Unai Emery’s Arsenal will host the third-placed Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday for this season’s first North London derby and perhaps, the most crucial one of all. The Gunners are three points adrift of their century-old chief rivals, with a similar goal difference; a win will take Arsenal into the top 4 regardless of other results.
Emery has been a fantastic appointment by Arsenal, to say the least. When you look around you see how appointing managers, no matter what club, league or division, can go horribly go wrong; before you know it, you are stuck in a loop for a long time with mediocre results. Arsenal fans would be delighted that their club is proving to be a rare exception to that.
The new manager, unlike his predecessor, has been putting in a lot of thinking before each game. The 3-4-3 formation to nullify Bournemouth’s pressing game last weekend was the prime example of that; he stuck to the plan, even if it meant the big guns were to be benched.
The upcoming clash is not a must-win game for either team, but is definitely a must-not-lose game for the Gunners. There’s always a lot of bragging rights at stake for both sides in this derby, so much so that more than winning, they would be more focused on not losing.
So how should Arsenal approach the game?
Arsenal must start better
Arsenal have been slow starters in each of their games played so far bar the Liverpool one. It’s such a paradox that they are on an 18-game unbeaten streak but not once did they go into half-time with a lead.
Arsenal’s defense at times can be as open as a 24-hr call centre. If they allow the Spurs to get into their free-flowing groove, the game will be over well inside the first half.
But if Emery’s men can do to Spurs what Spurs have been doing to their opposition - that is, coming out of the blocks roaring - it could be a very interesting game.
Stop Eriksen, stop Spurs
Spurs play a diamond shape in the midfield that decimated Chelsea last weekend. However, Liverpool battered the same structure at Wembley earlier in the season.
The trick is to outpress Spurs in the middle of the park, to ensure Christian Eriksen is tightly marked throughout the game, and to block his avenues as much as you can. Emery has to make sure that his midfield generals - Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka - are on the Dane’s tail throughout the game time.
Lacazette brings balance to the team
Alexandre Lacazette being back fully fit after the groin injury is great news for Emery, and he must start the game on Sunday. With Lacazette available, Emery can now go back to his preferred formation of 4-2-3-1 with Sead Kolasinac and Alex Iwobi operating on the left side of the pitch.
The Bosnian does have his occasional defensive lapses, but Iwobi will be expected to make up for them as and when Son Heung-min is on his bike heading at 200mph.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will get deployed to the right-wing with Mesut Ozil - who’s expected in the starting XI for out-of-form Henrikh Mkhitaryan - operating in the No. 10 role.
Chasm in fitness levels
The Spurs have had the week of weeks, beating two very big sides - Chelsea in the league and Inter Milan away in Europe. But there could be doubts over their fitness levels as Mauricio Pochettino had to play his strongest side in both games and he will have to play his strongest side on Sunday too.
On the other hand, Emery has had the luxury of resting almost all of his first XI for the midweek trip to Ukraine. The only notable absentee for Arsenal is Nacho Monreal due to hamstring issues but other than that, the team looks as fresh as a daisy in the morning.
This could very well tip the scale in favour of Arsenal, especially towards the later stages of the game.
Mike Dean, the referee who has been appointed to officiate the game, is quite the lucky mascot for Arsenal. They haven’t lost a single league game supervised by Dean since September 2015, and have won the last three derbies along the way.
Bellerin Mustafi Sokratis Kolasinac
Aubameyang Oezil Iwobi
LacazettePublished 30 Nov 2018, 18:20 IST