Arsenal will seek to restore a little local pride when they host an ascendent Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates on Saturday (12:30 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
Last season, Spurs finished ahead of Arsenal in the league for the first time in 22 years. Not only that, but Arsenal themselves finished outside of the top four, meaning that for the first time in nearly 20 years, they are not involved in the Champions League.
So while Spurs have recorded famous home victories over Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid in Europe’s premier club competition, Arsenal are locked in a Thursday night routine in a Europa League group that also features BATE Borisov, FC Koln and Red Star Belgrade.
Even worse for Arsenal supporters is that the situation doesn’t look like being reversed any time soon. They remain a solid top-six side, with underlying numbers that suggest a return to the top four is a possibility, but they no longer look capable of putting pressure on those at the very top of the table. Spurs are projecting towards a finish between second and fourth; Arsenal between fourth and sixth.
The next year or so at the club will be interesting. With Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil out of contract at the end of the season and highly likely to move on, possibly even in January, significant player turnover can be expected. The future of Arsene Wenger also remains a topic of contention. Arsenal feels like a club ripe for and in need of a change of direction.
Their season to date has followed familiar patterns. They have won five out of five against easier opposition at home but have picked up just four points from six away matches, including a 0-4 defeat at Liverpool and a comprehensive 1-3 loss to Manchester City last time out. Injuries have again highlighted the ongoing deficiencies in their squad planning.
Tottenham, meanwhile, have made a good start to the campaign. They are already qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League and currently sit third in the Premier League table, four points clear of Arsenal, and with the same amount of points as Manchester United in second. They have been very solid defensively and sufficiently potent in attack.
Harry Kane is obviously a key part of that potency, and Mauricio Pochettino has confirmed that the striker will be available this weekend despite pulling out of the England squad last week. The 24-year-old has scored 13 times in 14 appearances in league and Champions League play this season and has a superb record against Arsenal, having scored in each of his last five matches against Tottenham’s local rivals.
Dele Alli was the other scorer in last season’s 2-0 home victory in the final North London derby at the old White Hart Lane, but he is likely to miss out on Saturday due to injury. With goalkeepers Hugo Lloris and Michel Vorm, defenders Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen and midfielders Victor Wanyama and Harry Winks also potential absentees, Pochettino will be forced to shuffle his pack.
Tottenham do, however, seem to have a better overall squad this season and with their Champions League qualification already assured, Pochettino can afford to focus the resources he does have on the local derby. Stronger away form than in the previous campaign also gives reason to believe that they can take a result away from the Emirates.
Arsenal have only lost one of the 24 North London derbies they have hosted since Tottenham’s victory at Highbury in the first Premier League season way back in 1993, but the days of the early 2000s when they recorded six straight home victories over Spurs have long passed. Each of the last three encounters at the Emirates have ended level (all 1-1) and Spurs are actually unbeaten in the last six meetings at all venues.
With a full squad to pick from, Spurs would be marginal favourites, but their absentees will even things up. Therefore, the most likely result is that the North London derby at the Emirates will again end in a draw.
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