Arsenal enter Saturday’s North London Derby knowing only a win will do if they’re to have any chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League via a top four finish. Not only are bitter rivals Tottenham above them in the table, but both are looking upwards into a fiercely competitive top four, with the exception of runaway Premier League champions-in-waiting Manchester City.
Arsenal though have won their last nine games at Wembley in all competitions – it’s arguably a better home for them than Spurs – and it was Arsene Wenger’s side who came out on top in the reverse fixture earlier this season, despite prior cries of the Emirates Stadium clash being the coronation for the new kings of north London.
So, will Arsenal continue to extend their reign, or will Saturday’s 12.30pm kickoff drag them a step closer towards abdication? This week’s expert Connor Humm shares his thoughts and predictions ahead of a huge North London Derby.
Impressive January business breathed some much-needed positivity into the Arsenal camp, swapping Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Alexis Sanchez and bringing in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The former Borussia Dortmund man is undoubtedly one of the top strikers in Europe, but the swoop isn’t without complications – chiefly, how to fit him and Arsenal’s previous club-record signing from the summer, Alexandre Lacazette, into the same starting XI.
Would you leave one of Arsenal’s strikers on the bench or find a way of getting both into the same starting XI?
Connor: “I think you have to start Aubameyang in this one. His pace will cause Tottenham problems and has already done so in the past when he was at Dortmund. I don’t believe Arsenal can afford to play two strikers against such a tricky opponent. Either sticking with the 4-2-3-1 which saw them beat Everton so easily or reverting to the back five means a one-striker formation is the only viable option.”
While Arsenal’s record at Wembley is certainly impressive, their record on the road this season certainly isn’t. The Gunners have won just three of their 13 away games in the Premier League and conceded 21 goals, not that the problem has been limited to their top flight campaign – their most humbling result of the season so far came at the City Ground in a 4-2 defeat to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup.
What has been Arsenal’s ultimate problem away from home this season?
Connor: “The away record has been horrendous, especially when you compare that to the home form which is fantastic. I believe Arsene Wenger even said it shouldn’t make a difference – you play the same game on the same pitch. It really is mind boggling when you look at it from an outside point of view. The only thing I could probably put it down to is effort because I cannot see any other reason why the difference in results is so vast away from home.”
Tottenham, meanwhile, enter Saturday’s game off the back of two impressive results against Big Six rivals. A 2-0 win over Manchester United at Wembley was followed by a dramatic draw at Anfield and that will give the Lilywhites huge confidence of claiming another good result against their local rivals as well.
Excepting Harry Kane, which Tottenham player concerns you most?
Connor: “I would be interested to see if Toby Alderweireld starts the game. The Belgian is arguably the best centre-half in the league and Tottenham have clearly missed him since he’s been out injured. He played the full 90 minutes in the FA cup replay against Newport so I’d expect him to start. I’m a big admirer of the player and believe he could be the difference between winning and losing for Spurs.”
Even if Spurs are the superior team these days, they and Arsenal are still two incredibly well-matched sides, blessed with some of the best players in Europe, and the levelling knack of the derby will only minimise any differences between the two. On such occasions, one key battle can decide everything.
Where will this game be lost and won?
Connor: “The midfield battle will be a big one but a key area will be set pieces. David Ospina is rumoured to start the game and he’s known for a calamitous approach towards set-pieces due to his height and his opposite number Hugo Lloris isn’t much better in my opinion. Both sides have a reasonable amount of height, meaning corners and free-kicks could settle this one.”
And finally Connor, let’s hear your score prediction…
Connor: “Spurs 0-2 Arsenal. Arsenal have an amazing record at Wembley in recent years so I think that will give them the confidence to go on and complete a league double over their north london rivals.”
Historically, the North London derby isn’t an easy game to predict. But if you are willing to take a position on the big rivalry game this Saturday, we have an Premier League outright win treble that will pay out handsomely! In this week’s Accy Show, we’ve also put together a fantastic EFL fourfold, with odds that could see you earn ten times your stake. Check it out and let us know where you’re putting your coins this weekend!