Sunday’s North London derby is perhaps one of the most pivotal in recent seasons. For too long now, Tottenham have gone into the fixture as the underdogs and, more often than not, have come away empty-handed. Arsenal have regularly overcome their rivals with relative ease and often classified as the overwhelming favourites for the fiery encounter.
Many have felt the pendulum is switching across North London for some time now and while a false dawn has often been risen above the night sky, this could well be the game to determine which side is the stronger one in the London borough. Arguments continue to persist as to which team is generally the stronger of the two. The Gunners have regularly obtained Champions League football and have a real opportunity to do so again this season but; they have not won a trophy since their FA Cup win of 2005, something the Arsenal faithful have become rather irate about.
Spurs, on the other hand, have won some silverware, albeit, the Carling Cup, in recent years but unlike their fierce rivals, have only qualified for Europe’s elite competition just the once since its inception in 1992. However, as it stands, the White half of North London currently reside ten points ahead of their Red rivals and look a dead cert to secure automatic qualification into the tournament.
But, Sunday comes before that. And the encounter at the Emirates will be another spirited affair between two teams that will be going all out for three points. The game will be the first that Arsenal hate figure Emmanuel Adebayor will play at the, what is sure to be, cauldron of fire and every fan can expect the Togolese front-man to be on the receiving end of a tirade of abuse from the home crowd.
Which team is going to come out on top?
Player for player, Spurs have the stronger of the two squads at this point in time. Prior to the sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, and before the Lilywhites bought in Scott Parker, Brad Friedel and Adebayor, it can be argued that both teams were on par. However, the respective sales of the aforementioned duo, coupled with inadequate replacements being bought in, the power has shifted to White Hart Lane, player wise.
The Gunners still have the quality to test Spurs, however, in the form of captain Robin van Persie. The Dutchman has been leading the front-line for Arsene Wenger’s side emphatically this season, notching up 22 league goals in the process. The likes of Ledley King, if he plays, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Walker will need to be on top of their game in order to keep his input to a minimum.
If anything is to go by from October’s reverse fixture at White Hart Lane, the midfield battle will be key. Arsenal had the better of their North London counterparts on the afternoon in the middle of the park, with Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta granted the freedom to pull the strings from the middle. Parker did his best to stifle the trio, but his all-action display frequently gets the better of him when the game drags into the latter stages.
However, key players Sandro and Rafael van der Vaart are expected to be passed fit for the game, which can be bad news for the home side. Sandro is again beginning to find his form after time off from injury and, after witnessing a video of him and his fighting moves on the internet, the Brazilian isn’t one to be taken lightly. Arsenal fans will surely wince at the sight of van der Vaart with the Dutch international possessing an impressive record against the top four contenders. Four goals in the last three North London derbies, and eager to add to that, will see the Gunners faithful praying he doesn’t have the same creative influence he has had over the past 18 months.
Defensively, Arsenal have looked suspect as of late. The injury to Per Mertesacker won’t be the biggest loss to Wenger while the return to fitness of Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna will boost the back-line. Yet, conceding six goals in the past two games isn’t the best way to instill confidence into an already shaky defence. Wojciech Szczesny has the capability to gain points single-handedly, but he, like his defence in front of him, hasn’t been on top form recently. A major boost could come in the form of Laurent Koscielny, who missed the 2-0 defeat to Sunderland, with the Frenchman set to face a late fitness test on Saturday.
Compared to Spurs, however, the defensive aspect swings back in the away side’s favour. The arrival of Friedel has solidified a back four that has been shaky over the past few seasons, while the return of Walker, the return to fitness of King, the consistency of Assou-Ekotto and the emergence of Younes Kaboul during his second stint at the club and you have a defence that has conceded just 25 goals, compared to Arsenal’s 35, for the season. Bear in mind that the Lilywhites had conceded eight goals after their first two games and it is a mightily impressive back-line Redknapp has assembled.
For Arsenal it’s hard to pin-point anyone but van Persie. The Dutchman has been simply sensational this season and it is hardly surprising to see him lead the goalscoring charts in the Premiership. Gunners fans will be praying he signs a new long-term contract before the end of the season to ward off interest from England and abroad. Meanwhile, for Spurs, it is compatriot van der Vaart who will be looking to add to his impressive goalscoring tally against Arsenal. Away fans are going to be hoping he can make a successful return to the starting XI after missing the majority of February after suffering a calf problem during the 3-1 win over Wigan Athletic at the end of January.
Any form leading up to this fixture goes out the window. Anyone can win derby day, it is just a case of who wants it more or which player can forge a killer ball through the defence. The game will be won in the midfield, be it Arsenal’s or Spurs’, and the encounter can hinge on a slip up or a bit of magic. Either way, this North London derby could be the one that sees the pendulum swing back into Tottenham’s favour.