3 key battles that will determine the outcome of the North London derby
Only 2 points separate Tottenham and Arsenal coming into the latest instalment of the North London Derby. Saturday’s meeting between the two teams promises to be a hotly contested affair as the teams vie for Champions League football next season.
Arsène Wenger appears to have found the right system to compliment his vast array of attacking talent, while Mauricio Pochettino’s plans look to be coming to fruition in a much-improved Spurs side. Both teams have lost only 1 of their last 8 Premier League games coming into this fixture and look good value ahead of this clash. Here, WhoScored.com take a look at the key battles where this fixture could be won or lost.
Christian Eriksen vs Francis Coquelin
Christian Eriksen has quickly emerged as Spurs’ saviour - without the Dane’s goals, Pochettino’s side would have 13 fewer points in the Premier League this campaign. Eriksen has scored more goals than any other player from outside the box (5) in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season, 2 of which have been free-kicks. The visitors will need to be wary of the goalscoring threat the 22-year-old carries when this fixture kicks off on Saturday.
Francis Coquelin will be tasked with keeping tabs on Eriksen. Coquelin was recalled from his loan spell with Charlton in December on the back of Aaron Ramsey’s hamstring injury and he has not disappointed following his return to the Emirates. His reintegration into the starting XI has coincided with the Gunners’ recent run of form, which has seen them win 4 of their last 5 league games and concede just 3 goals in that time.
The 23-year-old is averaging more tackles per league game (2.8) than any other Arsenal player this season and his effective shielding of the backline has contributed to the Gunners’ newfound defensive stability. However, his inexperience and sometimes rash tackling could be problematic in such a heated affair, given Eriksen’s recent free-kick taking form.
Harry Kane vs Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny
It’s been quite the campaign for Harry Kane, who has 20 goals in domestic competition this season, more than any other player. With Alexis Sánchez sidelined, the young England hopeful will be the main striking focus at White Hart Lane. Kane will be keen to help his side to all three points against their fierce rivals and after tormenting Gary Cahill and John Terry in Spurs' enthralling 5-3 win over Chelsea, similar is expected of the 21-year-old against their London rivals.
However, he will be up against one of the Premier League's most formidable centre-back partnerships on Saturday in Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. The duo’s top-flight experience has been essential for Arsenal in recent seasons and is likely to play a crucial role against Spurs. Arsenal have lost only 2 of the 13 league games the centre-back's have started together this season. With Kane in the form he is, though, Mertsacker and Koscielny will certainly have their hands full.
‘Dribbling’ and ‘finishing’ are both WhoScored strengths of Kane's, whose performances this season have thrust him into the limelight. The North London Derby will be a true indication of his progress as a player and whether he can handle the big occasion. Mertesacker and Koscielny have shut out big name strikers in the past, most notably in the impressive 2-0 win at Manchester City three weeks ago, but given Kane’s current form this could be their biggest test to date.
Federico Fazio vs Olivier Giroud
Olivier Giroud is set to spearhead the Arsenal attack this weekend. The Frenchman impressed in the recent 5-0 thumping of Aston Villa, netting the opener to set Wenger’s side on their way to victory, before turning provider for Mesut Özil to double Arsenal’s advantage after the interval. Giroud has netted 5 goals in his last 6 league games and he is beginning to rediscover his goalscoring touch after a foot injury sidelined him for a chunk of the 2014/15 campaign.
Chances are Federico Fazio will be tasked with keeping the burly Frenchman at bay. The Argentine may not be the quickest, but his physical presence could be enough to knock the Gunners frontman off his stride. If Arsenal do look to play the ball long for Giroud, this will play to Fazio's strengths. Only Andy Carroll (9.1) is winning more aerial duels per league game than Fazio (5.2) this season, reinforcing his WhoScored strength of ‘aerial duels’.
Giroud, however, certainly has the ability to get the better of Fazio, with his hold up play benefitting those supporting him, most notably the in-form Santi Cazorla. Speedster Theo Walcott and Özil are expected to flank Giroud, who boasts of statistically calculated style of play of 'likes to do layoffs', and it's this aspect of his game that will help bring out the best in Cazorla, Walcott and Özil at White Hart Lane, which could see Fazio struggle.
Therefore, it’s crucial the Spurs defender maintains his focus in order to limit the Arsenal striker’s influence over the 90 minutes. With WhoScored weaknesses of ‘concentration’ and ‘discipline’, however, the cumbersome centre-back is prone to errors, which the Gunners are capable of capitalising on.