Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any worse, Petr Cech strained a hamstring running back having gone up for a corner. Nothing better summed up Arsenal’s haplessness during Wednesday’s defeat to Swansea City than that. The goalkeeper will miss Saturday’s game, as will Laurent Koscielny, who has a calf injury. Santi Cazorla suffered a set-back in his attempts to return from a knee problem and Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky are also out.
Mousa Dembele is still struggling with a groin injury for Tottenham, who are also without Jan Vertonghen and Clinto N’Jie. It seems likely that Danny Rose and Kyle Walker will return after being rested against West Ham, while Dele Alli will probably start after coming off the bench.
Arsenal haven’t won since the Valentine’s Day victory over Leicester City, losing to Barcelona, Manchester United and Swansea City and drawing with a weakened team in the FA Cup against Hull City. The mood at the Emirates on Wednesday was sulphurous and, while the effect of a derby will be to bring everybody together, Arsenal are wobbling badly.
Tottenham’s defeat to West Ham was a set-back but, for all the worries it will stimulate about fatigue (a recurring problem with Mauricio Pochettino sides in the final third of the season) and, well, Spursiness, they had won the six league games before that and disposed impressively of Fiorentina in the Europa League.
One way of looking at it is that Tottenham are unbeaten in their last three league derbies. Another way, though, is that Spurs have won just one of the last five in the league and, more worryingly, they’ve twice failed to win games in which they were on top against Arsenal this season.
Spurs were much the better side in the Capital One Cup meeting with Arsenal in September – in which both clubs fielded weakened teams – but ended up losing to a preposterous volley from Mathieu Flamini, his second goal of the game. Then in the league at the Emirates, Spurs were the better side for an hour and led 1-0 before a 77th-minute equaliser from Kieran Gibbs. Mesut Ozil was a constant menace in that game, evading Tottenham’s two deep-lying midfielders, Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele.
ARSENAL’S ATTACK v TOTTENHAM’S DEFENCE
Tottenham have the best defence in the Premier League, having conceded just 22 goals, four better than the second best, Manchester United, while Arsenal are on course for their worst goalscoring season since 1998-99. In part that’s a conscious decision by Wenger to focus less on possession-based, proactive football, but it’s also down to the failings of the strikers.
Olivier Giroud is on his worst goal-drought since joining Arsenal – 738 minutes – while Theo Walcott’s form has been dismal for the past month. On a very simple level, unless Ozil or Alexis Sanchez do something brilliant, it’s hard to see a route for Arsenal to score.
It’s telling that Pochettino rested Rose and Walker on Wednesday. He presumably wanted both fully fit for Saturday, knowing that their surges forward compromise Sanchez and whoever plays on the right – Joel Campbell, perhaps, after his goal on Wednesday is favourite over Walcott, assuming Giroud is the central striker. None of Arsenal’s line of three creators are especially diligent at tracking back – which is probably why Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ended up playing on the right against Barcelona.
There is some danger of Spurs getting caught on the break, although Dier’s excellence at dropping in as a de facto third centre-back mitigates that to an extent, but Arsenal’s full-backs could find themselves overloaded.
THE SPURS MIDFIELD
With Dembele out, Pochettino has a selection issue in midfield. Dier will play, as will Alli and Eriksen, then it’s a question of who else to fit around them. Ryan Mason started against West Ham and his inclusion alongside Dier would presumably mean Alli playing in an advanced central role, with Eriksen left and Erik Lamela or Son Heung-Min right. There may be a temptation, though, to field Nacer Chadli on the left, although he disappointed against West Ham to try to block off the runs of Hector Bellerin, which would mean either Eriksen in the centre and Alli deep rather than Mason or, less likely, Eriksen operating from the right.
Spurs hold all the cards. They’re in form, they have fewer injuries and they’ve had the better of two games against Arsenal already this season. All that remains is to finish it off. In that regard Spurs at 2.40 looks good value, but given Arsenal’s problems in front of goal and Tottenham’s solidity, it may be worth extending that and backing Spurs to win to nil at 4.35.