This Saturday's North London Derby could make or break Arsenal
This weekend's early kick-off might well decide the immediate future of Arsenal
During Arsenal's decade-long trophy drought from 2004 to 2014, the team's fans had very little to celebrate and that lost decade was beset with embarrassing collapses in the league, heavy defeats in the UEFA Champions League and regular losses against the best sides in the Premier League.
However, what kept many Arsenal fans from losing their sanity were the victories in the North London Derby against Tottenham Hotspur and although there were losses along the way, it was a fixture to which the team went in as favourites at all times. Arsenal had a vice-like hold on the fixture ever since Arsène Wenger became the manager and often claimed implausible victories against all odds (the pair of 5-2s). It looked like the dominance would continue.
However, all that changed with the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino at White Hart Lane and the tide has definitely turned in the favour of Spurs over the past few seasons. Pochettino has forged one of the best Spurs sides in a long time and they start as clear favourites in the North London Derby at the Emirates Stadium this Saturday.
They will also get to play the bitter rivals at a time when they are at their most vulnerable and this is a game that could actually decide Arsenal's immediate future in a number of ways. The future of the manager and certain players and the psychological effect on the club in the event of a defeat could all have long-term consequences.
In a way, this is a game that could make or break Arsenal's season. A win could reinvigorate them following a terrible start to the season but a home defeat to their bitter rivals will be an unmitigated disaster.
Arsenal have already lost thrice in the league, 11 games into the season and last week's 3-1 defeat away to a rampaging Manchester City has further piled pressure on the beleaguered manager Arsène Wenger and many of the players in the side. Make no mistake, Arsenal are in a crisis.
Two of their best players, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, could be on their way out in January or at the end of the season. The team often fails to play with any conviction and last but not the least, there is an open revolt against the manager as the team lurches from one poor performance to another.
This is probably the worst possible time for Arsenal to take on a hugely gifted and motivated Tottenham Hotspur, who recently defeated Champions League holders Real Madrid at White Hart Lane. The biggest worry for Arsenal is not merely a defeat but a rout at the hands of their fiercest rivals and that too at home. Considering the sort of form Spurs have been in, it is a real possibility.
Such a defeat will definitely make Arsène Wenger's position at the club even more precarious and with the winter games looming, the game could precipitate a poor run of form that could see the team eventually dropping out of the Champions League places yet again. If that happens, then there is every possibility that Wenger's 21-year reign as Arsenal's manager might come to an ignominious end.
Needless to say, the appointment of a new manager will decide the long-term fate of the club and it could all begin this Saturday in the North London Derby. Considering that fact that the Arsenal board haven't had to think about it for around two decades, it could turn out to be a tricky exercise for Ivan Gazidis and Co.
In addition to that, the discontent among Arsenal fans has been simmering for years and a heavy defeat to Spurs on Saturday could be the catalyst that tips them over the edge. An atmosphere of perpetual discontent cannot be healthy for any club and the effects of that could last for years.
The future of certain players, other than the contract rebels in the club, could also be decided depending on how they perform in this particular game and hence, it is not really a stretch to suggest that the North London Derby could prove to be the most important game for Arsenal in years. The other one, was, of course, the FA Cup final against Hull in 2014, that ended the trophy drought.
On the other hand, a win could be just what the club needs at the moment and a victory in the derby against a team as good as Spurs will restore some confidence in the team. That being said, Spurs have never lost a league game to Arsenal since Mauricio Pochettino took over and if anything, they have only become a far better team over successive seasons.
Harry Kane is now in a class of his own and arguably the league's best striker, while in Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli, they have two of the best midfielders in the league. The defence remains one of the meanest in the league and hence, Arsenal will have to be at their very best if they are to squeeze out a positive result from this game.
A win in this game, however, will be a giant stride for them and a fitting response to the limp 2-0 defeat at White Hart Lane back in April. Any of the two results in the early kick-off in the Premier League this weekend will make or break Arsenal and chart the future trajectory of the club.