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Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur: Q & A with Cartilage Free Captain

We check in with our friends across North London. Well, across the internet, but still.

Tottenham Hotspur Training Session Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Ahead of the North London Derby, I chatted with Sean Cahill, Deputy Manager over at Cartilage Free Captain (@seancahill24) to get the inside scoop on how things are going on the lilywhite side of North London. He thinks Tottenham are in a pretty good spot right now, both on the pitch and off. North London Derbies are more fun when both sides are playing well and near the top of the table! Thanks to Sean for taking the time!

Here are my answers to his questions over on Carty Free! If y’all stop by there (and for any of the CFC readers who stop by here), please behave in the comments. Friendly reminder: we share a no questions asked reciprocal ban policy on the sites.

TSF: Checking in on the Antonio Conte-meter. How are things these days with your temperamental manager? Is he happy at Spurs? Does he want out? Does anybody really know?

CFC: So far it’s pretty great on the Conte front. There was always the concern that Conte is a true mercenary when it comes to being a manager, but he sounds happy at Tottenham and has fully bought into things. In regard to his status, we learned recently that the club has an option to extend him for a year and will almost certainly exercise that. His comments regarding being linked to the Juventus job helps keep us at ease that he’ll be here for the foreseeable future.

TSF: Are you concerned about Harry Kane’s contract situation? The dalliance with Manchester City seems done with now they’ve got Erling Haaland, but I’ve seen links to Bayern Munich cropping up. Be honest: do you think he wants to be a one-club man or does he yearn for a new challenge?

CFC: It’s a year that starts with a 2, so it would be weird if there wasn’t Harry Kane contract talk, especially with his brother running things. Bayern, however, is one we should pay attention to. Spurs are rightfully upset with the German side about the possible tapping up, but there has been talk of a new contract at Spurs and we know he’s talked multiple times about wanting to break the Premier League record for goals. He can’t do that in Germany, though we know Bayern dominate the Bundesliga. It’s a story to watch though we hope not for long.

If Bayern do come calling, it’s gonna take an extra large Brinks truck full of cash to get him out, even if he does have two years remaining on his deal.

TSF: Sticking with the theme of things that might have you worried, how concerned are you about the physical toll the World Cup might have on Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min, and to a lesser extent, Richarlison? That trio makes up a good portion of your attacking production, and they’ve struggled to stay fit in the past. Or do you have options behind them waiting for a chance to breakout?

CFC: Definitely worried.

This Winter World Cup is monumentally stupid, but we all know FIFA doesn’t give a shit. It is nice to see them have to eat a big pile of it here and there, even if it means I have to praise another garbage organization such as Electronic Arts for telling them to shove it on their licensing.

Soapbox moment aside, I think every club in the world is worried about this. It’s such a small window and there’s no proper rest coming out of the tournament unless it’s an early exit. It’s very possible that all of Spurs top players are there for a while and will have to rub some dirt on their scratches before jumping into the busiest schedule we’ve ever seen. While I understand players wanting to win for their country, everyone will be holding their breath when a big player goes down grabbing an ankle or knee, and that sucks especially in the middle of the club season.

TSF: One more general question before we turn to the NLD itself. What does the future look like for Spurs? We finally seem to have full buy-in to the Mikel Arteta rebuilding project in Arsenal land (the club was always on board, the fans less so). Across North London, it seems like Spurs are in win-now mode with the inevitable weight of Father Time bearing down on a number of key players at the club. Might Spurs be in for an Arsenal-esque fall from grace in a few seasons?

CFC: If Spurs weren’t in such great financial shape, I’d be worried about a big drop off when guys like Kane and Son are no longer at their peak. The club is in such a fantastic position, even with COVID royally screwing up the timeline that Daniel Levy had in mind once the stadium was complete. With COVID more or less done, Spurs are churning out cash thanks to the events being hosted that are non-football related. There is always the concern that he will screw up in the transfer window because he has to negotiate the best price, but it feels like Spurs are truly taking that next step toward being a club that just prints money. It’s a very weird feeling.

TSF: Any new tactical wrinkles in Antonio Conte’s first full season in charge? What’s an area of Arsenal’s setup / play you think Spurs might be able to exploit?

CFC: It’s no shock that Conte prefers the 3-4-3, but against Leicester we watched him switch to a 3-5-2 and it just utterly wrecked the Foxes. Granted, Leicester are god f*cking awful and they could very easily suffer the drop. With Yves Bissouma starting to understand the system and Oliver Skipp finally healthy, Conte will have the option to play either formation depending on who Spurs are facing. I would not be surprised if we saw the 3-5-2 to start if Dejan Kulusevski isn’t ready to go on Saturday. He picked up a bit of an injury on international break, but Conte is being coy about his availability.

TSF: What do you think Arsenal’s best matchup is against Spurs? Or put differently, if I told you the Gunners won the NL by capitalizing on a weakness, what happened?

CFC: There’s two ways that come to mind, and it depends on the formation and who starts.

If Emerson Royal starts at RWB, you go right at him. Emerson will certainly hold his own, but he’s prone to make a mistake. I’d hammer away at that side and try to force Cuti Romero into making a tough decision. Overload that side and you probably get a few chances. Bonus points if you catch Spurs with Emerson and Davinson Sanchez both starting out right. That’s a heart attack waiting to happen.

The second way is less effective, but you try to isolate the midfielders. Pierre Emile Hojbjerg and Rodrigo Bentancur have been pretty solid this season, picking up where they left off, but they’re not perfect. If you catch Spurs in transition, you need to take advantage. PEH is not the most fleet of foot and Bentancur can also make a bad turnover or two.

TSF: And finally, your prediction for the match.

CFC: I’ve got a 2-2 draw. I think there are goals in this match and Spurs were finding their form right before the break. That being said, I never do well on these predictions so expect me to be wildly wrong and one club to blow out the other in epic fashion.