Arsenal host Tottenham this Sunday in one of the most hotly-anticipated North London derbies for some time, not least because it’s Unai Emery’s first. The Spaniard will need to quickly get to grips with the sheer intensity of the occasion, although this game does mark the revival of one of his old regular La Liga battles, Mauricio Pochettino making his name at Espanyol before moving to the Premier League.
So, will Emery be overawed by this iconic Premier League clash, or could Tottenham fall short of expectations to leave the Emirates Stadium empty-handed? Our Match Preview covers everything you need to know ahead of the latest instalment of the North London Derby…
While Tottenham may well be favourites for Sunday’s encounter, they’ve traditionally been overshadowed by the Gunners in this fixture. Arsenal boast more wins, goals and clean sheets than the Lilywhites, although they’ve also picked up one more red card from the 52 meetings to date in the Premier League.
The most disturbing statistic, though, is undoubtedly Tottenham’s frankly pathetic win rate when visiting their North London rivals. From 26 Premier League trips to Arsenal’s manor, they’ve only ever won two – and one of those was during the competition’s first ever season, back in 1993.
This will be Emery and Pochettino’s first meeting since 2012 but back in their La Liga days, it was the former who usually got the upper hand, winning four of seven meetings compared to just two for the latter.
However, Pochettino’s Espanyol side ended up scoring more goals than Emery’s Valencia team in total, and that’s due to a rather curious quirk – during their first and last meetings, Pochettino’s team racked up seven of their eleven goals. The final encounter between these two managers was a 4-0 victory in the Tottenham gaffer’s favour and Emery went on to leave his club at the end of the season.
The appointment of Mike Dean has certainly created some controversy, Arsenal fans long-promoting a theory that the Wirral-born referee holds a secret allegiance to Tottenham Hotspur. There’s no real evidence of that; in fact, Arsenal have won their last three meetings with Spurs in which Dean has officiated and haven’t lost a game he’s refereed since September 2015.
However, it’s obvious from the statistics why Dean has a knack of winding fans and players up the wrong way. While he ranks in the bottom half of the 17 referees to work in the top flight this season for fouls per tackle and fouls per game, he’s in the top four for red cards and yellow cards by per-match metrics. That contrast between overall management of the game and the harsh dealing of cards is a key part of the frustration towards Dean, regardless of alleged bias.
After a brief experimentation with 3-4-3 last weekend, we’re expecting Emery to return to what is probably his strongest side for this game, or at the very least his most dangerous. That will see Alexandre Lacazette lead the attack after missing the Bournemouth clash through injury, and of course Mesut Ozil return to the midfield after his mysterious absence last Sunday. They should add both firepower and creativity to a Gunners team that struggled to beat the Cherries at the Vitality Stadium.
But the real concern for Arsenal is at the back. They’ve conceded more than one goal per game so far this season in the Premier League, and Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac remain the most suspect. Sokratis and Ainsley Maitland-Niles represent potential alternatives.
With two huge wins in a row under their belts, Pochettino will be reluctant to make changes to a Tottenham team high in confidence at the moment. We’re expecting the Spurs gaffer to stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation used against Inter Milan, rather than the diamond setup which worked so well against Chelsea last weekend, but four key changes in personnel are anticipated.
Christian Eriksen and Heung-min Son should return, flanking Dele Alli as the No.10, while Eric Dier may be asked to add some extra physicality and defensive awareness to the midfield at the expense of Harry Winks, despite an impressive Champions League performance in midweek. Elsewhere, simply because there is so much physical demand placed on the full-backs in Tottenham’s system, we’re predicting Danny Rose to come in for Ben Davies on the left.