For the first time since Arsene Wenger’s retirement after 22 years in charge of Arsenal, the Gunners host rivals Tottenham Hotspurs at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
It’s the first north London derby of the 2018/19 Premier League and it finds both sides in fine fettle.
Arsenal and Spurs, currently fifth and third in the table respectively, are contenders for a top-four finish this term and, with a combined 26 games played thus far, have only tasted defeat five times between them.
New Gunners boss Unai Emery has assimilated quickly to life in the English top flight and has fans dreaming once again of building towards a genuine title challenge in the near future. Opposite number Mauricio Pochettino has overseen Tottenham’s best-ever start to a Premier League season, just five points behind leaders Manchester City.
Here, our friends at Football Whispers preview the battle for north London bragging rights.
Arsenal began the season with back-to-back defeats, losing at home to champions Manchester City on the opening day and following that disappointment up with a loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
They are unbeaten since then, though, with eight wins from 11 games. The Gunners snapped a run of three successive draws by overcoming Bournemouth 2-1 at Vitality Stadium last weekend.
Spurs have won seven of their last eight Premier League games, with the only blot on their copybook in that time a loss at their temporary Wembley home to Manchester City.
Last time out, Tottenham produced one of the finest performances of Pochettino’s reign to thrash Chelsea 3-1 at the national stadium.
Emery’s commitment to playing out from the back drew criticism early in the season, as opponents rushed the Gunners into mistakes in dangerous areas. However, 13 games into the campaign and with Arsenal unbeaten since August, the Spaniard’s methods are bearing fruit.
The former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla manager has stuck with Wenger’s preferred 4-2-3-1 shape, but he has cracked the code to getting Alexandre Lacazette and Premier League joint top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to co-exist, while adding tenacity in midfield in the shape of Lucas Torreira and getting a tune from Granit Xhaka.
Arsenal are 2.5 with FansBet to finish in the Premier League’s top four this season*
With Pochettino now in his fifth season at Tottenham boss, the way he operates is well established. The Argentine tactician has made less use of a back three this term than in previous season, but has expertly crafted a midfield set-up he is able to mould to different requirements from game to game.
Moussa Sissoko has emerged as a force over the last month, and options such as Mousa Dembele, Dele Alli, Harry Winks, Eric Dier and Christian Eriksen means Spurs have steel, drive and invention in good supply.
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Pierre Emerick Aubameyang – The Gabonese striker, signed for a club-record £60million fee on the final day of last season’s January transfer window, is in such a rich vein of form that he has scored with each of his last eight shots on target.
Having built a reputation as one of Europe’s deadliest poachers at Dortmund, after he began his career as a winger, Aubameyang has moved back out to the flank this season. But his movement, and the unselfish play of Lacazette, has seen him enjoy just as many big chances in central zones as he would have were he starting as the attacking spearhead.
Level with Sergio Aguero as the Premier League’s top scorer on eight goals, Spurs will have to focus intently to shackle Aubameyang.
Robert Pires and Paul Robinson give their verdict ahead of the North London Derby
Spurs are 1.35 with FansBet to finish in the Premier League’s top four this season*
Harry Kane – The England captain is just one goal behind Aubameyang in the scoring charts and, as Tottenham’s star man and attacking focal point, he is involved heavily in almost all of his side’s forward play.
A lethal finisher never afraid to shoot from any distance, Kane’s productivity in front of goal perhaps leads to other aspects of his game flying under the radar, such as his excellent passing, running of the channels and link play.
With seven career goals in eight north London derbies, Arsenal will know all about the threat Kane poses. Stopping him, though, is much easier said than done.
*Odds subject to change
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