Once more on Saturday, Tottenham and Arsenal will meet in a north London derby in the second half of the season with the battle for a Champions League spot at the forefront of both sides’ minds. It has become a recurring theme in the past decade as the two fierce local rivals compete for the treasured remaining places in Europe’s premier and hugely lucrative competition. It has so far been a decidedly one-sided tale. While Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League for an extraordinary 17 successive seasons, Tottenham have squeezed onto the top table just once.
This season’s clash at White Hart Lane promises to be less decisive than many in the past, but could yet again play a major role in the destiny of the two club’s seasons. Going into the game both Arsenal and Tottenham find themselves outside of the treasured top four. However, only goal difference now separates Arsene Wenger’s side from fourth-placed surprise package Southampton, with Mauricio Pochettino’s men just a place and two points back.
Both are finding form at just the right time. Since a New Year’s Day loss at Southampton, Arsenal have won five games on the bounce in all competitions. Last weekend they were in exhilarating form to brush aside Aston Villa 5-0, a result made all the more impressive given it was achieved without their star man this season, Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean forward will again be missing at White Hart Lane, along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
But Wenger still has more options at his disposal than for much of this campaign. Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky have been in superb form of late, while Mesut Ozil has scored in each of his two starts since returning from a knee injury. There is the added option of real pace, too, thanks to Theo Walcott’s return to fitness and form having essentially spent a year on the sidelines. Up front Olivier Giroud has provided two goals and two assists in his last three outings, and Wenger will have Danny Welbeck in reserve on Saturday after the forward overcame his thigh problem.
Encouragement has arrived at the back, too. Helped by Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker being able to form a consistent partnership in the center of defense and David Ospina arguably providing greater calm in goal than Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal have kept clean sheets in their last three Premier League outings.
Tottenham’s revival after a difficult start under Pochettino has not been quite so radical, and doubts remain about their consistency. Notably, their momentum was checked earlier this month with a 2-1 defeat at Crystal Palace. Yet they strongly hinted a few days earlier against Chelsea in a stunning 5-3 win that they are no longer inhibited when going up against the Premier League’s big guns. That mental fragility has often appeared to be their undoing when going up against their north London rivals. Tottenham have won just one of the last seven meetings between the sides, losing five.
Crucial to their progress of late has been the performances of Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen. Kane has been a surprise talisman, going from a Europa League alternative at the start of the season to scoring 18 goals in total this campaign, 10 in the Premier League. Eriksen, meanwhile, has added a searing cutting edge, finding the net nine times in the league, with five of them match winners. The Danish playmaker also scored the two goals against Sheffield United that secured Spurs a place in the Capital One Cup final against Chelsea at the start of next month.
Heading up to the Wembley showpiece, Tottenham’s clash with Arsenal is the start of a run of fixtures that could go a long way to determining the success of Pochettino’s debut campaign. After the visit of their local foes, Spurs face two other teams in close proximity to them in the Premier League table, Liverpool and West Ham, while also taking on Fiorentina in the last 32 of the Europa League.
Prediction: Both teams are significantly better off than when they played out a 1-1 draw last September. Having shown a willingness and ability at Manchester City recently to lose the possession battle while containing and striking on the break, Arsenal have particular reason for encouragement. Key to the result could well be their greater array of convincing options going forward compared with Tottenham. Yet Eriksen and Kane could cause Arsenal problems dropping off the front and Spurs have been strong at home in the league in recent weeks. With a draw likely an acceptable result to both managers, the spoils may again be shared.
Tottenham 1-1 Arsenal
Kickoff time: 7:45 a.m. EST
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra