It’s the biggest London derby in recent memory. The same buzz that rings around a stadium when a local rival comes to town will be intensified ten fold, instead becoming a fervent wave of expectation. Both teams are within reach of the title. Both are within reach of writing their name on the trophy, forever immortalising themselves to their fans as the side which finally brought the Premier League title to a London team that does not play in blue.
While his weeks games include lowly Aston Villa traveling to Manchester City in search of a way off the foot of the table, Chelsea looking to continue their resurgence against Stoke along with the crunch match at the bottom between Swansea and Norwich, make no bones about it, this London derby is the biggest match of the weekend and season so far.
Tottenham go into the game three points above their rivals with a much healthier goal difference (+27 compared to Arsenal’s +16), so barring a catastrophic defeat, Tottenham will remain above Arsenal at least until the next game week. Being above Arsenal after 29 games would portray just how superb a transformation Tottenham have been through. The management style of Mauricio Pochettino and the emergence of a crop of talented youth players has created a Tottenham side that can beat anyone on it’s day. This was best shown when Tottenham dismantled the then title favourites Manchester City 4-1 in September before they won the reverse fixture 2-1 in February .
This brand of youth and experience, pace and technical ability, clinical finishing and strong defending means that Tottenham are as deserving title winners as any team around them. So much has been said about Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen with their goals and match winning performances, but equally as vital has been their captain and goalkeeper. Hugo Lloris was the subject of a huge amount of transfer speculation from Manchester United in the summer but after he pledged at least this season to Tottenham, he has been in fantastic form and his presence and ability has guided Tottenham to a strong position in this title race.
In conjunction with Lloris is the growth of Danny Rose and Kyle Walker. While Walker and Rose still have room for improvement, especially with regard to the defensive side of their game, they have become much more well rounded defenders. Their ability to move quickly and attack on the wings has never been questioned but they did always leave a huge amount of space behind them for attackers to run into and expose Tottenham’s defence. Now however, both Rose and Walker seem far more adept at choosing when to attack and when to hang back and provide cover for their team. It is one of the ways Pochettino has turned a team of potential into a title force.
Arsenal on the other hand are in a bit of a rut lately. Recent defeats against Manchester United and Swansea have dented their title challenge while Barcelona beat them 2-0 in the Champions League after Hull City forced a replay in the FA Cup, the last thing Arsenal need in their title run in. Arsene Wenger and his men have been put under an immense amount of pressure due to Manchester City fading out of the title battle. With Leicester still an unknown quantity at this stage of the season and at these lofty heights and the same can be said for Tottenham, Arsenal took the label of title favourites.
As soon as this label was thrown into the mix, Arsenal began to lose games, concede soft goals and capitulate in true Arsenal style. But Arsenal fans can take solace in the fact that a derby victory would once again put them in a fantastic position to challenge for the title. Interestingly enough, the Gunners are only six points below Leicester in first and are still in a prime position to win the league. It perfectly portrays the backwards nature of this season that Arsenal’s wheels have supposedly come off their campaign. The injuries to Petr Cech and Laurent Koscielny, which will keep them out of the London derby, will not have helped their cause but the calibre of their squad is so high that Arsenal should still believe they can win the title even without two vitally important players.
David Ospina will deputise for Cech and it is likely a partnership between Gabriel Paulista and Per Mertesacker will be preferred at centre back with the three afore mentioned players all able to put in a strong performance to help their team. It will be the talent of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil though that will decide this game. Ozil has been in fine form this season and has been the spearhead of the title challenge, but when he is blunted, the entire Arsenal team seems to stop and struggle to open up teams. This is where the injury to Santi Cazorla becomes even more crucial as the little Spaniard is as adept as any at opening up an organised defence.
In conjunction with this is the form of Sanchez. The Chilean has been unable to replicate his form from last season, while his inability to impose himself on games is a real cause for concern for Arsenal who cannot afford to have players that are unable to have an impact on the game in a match they dare not lose. Wenger is in a difficult position though. If he were to drop Sanchez and Arsenal lost the game, then he would be lambasted for the decision to drop one of their best players and the rumours circling around his future would intensify. However if he plays Sanchez and the Chilean is unable to leave his mark on the game then Wenger’s bravery and decision making will be called into question with many saying if he had dropped Sanchez due to his poor form then the game may have been different.
Form wise, Tottenham are in the best shape heading into the game with five wins in their last six, scoring 11 and conceding just four. Arsenal on the other hand have only won twice while they have drawn one and lost three scoring seven and conceding seven. Tottenham also have the league’s third highest goal scorer in Harry Kane (16 goals) while Olivier Giroud is not far behind on 12. While there does not seem to be too much between either strikers, Kane goes into the game in good form whereas Giroud is still subject to much speculation about his future and whether he can become the World class striker that Arsenal need.
In any London derby though, form books must be disregarded as West Ham showed in their shock 1-0 victory over Tottenham in midweek. If Arsenal can settle into the game quickly and dictate the tempo then they will be hard to beat. However Tottenham will be optimistic that the quality of their defence can stop the Arsenal attack and then the likes of Alli and Eriksen can feed Kane who is in deadly form. Regardless of the result, both teams know that they will not be out of the title race with a loss, it makes things more difficult, but due to the unpredictable nature of this campaign, it does not mean curtains for either team. The victory will be more vital to Arsenal as they need to keep the gap between them and Leicester as small as possible, but both teams will feel that a victory over one of their fiercest rivals could be remembered as the moment that they won the title.