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Arsenal vs Tottenham preview: The battle for North London rages on

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Can the Gunners put distance between them and their cross town rivals?

Arsenal FC v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

We are nearly four weeks into the 2019-2020 Premier League season and already the wheat has begun to separate itself from the chaff. Manchester City and Liverpool, last season’s champions and runners-up, look every bit the same teams that boat-raced the rest of the league last season. It’s their world right now, and the rest of the league are merely living in it.

While last week’s 3-1 loss to Liverpool showed just how far Arsenal still have to go to compete with the best the league has to offer, Arsenal have another chance to show their pedigree and top 4 potential when Tottenham Hotspur travel to the Emirates for the season’s first North London Derby.

Last year’s affair at the Emirates was one to remember, as Arsenal thrashed Spurs 4-2 on the back of a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang brace. There were plenty of highlights from the match - Auba’s curling strike from the edge of the 18, Laca’s game-winning deflected effort while falling - but the most enjoyable came late on when Lucas Torreira erased Eric Dier from the mortal realm before lashing the ball into the back of the net for the final score of the match and his first in an Arsenal jersey.

Certainly a day to remember, but that victory is all but a fuzzy memory at this point. With a new season underway and new faces on both sides, will Arsenal be able to recapture the magic that had fans buzzing for days afterward?

THE OPPONENT

The new season for Tottenham has been defined by highs and lows for the Lilywhites. To their credit, Spurs’ had a very successful transfer window which saw them bring in some elite players in the midfield in Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso while also prying the promising young Ryan Sessegnon away from Fulham.

Despite the improvements, Mauricio Pochettino’s squad has continued a puzzling run of performances in the league that began in the spring. After winning their home opener against Aston Villa, they drew Manchester City (with a little help from VAR) and then lost at home to Newcastle (with a little indifference from VAR). Their four points has them three behind Arsenal and sitting 7th in the (albeit very early) table.

Following the spring’s unpredictable trend, Spurs’ form in the league this calendar year has been surprisingly poor. “Surely it can’t be that bad, can it?” you might be asking yourself. “Didn’t they just play in the Champions League final?” Yes. Yes they did. And yet? Well, look for yourself:

Not great, Bob.

Regardless, you can all but assure that all of that will be thrown out of the window when Spurs take the short trip to the Emirates. Arsenal have a very real possibility of distancing themselves from the rest of the other teams chasing top 4 spots, and a victory on Sunday would put them 5 points clear of their rivals and in control of third place. A draw or a loss would further stoke the flames of discontent that had been only recently somewhat pacified.

THE GUNNERS

Last week’s loss may have bruised Arsenal’s ego, but the Gunners survived the match physically intact. Outside of long-term absentees Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin, Dinos Mavropanos and new signing Kieran Tierney, Arsenal are enjoying a fortunate spate of good health. This, as I’ve been told, is a good thing.

How Emery will lineup the Gunners is still a bit of a riddle. He was rightfully criticized for deploying a diamond in the midfield against Liverpool and making adjustments far too late. Last season’s NLD, though, was an excellent example of tactical adjustment from Arsenal’s Spanish manager. However, the Gunners no longer have Aaron Ramsey in the midfield, whose performance in both legs of the NLD last year proved pivotal.

The midfield will be a point of interest for many, and could potentially present some selection issues for Unai Emery. The rise of Dani Ceballos, the evolution of Matteo Guendouzi, and the breakthrough of Joe Willock are colliding with the known entities of Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, and Mesut Ozil. Emery will need to find the right balance to counter the high-paced attack of Tottenham. Does he lean on the rising stars or stick with the seasoned vets? That is certainly the question.

Emery hinted earlier this week that he may start the attacking trio of Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, and Nicolas Pepe for the first time this season. As tantalizing as that may sound, Pepe is still adapting to the Premier League, although his moments of brilliance against Liverpool lead many to believe that he is poised to make the kind of difference that made him one of Europe’s most sought-after young wingers.

Defensively, Arsenal are expected to roll out a similar lineup to the one that faced Liverpool. Awful mistakes aside, David Luiz is far more seasoned than Callum Chambers and therefore better suited for a match of this caliber.

Saturday unfortunately saw the departure of veteran defender Nacho Monreal for Real Sociedad. This now leaves Arsenal with Sead Kolasinac as the lone healthy first team left back. So, that’s fun

LINEUP & PREDICTION:

Going off of Emery’s recent trends, the presumed starting XI will be:
Leno

AMN, Luiz, Sokratis, Kolasinac

Ceballos, Guendouzi, Torreira

Pepe, Laca, Auba

I, like many others, am hopeful that the Gunners will capitalize on a promising start and the wave of momentum that accompanied their early season success. If there was ever a time to catch a Spurs team in the midst of their own identity crisis, it is now. 3-1 to the Arsenal.

WHAT: Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur

WHEN: Sunday, August 31st, 4:30pm BST/11:30am EST/8:30am PST

WHERE: The Emirates Stadium, London

HOW TO WATCH: NBCSN. Watch here.

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