As the season rolls on and the Gunners continue their slump towards the lower reaches of the Premier League, we arrive at the first North London derby of the season. Arteta and his men visit the Tottenham Hotspur stadium for the Spurs vs Arsenal game on Sunday and given the current circumstances, fans approach this fixture with a lot of caution.
It’s been a desperately odd season so far, one which has even seen Southampton at the top of the Premier League table. However, Arsenal’s campaign has been a disaster, and they currently sit in 14th place with goals hard to come by and a series of dismal performances that have lacked fluency and ambition.
To make it a million times worse, four miles down the road Spurs, under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho, are on top of the table ahead of Liverpool. That in itself is doubly depressing, Mourinho is a much-loathed character at the Emirates after his spats with Arsene Wenger and constant criticism of the club.
Spurs are solid looking at the moment with the goals rolling in and confidence at a high and fans believing that this is the year that Arsenal’s neighbours win the Premier League title and the balance of power finally transfers to White Hart Lane.
Deep down, Arsenal fans are concerned, the recent results have been awful and it’s clear that the Gunners aren’t functioning as a side and at present, most would take a draw before a ball is kicked. Right, that’s the depressing part out of the way, so let’s add another perspective.
I’ve seen so many surprising results in football and I know from experience that the scripts for these occasions can be the complete opposite to form. If Arsenal’s players can’t get fired up for the Spurs vs Arsenal game, then they should just end their season now. This is still the biggest fixture in domestic football because of its history and the animosity between the fans.
The Manchester Derby used to be a hard-fought and intriguing fixture but it has always lacked the same appeal. Similarly, the Merseyside Derby has never captured the imagination because Liverpool have always been the superior side.
There’s a raw competitive feel about the North London Derby and in the past, the ferocious atmosphere has threatened to boil over at either venue. A Covid-19 Derby, with limited admission, will be a strange affair and Spurs have little or no home advantage, so it’s fairly even in that respect but Arsenal’s mindset will be crucial.
Can Arteta pump up this ordinary and flat looking Arsenal to kickstart their season, one would hope so. I’m thinking that the Gunners will stick with a back four and I’d plump for David Luiz over Rob Holding if he’s fit. Holding will probably suffer at the hands of Son and Kane (if fit) and Mourinho will know that a combination of Bellerin and Holding on their left will yield goals.
The middle is a massive conundrum with Ceballos less than impressive and Xhaka unable to impose himself in defence or attack. Therefore, I’d go with four in the middle and if Partey is still injured, I’d employ Nelson, Ceballos, Elneny, and Saka.
Upfront, it’s Aubameyang in a roaming role and Lacazette in the traditional striker role. It’s clear that the central role for either striker isn’t the problem, it’s the lack of service. The persistence with an inconsistent Pepe and an out of form Willian hasn’t helped either. Neither has the constant desire for changes to end the goal drought and enable victories.
Arteta needs to settle the side in whatever way he deems necessary, be that sticking with a starting 11 that includes familiar faces with experience or dipping into the academy to find that missing creative spark. What are we waiting for?
The smart money is on a tough draw but to get that, Arsenal will have to defend for long periods and burst forward on the few occasions when Spurs are consumed by frustration. The Spurs vs Arsenal game could be won by a single goal and if the Gunners go behind, their recent record shows they aren’t good at recovering the situation.
Who knows what Arteta can say to provoke his players into performing, Arsenal look tired and clueless, putting far too much emphasis on defence and not enough on offense. Apart from the recent draw with Chelsea, Arsenal’s neighbours have been able to brush aside the opposition with relative ease.
Expect the Spurs vs Arsenal fixture to be a nervy game from an Arsenal perspective, failure to contain Tottenham or an emphatic loss will not help the mood this season and it might even derail Arteta’s plans further.
Preferred Team: Leno; Bellerin, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney; Nelson, Partey/Ceballos, Elneny Saka; Lacazette, Aubameyang.