Let’s get one thing straight here, Tottenham are going into tomorrow’s North London derby in their best form of the season having comfortably dispatched Chelsea and beaten a competent Internazionale as well. A betting man would have to pick Spurs on Sunday. But, is there any way Arsenal could upset the odds and win back some local pride? Here’s why an Arsenal win shouldn’t be over-looked.
Gary Lineker described Arsenal’s improvement under Unai Emery as ‘significant’ and it’s hard to disagree. While many may feel Arsenal have won ‘easy’, there are improvements in their game that simply can’t be overlooked. A big criticism of Arsenal in recent years was their undoubted decline in quality off the ball, largely a lack of work-rate and hunger – something that has definitely changed under Emery. This is highlighted in Arsenal’s ability to recover points from losing positions and the amount of distance players cover in games along with tackles made – both statistics that rank high among their ‘top-six’ rivals.
Arsenal’s record against the top six has been far from good enough before this season, but in their three games against the top teams this term it’s fair to say Arsenal have competed. The opening day defeat to Manchester City was by no means a rout, they pushed Chelsea all the way at Stamford Bridge and earned a point against Liverpool in a game in which they arguably deserved more. It’s clear from the performances and bravery we’ve seen from Arsenal in these games that they’re not as easily intimidated as before.
It’s all well and good having the ambition and hunger, but it needs to be married with class and quality, and that’s one thing Arsenal have always had in abundance. Inconsistency is the biggest criticism you can throw at players such as Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette, but you can’t question their talent when they are firing. If Arsenal can match the work ethic with the talent they possess as well, they could make it a really difficult afternoon for Spurs.
Perhaps the biggest challenge Spurs face is that for the first time in years they’re coming to a very united Emirates Stadium. Where there was once doubt, divide and unrest, there’s now hope, unity and belief. This has channeled through to the players this season and if the crowd is up for it, it could make proceedings that little more uncomfortable for Tottenham.
Are Tottenham the better team? Yes they are. Could they win this quite comfortably? Absolutely. The work Mauricio Pochettino has done at the club is phenomenal, and that’s an understatement. However, this is a very different test to any he’s faced in North London derbies so far, and while the game will tell us more about Arsenal than it will Tottenham, it’s going to be a really intriguing insight into how far Arsenal have come under Emery and whether the gap is really closing, or whether a power shift in North London is cementing itself completely.