Arsenal will be aiming to continue their dominance over local rivals Tottenham and win back-to-back games for the first time this season in Saturday’s north London derby at the Emirates. It has been a mixed start to the campaign for Arsène Wenger’s side, meaning the result against their biggest foes takes on particular importance. The past week has encapsulated Arsenal’s fortunes this season. Having breezed past Aston Villa, 3-0, last weekend, they were then knocked out of the Capital One Cup with a 2-1 home loss to Southampton. While it was a much-changed team fielded by Arsene Wenger in midweek, those players on show reflected his lack of defensive options.
Only Calum Chambers kept his place from the team that beat Villa, and he was one of three teenagers who, alongside a midfielder, made up the four-man backline. With Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal already out injured, Wenger was understandably not prepared to take any chances over the fitness of Per Mertesacker and Kieran Gibbs. Fortunately both have recovered from slight knocks to leave Wenger with no further headaches ahead of the visit of Tottenham.
Instead, Wenger’s biggest decision is likely to be over the positioning of Mesut Özil. The German World Cup winner faced much criticism over his performances at the start of the season, but against Aston Villa he was moved back to his favored No. 10 role and things instantly clicked. Özil scored off an assist from striker Danny Welbeck and then set up the England striker for his first goal for the club since joining from Manchester United on transfer deadline day.
“[Özil] played very well and he had a good understanding with Welbeck,” Wenger said. “It was a good partnership because they gave each other balls to score. It was an interesting experience. It is tempting to keep Özil in that central role, but I maintain again he will play where he is needed for the balance of the team and that can change game by game.”
Emphasizing how important this north London derby is for the two sides, a win for a Tottenham would take them above Arsenal in the table. That would be a huge boost and considerable perception changer for a Tottenham side that has had a poor start to the season. A 4-0 win over Queens Park Rangers in August now looks to have been more about the failings of their opponents, with Spurs having since taken just one point from three Premier League matches since.
Since Wenger took charge of Arsenal in 1996, he has incredibly lost just six of 44 meetings with Tottenham and finished above them in the Premier League every season. Mauricio Pochettino now becomes the 11th permanent manager to try and shift the balance of power in north London. History shows that he may have to in order to keep his job.
“Tottenham, for me, is a big job and it’s a dream to stay here like him [Wenger], to have the time [at Tottenham] that Arsène has had at Arsenal,” Pochettino said, reports The Guardian. “For this, I need to show my skill, I need to work hard and I need to get results. We are positive in our job and we will try to go as far as possible.”
Tottenham claimed a welcome win in midweek, although a completely changed lineup from the one that went down to West Brom last Sunday needed three late goals to come from behind to defeat Championship side Nottingham Forest.
Prediction: It would appear a simple decision to leave Özil in a No. 10 role, where he is demonstrably more effective. However, in the absence of a commanding holding midfielder, Wenger has tried to make his side more secure by fielding both Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere alongside Mikel Arteta. But at home and against a Tottenham side struggling for form, opting for Özil centrally would surely be the wise choice.
Pochettino’s style of high pressing and high-paced attacks in transition is suited to cause an Arsenal team that can often been caught cold problems. But it will take some time and further refurbishing of his squad for the former Southampton manager to implement that style to full effect. In the meantime, the pace of Welbeck and Alexis Sánchez coupled with the incisive passing of Özil should expose a high Spurs defensive line.
Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham
Kickoff time: 5.30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra