Arsenal and Tottenham meet in the 125th anniversary of the north London derby with supporters of both clubs in desperate need for some assurance over their side’s future. The match could well represent a crossroads for both managers as they seek to bounce back from poor recent form in order to reestablish their challenges for Champions League qualification.
After a positive start to the season when Arsenal were lauded for their new found resilience, results have dramatically deteriorated to leave Arsene Wenger’s side in a disappointing eighth place in the Premier League, already 11 points back of leaders Manchester United.
Having lost another star player, Robin van Persie, in the summer and with no end to their more than seven year trophy drought in site, there is an increasing sense of uncertainty at the club. These feelings were fully expressed at the club’s fractious annual general meeting.
The current team on the field looks to have problems at both end of the pitch. The early defensive fortitude, attributed to new assistant manager Steve Bould, has all but dissipated as errors at the back have become a recurring feature.
Meanwhile, the Gunners have struggled to break down packed opposition defenses due to a lack of tempo and an over reliance on Santi Cazorla.
One positive for Arsenal in recent weeks, though, has been the improved form of Olivier Giroud. The summer signing from Montpellier looks to be finding his feet as he has struck three goals in his last two appearances for the club.
The France international is an injury concern for Saturday’s clash, though, and along with Mikel Arteta will face a late fitness test. Theo Walcott should be available, while goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is expected to make his comeback. Jack Wilshere is also available for selection after suspension.
Arsenal will meet a side in Tottenham that are one point better off in the Premier League table after an up and down season under new boss Andre Villas-Boas. Spurs have now lost three of their last four matches in the league and the optimism built up after a scintillating win at Manchester United in late September is receding fast.
Having been brought in following predecessor Harry Redknapp’s failure to achieve Champions League qualification, Villas-Boas knows that anything less than that will likely be deemed a failure this season.
The former Chelsea manager will again be without key midfielder Moussa Dembele through injury, but should have Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker all available.
D: Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Sagna
M: Arteta, Wilshere
Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski
D: Walker, Gallas, Caulker, Vertonghen
M: Sandro, Huddlestone
Lennon, Dempsey, Bale
Prediction: The result in the last north London derby back in February arguably reversed the fortunes of both side’s seasons as Arsenal went on to overhaul Tottenham for the final qualifying place for the Champions League. It’s much earlier in the season this time around, but Saturday’s result could be of equal significance.
The last five meetings between the two clubs at the Emirates have seen an incredible 26 goals scored and that pattern could well be set to continue.
Villas-Boas has suggested that he will stick with Emmanuel Adebayor in preference to Defoe because of a belief that the striker will be truly fired up against his former club. Past performances hint that that theory could well come to fruition and Adebayor should be a thorn in the side of a shaky Arsenal back line.
But Tottenham have also looked far from secure defensively and a high-scoring draw could be on the cards.
Arsenal 2-2 Tottenham
Where to watch: The match is scheduled to kick-off at 7.45 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on ESPN3.