Arsenal host Tottenham on Sunday it what promises to be a fiery north London derby.
Arsene Wenger’s men are in fine form, unbeaten since the opening weekend of the season, while Spurs are the only team in the Premier League yet to suffer defeat.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men are winless in six, though, and travel to the Emirates desperate to get back on track.
Tom Adams (Arsenal) and Ben Pearce (Tottenham) look ahead to Sunday’s encounter.
What’s at stake here?
Tom Adams: The derby is always one of the biggest fixtures in the Premier League calendar and although Spurs have struggled in recent weeks they are still one of five teams separated by just three points so this match will have significant ramifications for the top of the table.
More important than even that, though, is the question of local pride. Arsenal’s days of total dominance in this fixture are long gone but local bragging rights reside at Emirates after the frankly hilarious events of last season’s final day when Spurs were pummelled 5-1 by an already relegated Newcastle and lost the chance to finish above Wenger in the table for the first time.
Ben Pearce: Tottenham have gone into the recent derbies on an equal footing with Arsenal or even as favourites at times, but they are struggling at the moment and this game has not arrived at a good time. Pochettino and his players need to address some issues of their own before they can start to think about finishing above Arsenal or how they rank against the other title contenders — Wednesday’s limp defeat to Bayer Leverkusen was concerning on a few levels.
A side that has looked increasingly dangerous under Pochettino is suddenly struggling for creativity and goals — the only two strikes in the past five games have come from the penalty spot — and confidence is low. The international break will give Tottenham a useful chance to draw breath, put a bad month behind them and reboot, but they can make that task infinitely easier and immediately improve the mood if they can win away against their arch-rivals on Sunday. A bad result would just be another blow at the end of a hugely disappointing spell — albeit a particularly bitter one given the opposition — but a good one would make Pochettino’s task much easier and inject some much-needed impetus and optimism.
In that sense, Spurs have little to lose this weekend.
How will Sunday’s clash be decided?
TA: The form of the two attacks is likely to be the crucial factor. Arsenal possess the best front four they have had in quite some time, and if Theo Walcott passes a fitness test to return from injury, they will have all their biggest weapons to deploy. Mesut Ozil even has a taste for goals at the moment and is in peak confidence after his wonder goal against Ludogorets in the Champions League in midweek.
Tottenham make for a sorry contrast. They’ve scored only three goals in six games, and with Vincent Janssen misfiring they suffered a demoralising defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in midweek. Clearly the fact that Harry Kane is back in contention is a big boost for them, but it’s uncertain whether he will start. You fancy Arsenal to score at least once on current form; with Spurs you can’t be anywhere nearly as sure.
BP: Much has been made of Spurs’ problems in front of goal, but the key area could be the other end of the pitch. Tottenham have the best defensive record in the Premier League, having only conceded five goals in their 10 top-flight fixtures, and they are the only unbeaten team in the division. However, they looked vulnerable in their defeat against Bayer and created a lot of problems for themselves with erratic and careless moments. If the rearguard is similarly nervy and porous at the Emirates, Arsenal could have a field day — after all they have scored seven times in the past week — and Spurs’ own creativity would become a fairly irrelevant issue.
On the other hand, if Tottenham can rediscover the resilience that secured eight clean sheets in the opening 13 games then they will have a chance, and then it will be up to the attacking players to step up and find a spark from somewhere. Of course, the midfield will be a key area too when it comes to establishing dominance, and Spurs will have to pass the ball much better than they did in midweek.
Who will finish higher this season?
TA: Death, taxes and … OK you get the picture. Legions of Spurs fans and players have foreseen a day when they will finish above Arsenal in the table over the years but fate always intervenes. It has never happened in 20 years under Wenger, and although it’ll be another close one this season, don’t expect that to change. Arsenal look a decent side for once, which won’t help Spurs much.
BP: There is a fear that teams have started to figure out Tottenham, and that Pochettino and his players are struggling to adapt, evolve and pose new questions. There is only a three-point difference between the sides in the table but a simple glance at the form guide shows Arsenal are clearly the stronger team at the moment and they look well set for their customary top-four finish. Spurs would surely take fourth place and another season in the Champions League if it was offered now.
Pick one player from the opposition to improve your team
TA: It has been a while since you could say this but no one immediately springs to mind. Spurs have a fine team but man-for-man there’s no one who you’d say was an obvious upgrade for Arsenal. The Jan Vertonghen-Toby Alderweireld defensive axis is the best in the country, but their strength is in their partnership and Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi are striking up a promising one of their own.
It would be tempting to take Hugo Lloris on the basis that he is five years younger than Petr Cech. Meanwhile, Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli are all players many fans would happily see at Arsenal, even if they would only join the rotating cast of midfielders that already exists with the varied talents of Santi Cazorla, Granit Xhaka, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny and, further forward, Ozil.
If there was one player it would probably be Kane as Arsenal could still do with a centre-forward of his quality and potential, but he wouldn’t get in the team ahead of Alexis Sanchez at the moment as his performances as a False No. 9 have really taken Arsenal on to another level
BP: Spurs may have been shaky at Wembley on Wednesday, but they have still conceded only half as many goals as Arsenal in the league this season. So they have the better defence — especially when Alderweireld is fit — and Victor Wanyama deserves his share of the credit, having made a fine start to life at White Hart Lane. At the moment, though, most of Arsenal’s attacking players look more threatening than Tottenham’s.
Harry Kane is irreplaceable, as he has proved for the last month, but Spurs could do with having Sanchez or Ozil in their ranks at present. Of the two, Sanchez would probably be preferable, in one of the roles behind the striker. He has scored eight goals this season and his energy, enthusiasm and work-rate would make him a good fit for Pochettino’s pressing game.
One thing that will definitely happen on Sunday is ….
TA: Walcott will find a way to wind up the Spurs supporters, even if he isn’t playing.
BP: Alli will square up to one of the Arsenal players.
TA: 2-1 Arsenal. Spurs are still unbeaten in the league. So it will be close, but a combination of home advantage and Arsenal’s firepower could edge it.
BP: 2-0 Arsenal. Pochettino’s men have failed to win any of their last six games, drawing four times and losing twice, and their only two goals in the last five matches have come from the penalty spot.