Arsenal’s familiar injury problems are beginning to mount once again. Although Laurent Koscielny should return after being rested for Wednesday’s 5-1 defeat away to Bayern Munich with a hip injury, Hector Bellerin will almost certainly miss out at right-back. Further forward it looks like another start for Joel Campbell with Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere all out. Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta are also missing from the centre.
Tottenham have their own problems in midfield with Nabil Bentaleb, Nacer Chadli and Tom Carroll all absent, although Clinton N’Jie may be back from the hamstring injury that ruled him out of Thursday’s 2-1 Europa League win over Anderlecht.
Level on points with Manchester City at the top of the table going into the weekend after five straight wins in the league, Arsenal seem to be riding the crest of a wave, except that in the past fortnight they’ve been beaten 5-1 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League and 3-0 by Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup, a defeat that can only partly be dismissed by the inexperience of the side Arsene Wenger fielded. This feels like a familiar Arsenal pattern of brittle excellence.
Spurs are unbeaten in 10 in the league and backed that up with victory over Anderlecht on Thursday: although they’ve generally been solid rather than spectacular this season the goals are starting to come.
Arsenal have already beaten Spurs once this season, a smash and grab in the Capital One Cup in a game in which both clubs fielded slightly weakened sides but the way that game went should encourage Spurs as much as Arsenal. Spurs drew at Arsenal last September before an emphatic 2-1 home win in February. That might suggest they have an edge, but they haven’t won at the Emirates since 2010.
THE ARSENAL RIGHT
Wenger had experimented using Kieran Gibbs in midfield in training before the Bayern game and perhaps ended up wishing he’d used the left-back rather than Campbell, whose lack of defensive nous was badly exposed. That leaves him with a major decision ahead of Sunday. To play Gibbs might seem a negative move, but if Campbell starts, the combination of Danny Rose and Christian Eriksen on the Spurs left could be devastating.
Whoever plays on that right side will have to pick up the forward surges of Rose, and the situation is made more acute by the absence of Bellerin. Although Mathieu Debuchy is a perfectly serviceable replacement, he lacks the Spaniard’s pace and, after so long out of the team, will naturally need time to readjust.
TOTTENHAM’S CENTRAL MIDFIELD
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Tottenham’s play this season has been the domination they have secured in central areas, largely thanks to the pairing of Dele Alli and Eric Dier, both of whom have been recognised with England call-ups. This, though, will be a severe test as they look to obstruct the flow of Arsenal’s passing. The return of Mousa Dembele to the team was brought about by injury and he still doesn’t look entirely at home in Mauricio Pochettino’s pressing game, but the muscle he offers may be of use here; he can, if necessary drop deep from the line of three creators to help Alli and Dier as they look to counter Arsenal’s central trio of Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil.
Then again, Bayern showed on Wednesday just how vulnerable Arsenal are if pressed high up the pitch. Spurs will not get so many men forward quite so quickly but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they press hard early on, as much to see if Arsenal are scarred by Munich as anything else.
For all their recent league form, Arsenal feel short at 1.70 – although if they do get through the North London derby, they have a run of relatively straightforward fixtures that should consolidate their position at the top of the table. The injury problems and the flaws shown up by Bayern, added to the way Spurs dominated the midfield in the Capital One Cup earlier in the season make it something of a surprise that Arsenal can be backed not to win at significantly better than evens.
This will give a good indication of how good this Tottenham team is, but backing them +0.5 at 2.23 looks exceptional value.