The north London derby is always difficult to predict. However, this weekend’s game feels particularly tight. The two most in-form sides in the Premier League are headed for a collision, and the indications are that this iteration of the Spurs side is more robust than many of its predecessors.
Arsenal fans are understandably suspicious when pundits hail Spurs as revitalised or resurgent. After all, it was back in March of 2013 that then-Tottenham boss Andre Villas Boas declared after a derby victory, "We are on an upward spiral in terms of confidence and they are in a negative spiral in terms of results”. By the end of the season, Arsenal had leapfrogged Spurs and reasserted their dominance.
Even as recently as this February, Harry Kane’s late headed winner in a derby was perceived by some as a pendulum swing in Tottenham’s favour. However, before long the status quo was restored. Spurs have threatened briefly, but it’s never managed to sustain.
However, there is now the sense that Mauricio Pochettino is building something a little more substantial. His work at Southampton demonstrated his ability to rigorously construct a reliable team. Those same principles are now being put into practise at Spurs, and the results - in every sense - have been excellent. Tottenham have not lost a league game since the opening day of the 2015/16 season.
There’s a good spine in place. Hugo Lloris is one of the more dependable goalkeepers in the division. Had David De Gea moved to Real Madrid and sparked a transfer domino effect, it’s very possible he could have moved to a Champions League club this summer. At the back, the Belgian pair of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are developing into a very reliable duo. The midfield has been augmented by the addition of the exciting Dele Alli, while Kane’s recent run suggests that last season’s spectacular form was no fluke.
It’s not just about personnel. Few teams in the Premier League work harder than Tottenham. Like Pochetinno’s Southampton, they’re pressing opponents very effectively. The likes of work-shy Emmanuel Adebayor and Paulinho have been weeded out of the squad and replaced by players who buy into the manager’s philosophy. This Spurs side are extremely well-drilled and highly-motivated.
Arsenal have plenty of motivation too. Their midweek thrashing by Bayern Munich confirmed what most already knew: that the Premier League represents their best chance of attaining major silverware this season. The Gunners have responded to that situation with an admirably consistent assault on the title. As much as they’ve disappointed in the cup competitions against the likes of Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb and Sheffield Wednesday, Arsenal have been largely excellent in the league.
However, injuries are beginning to bite. The annual fitness crisis at the Emirates Stadium has begun in earnest, and the squad is now stretched to breaking point. When the Gunners are having to call on inexperienced teenagers such as Alex Iwobi against the likes of Bayern, you know the situation is bad.
Some respite is around the corner in the form of the international break. By the time that finishes, Arsenal’s squad should look significantly healthier. However, it’s essential they keep pace with Manchester City until that point.
That means breaking down a Spurs side who look like a tougher nut to crack than many previous incarnations. Arsenal must try to be inspired rather than intimidated by Spurs’ form. Tottenham’s recent improvement makes them a bigger scalp, and victory in this derby would do almost as much for the Gunners’ title hopes as their 3-0 thrashing of Manchester United.
This time, by beating Spurs, Arsenal have the opportunity to do more than simply hurt a rival — they have a chance to make another statement to the rest of the Premier League.
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