Just a couple of weeks on from their meeting in the league, local rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur collide again, this time in the quarter-final of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday (19:45 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
Arsenal triumphed in that earlier encounter. Spurs led 2-1 at the interval after goals from Eric Dier and Harry Kane cancelled out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s opener, but second-half strikes from Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Lucas Toreira gave Arsenal victory.
It was a match that followed a familiar pattern for the Gunners. Remarkably, even though they have recorded 10 wins across their 17 matches of the Premier League season to date, they are yet to take a lead into half time. Whether by accident or design, their attacking output has been much more impressive during the second halves of their matches.
Eight of Arsenal’s goals have arrived from players coming off the bench, but even the second-half introductions of Lacazette and Mesut Ozil were insufficient to turn things in their favour in a 2-3 defeat away at Southampton on Sunday. The result ended a 22-match unbeaten streak in all competitions that had helped Unai Emery make a positive impression in his first months at the club after replacing the long-standing head coach Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal are probably still relative outsiders in the battle for a top-four finish, but the Carabao Cup could possibly offer a viable means of crystallising the good will Emery has engendered to date. New coaches at bigger clubs have often found the competition to be an accessible route to their first silverware in England. It was Jose Mourinho’s first trophy at Chelsea, and Pep Guardiola’s first at Manchester City.
It was Arsenal who lost out to City in last season’s final. They have twice more been losing finalists this millennium. It is necessary to go back to 1993 to find the last time they lifted the trophy, further back even than Tottenham, who last won it in 2008.
Arsenal have had an easier route to the last eight than their opponents on Wednesday. They have seen off Championship side Brentford and Blackpool of League One. Spurs have had to go through fellow Premier League sides Watford and West Ham to reach this stage.
The Carabao Cup has perhaps been the competition in which Tottenham’s relative lack of squad depth in comparison to some of the Premier League’s other top-four contenders has been most visible. They finished as runners up to Manchester United in Mauricio Pochettino’s first season at the helm in 2014-15, but this is the first time since that they have gone further than the fourth round.
Despite finishing in the top three in each of the last three seasons, outperforming more monied opponents in the process, the rather tired narrative goes that Spurs must win a trophy, any trophy, if Pochettino is to be considered one of the top coaches in the game. Of all the competitions his side are involved in, the Carabao Cup would seem the most winnable.
With the Champions League group stage now completed, he may even have been minded to send out a strong starting XI at the Emirates. But Spurs are currently in the midst of an injury crisis, exacerbated by the news that Dier will now be out until January after having his appendix removed. Pochettino was forced to employ three full-backs in his back four and hand a first start to 18-year-old midfielder Oliver Skipp in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Burnley.
A hectic Christmas schedule is on the horizon and so despite the rivalry between the clubs and a certain desire to make further progress in the competition, it is difficult to see Pochettino taking too many risks with his selection in midweek.
Matches between these sides have frequently been some of the most entertaining derbies in the Premier League and that is unlikely to be any different on Wednesday. Home advantage and less selection concerns probably give Arsenal the slight edge in what is likely to be an exciting and goal-heavy encounter.