The Premier League’s fixture makers certainly haven’t disappointed this season, with a heavyweight clash almost every weekend. And they’ve thrown up yet another classic for the Premier League’s twelfth match day in the form of the ever-eventful north London derby.
Arsenal certainly boast the upper hand against local rivals Tottenham Hotspur. They’ve claimed four wins from their last six encounters, including a 2-1 win in the Capital One Cup earlier this season, and haven’t finished below the Lilywhites for quite some time – 7480 days, to be precise, according to this banter-iffic live stopwatch.
But the Gunners certainly can’t take victory over their local rivals for granted. Spurs took four points off them last season and Mauricio Pochettino clearly has a game-plan in place to bring Arsenal to a grinding halt.
With a mounting injury list also to consider, there are a number of questions Arsene Wenger must answer to make sure his side secure all three points on Sunday. Here’s FOUR we at Football FanCast view as the most important…
With flying full-back Hector Bellerin ruled out due to a groin injury, the first question Arsene Wenger must answer ahead of the north London derby is quite simply – who can fill the Spaniard’s almighty void?
The Gunners gaffer is left with a choice between Mathieu Debuchy’s established experience and the youthful enthusiasm of Calum Chambers.
Debuchy got the nod in midweek against Bayern Munich, playing his part in a 5-1 thumping. But representing what would be only his fourth appearance of the season thus far, can Wenger really expect the 30-year-old to play a second ninety minutes in the space of just four days to the fullest of his abilities?
Calum Chambers might be somewhat fresher, coming on from the bench for the last three minutes at the Allianz Arena. But the 20 year-old is not the most convincing option, having slumped down in general estimations since the incredibly promising form shown at the start of his Emirates career.
With bragging rights at stake, Debuchy seems like the obvious choice. He’s a competent if rather ordinary defender. But famed for his commitment to giving kids a chance, I have a hunch Chambers might be thrown into the thick of the action on Sunday.
With resident winger Nacer Chadli injured, the supremely talented Heung-Min Son is likely to start on the left. He’s already claimed three goals and two assists in five outings for the Lilywhites and represents one of their biggest attacking threats – so Wenger needs to get his selection right.
The whole right flank has become a problem area for Arsenal over the last few weeks. In addition to their injury problems at No.2, the likes of Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will also be absent for the north London derby – leaving a gaping hole in right midfield.
Thus far, Arsene Wenger has entrusted Joel Campbell, who silenced doubters with the third and final goal during Arsenal’s win over Swansea City last Saturday.
But the Costa Rica international struggled against Bayern Munich and he’s another fitness concern, going from just 96 minutes of action across all competitions before last weekend to potentially three starts in the space of seven days. The last thing Arsenal need is another injury, in this case due to a lack of match sharpness.
Likewise, Tottenham are a serious side – one of just two sides, in fact, to beat the Gunners during their superlative run at the end of last season. With that in mind, it could make more sense to err on the side of caution and place full-back Kieran Gibbs in midfield – potentially moving Alexis Sanchez to the opposite flank in the process.
Another point to consider is Arsenal’s lack of depth up front. Olivier Giroud’s currently the Gunners’ only fit senior striker but Campbell could offer the France international some respite in that role should he enter from the bench.
Make no mistake about it, Harry Kane ran riot during last season’s north London derby, bagging a brace – including an 86th minute winner – to secure the Lilywhites a 2-1 win.
He failed to parallel those talismanic levels during the Capital One Cup clash against Arsenal in September. But the England international’s hit form at just the right time for Sunday’s instalment, boasting six goals in his last three appearances across all competitions – including a Premier League hat-trick against Bournemouth.
Accordingly, special measures must be put in place to nullify the 22-year-old’s potent goal threat, especially considering the Gunners could be without star centre-back Laurent Koscielny this weekend – although Wenger is optimistic his countryman will be able to start after being rested for the Bayern clash.
Kane suffered from a lack of service earlier in the season, not finding the net until his seventh Premier League appearance, and those are the conditions Arsenal must recreate on Sunday.
Easier said than done but if Arsenal stop the supply line – particularly from Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen – the Spurs striker will inevitably struggle to get a foothold in the match.
Tottenham may be one of just eight Premier League sides yet to receive a red card this season but their disciplinary record is shaky to say the least.
Obviously, high-tempo attacking football and aggressive defending are both hallmarks of the Mauricio Pochettino philosophy; but they have resulted in Spurs picking up the second most yellow cards of any Premier League side, 26, and committing the most fouls – a whopping 14 per match.
Inevitably, plenty of free kicks are given away in dangerous areas – midfielders Dele Alli and Eric Dier and full-backs Danny Rose and Ben Davies being amongst the biggest culprits – so Arsenal must take advantage.
They certainly have the quality to do so. Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil are all fantastic free kick takers, whilst Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscienly represent potent aerial threats.
But whether attacking or defending, set pieces all come down to practice. It’s vital Arsenal sharpen up on their routines before Sunday, because they could make a huge difference to the score line. So far this term, the Gunners have scored four set piece goals in eleven games.