Expert Predictions: North London Derby

Tottenham make the short trip to Arsenal on Sunday in an eagerly anticipated North London Derby. This fixture rarely disappoints for its mixture of flowing football and crunching tackles, and the coming instalment looks set to be no different.

This week’s experts, Football FanCast’s resident Arsenal fan Will Jones and The TT‘s Tottenham-mad Ally Darlow, share their thoughts and predictions ahead of the 2:05pm kickoff…

Historically, Arsenal have always been the more dominant club in this fixture – at least throughout the Premier League era – but Tottenham are arguably favourites for Sunday’s encounter despite the Gunners boasting home advantage.

That’s partly due to the fact Arsenal are by no means the finished article under Emery, who has often required the help of astute substitutions to get his side over line this season, but the theoretical gap has been further amplified by Tottenham’s last two games. In stark contrast to a few weeks ago when many feared for Spurs’ performances despite getting points on the board, their previous outings have produced convincing wins over Chelsea and Inter Milan.

What’s changed for Tottenham in such a short space of time?

Ally: “I don’t think a lot has changed in all honesty. Things have just started clicking for Tottenham. Pochettino has got an obvious plan in place and it revolves around players like Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen, who have both had injury issues this season. Now that they’re both back we’ve had a chance to see Spurs at our best and it’s clear to see how much better we are when have Pochettino’s key men in the side.”

Dele Alli and Eric Dier put pressure on Jorginho

The victory over Chelsea owed much to Tottenham’s game-plan, chiefly how they pressed high, kept the ball in the Blues’ third and completely removed Jorginho – Maurizio Sarri’s deep-lying playmaker and on-pitch general – from the game. Sunday’s match won’t be a carbon copy, but as Arsenal like to build from the back as well, surely there will be an attempt to repeat elements of the game-plan that worked so well at Wembley.

Do you expect to see the same game-plan this weekend?

Ally: “The wins over Chelsea and Inter Milan were perfect examples of how Tottenham execute their two-game plans. In the Chelsea game, it was so obvious that Pochettino had ordered his side to get into Chelsea and give them no time, but that way of playing simply isn’t sustainable over a whole season due to fatigue and the injury risk. The possession and patience game is the alternative and it worked against Inter on Wednesday to perfection, but I can see Pochettino looking to blitz Arsenal on Sunday.”

And are you confident Arsenal can overcome Tottenham’s high press?

Will: “I wouldn’t say I’m confident, no. However, Emery’s side do have the tools required to counter Spurs’ high, aggressive press if they set about their task in a cohesive manner. Spurs were allowed to station themselves so high up the pitch against Chelsea as the Blues offered little threat of running in behind – the likes of Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud, Willian and Mateo Kovacic hardly have the pace to worry a high defensive line. .

“Arsenal do have pace though. If they’re able to quickly transition the ball through Tottenham’s pressing contingent to the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alex Iwobi and Hector Bellerin, then the Gunners will get opportunities to punish the visitors on the break.”

Aaron Ramey in Europa League action

The win over Inter Milan was a big moment for Tottenham, and with a relatively lengthy injury list we may see a few jaded legs this Sunday. That being said, Spurs have been luxury to an extra day’s rest than Arsenal, who also had to travel to Ukraine for their 3-0 win over Vorskla Poltava in the Europa League. Spurs, meanwhile, never left London in midweek.

Do you think the extra day’s rest could be a factor on Sunday?

Will: “Of the likely starters on Sunday, only Rob Holding travelled and played in Kiev. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey and Petr Cech will likely have to make do with a place on the bench this weekend. Therefore, fatigue shouldn’t be a huge issue. Emery’s preparations for the game though – which are notoriously extensive, detailed and thorough – may well have been derailed somewhat by the midweek sojourn.

“That being said, to embrace the cliché, on derby day preparation tends to go out of the window anyway. I’d hope, then, that neither side will be hampered by their recent European obligations (actually, I hope Spurs very much are).”

Playmaker FC Exclusive: Jermaine Jenas makes bold prediction for North London Derby – Check out the video below…

While there are still some obvious issues for Emery to address, particularly his side’s defensive record and failure to lead a game at half-time so far this season in the Premier League, Tottenham have been incredibly consistent in terms of results. Even when they weren’t playing well, Pochettino’s side were still getting points on the board by grinding out wins.

Are there any obvious weaknesses in this Tottenham team?

Will: “Whilst Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks and Eric Dier have been impressive in recent weeks, I still think Pochettino’s team can be got at in midfield. If Granit Xhaka is able to dominate possession, and Lucas Torreira commits himself to not giving his opponents a moment of peace, then Arsenal can cut off the supply to Spurs’ potent attacking force significantly.

“Also, any combination of full-backs that Pochettino opts to line up with should give Arsenal a target to aim for. None of Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, Ben Davies or Serge Aurier are the most defensively solid full-backs in the division. Emery must encourage the likes of Iwobi, Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang to run at Spurs and pressurise them in wide areas at every opportunity.”

Arsenal manager Unai Emery

And what are the key Arsenal flaws Spurs need to exploit?

Ally: “I don’t think there are any obvious areas we can look to exploit and credit to Emery for that, but bearing in mind the fitness issues that Arsenal have had at left-back with both Sead Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal, Pochettino should look to have Eriksen shifting over to double up on that side which would work wonders if done correctly.”

So where will this game be lost and won?

Will: “Aubameyang has 10 goals so far this season. Harry Kane has 11. In what will likely be an open, aggressive game, it could all come down to which side manages to keep the opposition striker quieter.

“Given the England captain’s mercilessly prolific record against Spurs’ bitter rivals, Arsenal really can’t afford for their No. 14 to be as profligate in front of goal as he was against Bournemouth last time out.”

And finally chaps, let’s hear your score predictions…

Ally: “A scrappy 2-1 Spurs win to make it the perfect week for Pochettino.”

Will: “A draw would probably be a good result for both teams. However, despite home advantage counting for an awful lot in Arsenal’s case, if any side are the more likely to take all the points on Sunday it’s Spurs. I can’t bring myself to predict that here though, so 2-2 it is.”