It only took us three extra months, but a match we all circle on our calendars has finally arrived - The North London Derby. This season’s second leg carries with it the usual weight of pride and bragging rights, but also the weight of potential European spot, as Arsenal and Spurs are in the middle of a congested field, looking for the chance to distance themselves from the rest of the pack. It's a tale as old as time - well, at least as old as the last few seasons.
The 2019/20 iterations of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur are two sides that started the season on a similar paths but have ended up in two seemingly different places. Both teams started the season with managers that would eventually be canned mid-season. Mauricio Pochettino gave way to Jose Mourinho while Unai Emery was mercifully replaced by Mikel Arteta. Both teams have severely underperformed relative to their total talent. Just one point separates them in the table. Despite their similarities on paper, there is a proverbial ocean between them in terms of tactical identity since play resumed in June.
While the beginning of Project Restart was rough for the Gunners, they showed immense resilience after back-to-back losses, bouncing back to win four of their five matches since and showing why Mikel Arteta is poised to be a top manager. His tactical decision to line the Gunners up in a 3-4-3 has rendered solid success, with victories against Sheffield United and Wolverhampton testaments to his ability to successfully respond to other teams’ tactics. The lone blemish since the string of victories has been the recent draw against Leicester, but Arsenal looked dominant for large stretches of that match and were unlucky to not capitalize on several gilt-edged chances in the first half.
Tottenham, on the other hand, are a team who look out to sea at the moment. After starting back up with a hard-fought draw against Manchester United and a victory over West Ham, Spurs’ form has been on a decline. A 3-1 thrashing by Sheffield United was followed by a fortunate 1-0 against Everton that featured a highly-publicized row between Hugo Lloris and Heung Min Son at halftime. Most recently, a limp 0-0 draw at Bournemouth that saw the Spurs register zero shots on goal has had many questioning what the future looks like for Spurs and Mourinho.
Regardless of everything to this point, let us not forget the one major rule about rivalries - form and momentum can be all but thrown out of the window when Arsenal and Spurs meet. Plenty of pundits have pegged Arsenal to win this match based on each club’s respective forms. But it was just last season that everyone pegged Tottenham to thrash the Gunners ahead of what would become a resounding 4-2 Arsenal victory at the Emirates. If Arsenal aren’t focused, they could very easily find themselves leaving Tottenham Hotspur stadium with a loss.
Thankfully, Arsenal have no new additions to the injury list ahead of the derby. Only Pablo Mari, Calum Chambers, Gabriel Martinelli and Bernd Leno remain out, although recent reports state that Leno could be back in action before the season is over.
The biggest issue for Arsenal is going to be at striker. Eddie Nketiah’s appeal for his red card against Leicester was denied this week, which means that his three-match ban will leave him in the stands for critical matches against Spurs, Liverpool, and Manchester City in the FA Cup. With Alexandre Lacazette left as the sole first team striker, Arteta might have to get creative with his attack. He could choose to line Pierre Emerick Aubameyang centrally to allow starlet Bukayo Saka room on the left, where he has flourished with debutante fullback/wingback Kieran Tierney.
Few other changes are expected. Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos have been a solid midfield pairing, and Lucas Torreira is now fully recovered from his ankle injury. The back three could see Holding replace Kolasinac, but expect Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz to anchor the line. Nicolas Pepe should be fresh after not featuring for two matches due to the birth of his son last week. Cedric Soares could feature on the right, but I expect the veteran Hector Bellerin to maintain his place in such a huge match.
On the Spurs side, Eric Dier was issued a four match ban for his decision to confront a fan in the stands back in March, and Dele Alli is likely out with a hamstring injury. With both of them out, that means that Spurs will need to rely on someone else to wind up the Gunners. Perpetual pests Harry Kane and Heung Min Son will still feature, so expect plenty of drama and at least one penalty.
So this is it. A European spot. Table position. St. Totterinham’s Day. We don’t need to hash out every reason for this match’s importance. We all know what this match means. Now, it’s time for the players to show us that it means something to them too.
WHAT: Arsenal at Tottenham Hotspur
WHERE: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
WHEN: 11:30 AM EST | 8:30 AM PST | 4:30 PM BT
US TV: NBCSN and Universo. Stream here.
For all your international streaming needs, check LiveSoccer.tv. Please do not share or discuss links to illegal streams here.
The Short Fuse has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.