a mere three months behind schedule with their new White Hart Lane stadium.

Arsenal are off to a surprisingly solid start this season with a 8-3-2 record. After last season’s horror show, expectations entering the season were low. However, Emery has got Arsenal to within a point of the top four, and has already led Arsenal to as many away wins as they accumulated all of last season.

Perhaps most noteworthy is Arsenal’s current 18 match unbeaten run across all competitions. Despite the statistics saying that Arsenal should not be this far up the table, combined with their unnerving inability to take a lead into halftime, the Gunners have been utilizing second half surges to ensure that they have not left a match without a point since losing their first two matches to begin the season.

Speaking of the first two matches, Arsenal have not fared all that well this season against traditional top six clubs so far, with a record of 0-1-2. However, it’s worth noting that those two losses not only came at the beginning of the season, but they also came against reigning champions Manchester City and current 4th place club Chelsea, who had not lost all season until last weekend, when they were battered 3-1 by *checks notes*...Tottenham. Well then.

So far, the Spurs have had a great season by their standard. With 10-0-3 record through 13 matches, they are five points behind City and three points behind Liverpool. Having played four against the top six, they have split the difference with two convincing wins (Chelsea and Manchester United) and two losses (City and Liverpool). Nearly halfway though the campaign, manager Mauricio Pochettino has got the Spurs playing their usual brand of fast-paced, counter-attacking, press-heavy football that has led to some of the most productive seasons the club has enjoyed, which has allowed them to accumulate *checking notes again* no meaningful silverware to speak of.

Spurs are coming off an important midweek Champions League victory against Inter Milan that keeps the Spurs alive in their group for the time being, while Arsenal’s youth players were chaperoned by a handful of senior players on a frigid field trip to the Ukraine to dispatch a displaced FC Vorlska side that probably have bigger worries than a Europa League match at the moment.

Despite the benefit of hosting the first leg of the North London Derby, the Gunners will need to bring their best effort to come away with a win. After drawing three of their last four matches, Arsenal must dig deep and play lights out from whistle to whistle if they want to remind their visitors what color North London really is. With a win, not only do Arsenal overtake Spurs on the table by goal differential, but they will be riding a wave of confidence heading into next Wednesday’s match at Manchester United.

Although it’s a little short sighted and premature to call a match being played in the first half of the season a “must-win” affair, this is absolutely a “can’t-lose” match for the Gunners if they want to carry momentum into a second consecutive rivalry match-up next week and continue their impressive unbeaten run.

So, will Lacazette or Aubameyang score their first NLD goals? Will Hugo Lloris be sober enough to play? Will Mike Dean remember to take off his Spurs scarf before the match is underway? It will all be answered this Sunday at the Emirates.

WHO: Arsenal vs Tottenham

WHERE: Emirates Stadium, London, England

WHEN: 9:05am EST/6:05am PST/2:05 GMT

TV: NBC Sports

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