North London Derby Preview

A big game for locals and a big game for the top four
Football Whispers  |  27th February 2019

Tottenham and Arsenal have both had rather bizarre seasons.

Mauricio Pochettino’s team have found themselves included in title race discussions despite becoming the first Premier League team to make no purchases in a league season.

Unai Emery’s side started shakily, then went on a 11-game winning and 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions. Since then, public reaction has vacillated between thinking Arsenal are top-four contenders and wondering whether they’ve moved forwards at all since the departure of Arsene Wenger.

Quite simply, nobody knows what to think about either team.

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The truth behind the scores

In terms of their most recent form, both north London sides have been doing similarly well. Both have been doing well in the Premier League. Both went out of the FA Cup recently but have, or look like they will, progress to the next round of European competition.

There have been doubts about their good results, though. Arsenal’s unbeaten run came despite many suggesting that they weren’t quite as good as the score-lines made it seem. Their subsequent fall from grace and dropping a couple of places in the table (which they’ve now made back) made those doubts look justified.

That Tottenham are still third in the table seems equally unlikely. The club has bought nobody this season which would make things slightly tough for any normal team. Spurs, though, are a team with a relatively small squad in the top of the table stakes, and have sustained injuries to major players.

Spurs’ expected goals difference is only the fifth-best in the league, but they’ve eked out every little bit they can from the season. In some ways, their whole campaign has been like Arsenal’s 22-game unbeaten stretch. Fantastic for the fans, but anyone expecting it to last might want to think again.

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The Match-Ups

How Tottenham will line up as key players like Harry Kane get back into their rhythm will be interesting to see. The midfield and attack of Mauricio Pochettino’s team have always been fluid, but they’ve needed to be particularly so in recent months.

This fluidity might be something that Arsenal struggle to deal with. Despite the signings of Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira, their midfield has still struggled at times defensively. Being vulnerable on the counter had become something of a hallmark of the Gunners during Arsene Wenger’s later years in charge, and Emery still hasn’t quite managed to rid the team of that quirk.

This is a problem given that their centre-backs have been consistently inconsistent, either through injury or just simple poor form.

Their three senior central defenders Laurent Koscielny, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and Shkodran Mustafi are all now fit at the same time — which has been a rarity — but none have been hugely solid. Koscielny’s performances are showing his age, Mustafi’s have always been unpredictable, and Sokratis looks like he’s struggling to adjust to the pace of the league and height of the Arsenal back-line.

Battle Of The Wing-Backs

What Tottenham and their opponents choose to do with Kieran Trippier is always an interesting question. The right-back is one of Spurs’ leading creators, alongside Christian Eriksen, but in being useful high up the pitch there’s a trade-off defensively.

Arsenal aren’t a side who have a particularly obvious danger man at left-wing, but they do have their own wing-back threat in Sead Kolasinac.

Kolasinac, believe it or not, has one of the best averages in Europe for expected goals assisted per 90 minutes. That’s not out of wing-backs, that’s out of anyone (although the relatively small number of league minutes he’s played helps his cause).

With both playing on the same flank, it’ll be interesting to see how things play out if both of them are starting. Presumably, both sides will want to unleash the attacking threat that their wing-back can offer and will leave the rest of the team to manage the space that they leave behind them.

It’s not the most star-studded of key areas to watch, but it’s a significant one. With Marcos Alonso at Chelsea and Matt Doherty at Wolves, Trippier and Kolasinac are two of the most threatening attacking wing-backs in the league. That right flank of Tottenham and left flank of Arsenal could well decide this match.

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