It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, I’m not talking about Christmas. I’m talking about Arsenal against Tottenham, the North London Derby. The Gunners and Spurs are two clubs headed in opposite directions at the moment. Arsenal are mired in the second-longest winless drought in the Premier League and can’t seem to buy a goal, and Tottenham are unbeaten in their last 9 matches (6 wins, 3 draws) and are top of the table. Arsenal are in 14th, their lowest position entering a NLD since 1993.
So the perfect time for a table-turn, right?
I’m actually feeling oddly confident about the NLD. Mikel Arteta has shown that he’s quite adept at gameplanning for the “better” clubs in the Premier League, and Arsenal play better without the majority of the possession. Of course, Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham are also set up to play without the ball, and they excel on the quick counterattack. But it’s difficult to counterattack against a side like Arsenal that don’t get that many numbers forward and don’t get sustained possession in the attacking third.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mohamed Elneny shadow Harry Kane to deny him the ball and shut down his newfound distribution and playmaking abilities. It’ll be similar to what the Gunners have done against Manchester City in trying to limit Kevin De Bruyne. There will also be a great deal of pressure on Hector Bellerin to contain Son Heung-Min. Fortunately, Bellerin seems to have rediscovered his form and his pace. He’ll need every bit of his speed to run with Son.
But shutting down Spurs’ attack is only half of the equation. Arsenal will also need to find a way to put the ball in the back of the net against a defense that has only conceded once in their last five matches and kept clean sheets against Chelsea and Manchester City. Mikel Arteta is still trying different combinations to unlock the attack, most recently deploying Alexandre Lacazette in a deeper role where he played more as a #10 against Rapid Wien.
Arsenal have won 50% of the games where Aubameyang has started without Lacazette and 41% of the games where they have started together.— Orbinho (@Orbinho) December 5, 2020
Samples of 40 & 47 games respectively in the Premier League https://t.co/adl8214RmZ
Personally, I think one of the keys to unlocking the offense is sitting Willian in favor of Reiss Nelson, but Arteta values the Brazilian’s defensive efforts for his structured, defensively-responsible setup.
The Arsenal attack may be bolstered by the return of Thomas Partey, who according to reports, should be available for Sunday’s match. As I recently wrote, Arsenal’s entire setup just “works” better with Partey in the lineup. In a limited number of appearances, he’s showed that he’s the straw the stirs the drink and makes everything tick. David Luiz’s status is up in the air and will, ostensibly, depend on how well the cut on his head from his collision with Raul Jimenez has healed. Nicolas Pepe will serve the second of his three match Premier League suspension. Gabriel Martinelli is still working back from his knee injury, hoping to play for the U23’s before the end of the calendar year.
Harry Kane faces a late fitness test after being held out of Spurs’ Europa League match on Thursday, but signs point to him playing in the NLD. Hugo Lloris also has a bit of a fitness concern, which could force Joe Hart into goal. Toby Alderweireld, Sergio Reguilon, and Carlos Vinicius are all questionable as well. Erik Lamela is out.
The Gunners haven’t won at Tottenham since 2014 and haven’t beaten Spurs since December 2018 (0-2-2). Arsenal have only lost back-to-back Premier League matches to Spurs twice (1993 and 2010) — Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-1 in July. Only one other Arsenal manager in history, Bertie Mee in 1966-67, lost his first two matches against Spurs. The Gunners still have the upper hand head-to-head all-time, 77-59-51.
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