Arsenal could be without Ben White as Mikel Arteta ponders a tactically astute lineup to contain a counter-attacking Tottenham side.
Arsenal fans have not experienced a North London Derby with so much relevance in the many years that followed the title-clinching game at White Hart Lane in 2004. A win over Tottenham will guarantee a top-four finish for the Gunners, while a defeat could leave the position open until the final day of the Premier League season.
While Tottenham seem to have a clear plan about their starting eleven, Mikel Arteta is still tinkering over his team’s shape ahead of the North London Derby. The big tactical worry would be the potential absence of Ben White, who may not have recovered from his slight hamstring problem suffered on the eve of the West Ham United clash.
Arteta provided an update during on White during his pre-match press conference while hinting that Bukayo Saka could also be a doubt. The Arsenal boss said, “Thomas (Partey) is still out, Kieran (Tierney) is still out and with Ben, he is still a doubt, we have to assess him and see how he is feeling, which is much better. With Bukayo it’s the same.”
On further probing, he continued, “It’s very difficult to rate with injuries, it’s just how they feel today, that’s the last day that we can assess them and try to get the feeling, basically.”
Alternatively, it could be Arteta playing mind games and not giving too much away, considering Arsenal did not release any training videos or photos ahead of the short trip to take on Tottenham. Saka could be alright, considering he did not limp or hobble after the Leeds United clash. However, if he sustained the injury afterwards, the English winger may be absent.
Ben White’s absence could make his defensive formation clear. Arteta is likely to shift Takehiro Tomiyasu to the right-hand side while reinstating Nuno Tavares at left-back. The defensive setup could resemble the one against Chelsea, where Saka slotted in as a wing-back on the right flank when Arsenal defended the ball.
In that scenario, Rob Holding and Gabriel Magalhaes will line up at the heart of the Arsenal defence, with Tomiyasu often slotting in as the third centre-back on the right. Tavares’s defensive flaws could be covered by Granit Xhaka and supported by Gabriel on that side, and this system looks like the one Arteta could adapt.
Mohamed Elneny will keep his place alongside the former Arsenal captain, while Martin Odegaard will continue as the advanced playmaker.
If Saka is fit to play, he will keep his right-wing position, with Eddie Nketiah not harming his chances to lead the line after a brace against Leeds United last weekend. Gabriel Martinelli might get the nod over Emile Smith Rowe to start on the left, while Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette could remain on the bench.
Predicted Arsenal XI: Ramsdale; Tomiyasu, Holding, Gabriel, Tavares; Elneny, Xhaka; Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli; Nketiah