With just twelve fixtures to go until the end of the Premier League season, every game now is something of a make-or-break for the division’s top clubs. But that rings particularly true with Saturday’s North London Derby; both looking upwards into the top four, defeat for Tottenham or Arsenal would put a huge dent in their hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
Spurs will back themselves at home against the Gunners, but many backed Mauricio Pochettino’s side during the reverse fixture at the Emirates Stadium – which they lost 2-0 – and Saturday’s visitors boast an impeccable record at Wembley.
So, will Tottenham come out on top in the 12.30pm kickoff or be left licking their wounds? The Sun’s Sean Cook shares his thoughts and predictions ahead of the latest instalment of the North London Derby…
It’s hard to evaluate the true quality of this Arsenal side after a busy January transfer window that saw them trade Alexis Sanchez for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and sign Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – undoubtedly one of the most potent strikers in Europe in recent seasons. But the Gunners have still surrendered their top talent to a divisional rival, and they failed to address their defensive deficiencies last month.
Do you think Arsenal are actually a stronger side with their two attacking signings? Would you have preferred Tottenham to face them before January or now?
Sean: “They’ve done some fantastic business for sure. Despite losing their star man, I believe letting Alexis Sanchez go will benefit them in the long term. His greediness often at times stunted them in big games, whilst his attitude was making the dressing room an increasingly uncomfortable place to be.
“Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a huge signing and suits them down to the ground, likewise with Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Playing them before January would have been preferable, but the fact they failed to make a defensive signing still makes them particularly vulnerable at the back.”
Many pundits tipped Tottenham to crown themselves as the new kings of north London with a win at the Emirates Stadium back in November, but it just didn’t happen in a surprisingly poor performance from the Lilywhites. They struggled to make any real impression in the match and we’re quickly humbled by two first half goals from Sanchez and Shkodran Mustafi.
Are there lessons to be learned from that game, or will it be a completely different kind of match at Wembley?
Sean: “The game at the Emirates was somewhat of an anomaly for us this campaign. At no point did we look in control of the game, but this was to perhaps be expected given our poor away form against the top six.
“Saturday will be a completely different game. I’ve often said this season that I prefer playing the big teams at Wembley over the likes of West Brom and Swansea. It’ll never be quite like White Hart Lane, but the place is rocking for these big occasions; Saturday will be no different.”
Regardless of previous tribulations against the Gunners, Tottenham enter Saturday’s game off the back of two impressive results against the big six – a huge 2-0 win over Manchester United at Wembley followed by a thrilling 2-2 draw with Liverpool up at Anfield.
Who was Tottenham’s key performer over the 180 minutes?
Sean: “It was clear against Manchester United just how important Christian Eriksen is to Spurs. He of course netted that historic early goal against Jose Mourinho’s side, but having been absent through illness in our previous two games, we really have been missing his wider influence.
“That being said, the standout player for us in recent performances has been Jan Vertonghen. There’s no doubt in my mind that he is the best centre-half in Europe, at times he’s been simply sublime.”
For all the talk of managers, tactics, philosophies and superstars, local derbies often come down to what side dominates the key individual battles, and which departments best hold their nerve.
What key battles will decide this game?
Sean: “Spurs’ defence will dictate the game. If we can keep their front four quiet, we’ll come away winners for sure. It’s likely Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele will keep their position in the starting XI, and if they can keep Mesut Ozil and Mkhitaryan at bay, it should be plain sailing for Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
“Harry Kane loves scoring against Arsenal, and I fully expect that record to continue on Saturday. Their defence simply won’t be able to handle him.”
And finally Sean, let’s hear your score prediction…
Sean: “Spurs 2-1 Arsenal”
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!