Sports Mole previews Sunday’s Premier League clash between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
A significant weekend of Premier League action is headlined on Sunday by the North London derby as Tottenham Hotspur host bitter rivals Arsenal.
Two thousand supporters will be back in the stadium for the contest and they will hope to see their top-of-the-table Spurs side inflict more misery on their out-of-form neighbours.
Spurs fans could not have picked a better game than the North London derby for which to make their return to the magnificent Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – not only due to the magnitude of the match, but also due to the contrasting form of both sides.
Only 2,000 of the 62,303 seats will be filled, but those lucky enough to have tickets will be expecting to see their side come away with bragging rights against an Arsenal side in abject league form.
Tottenham’s own form is quite the opposite, with Jose Mourinho‘s men currently enjoying the longest unbeaten run in the Premier League, having not lost since the opening day.
That has seen Spurs rise to the top of the table, above champions Liverpool on goal difference heading into the weekend, and another win on Sunday would see them pass the latest test of their title credentials.
Four points from their last two league games against Manchester City and Chelsea suggests that they may be capable of seriously challenging for a first title since 1961 this season, but the big games do not stop there.
After Sunday’s showdown with their fiercest rivals, Spurs then face another London derby against Crystal Palace next weekend before consecutive matches against Liverpool, Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
It is a fearsome festive fixture schedule at the end of which we should know more about Tottenham’s true title chances, but so far Spurs have shown little sign of slipping up domestically, picking up 13 of the last 15 points on offer in the league.
Their Europa League form has been a little less convincing and a late flurry of goals saw them only manage a 3-3 draw with LASK Linz in Austria on Thursday night, but that was still enough to send them through to the last 32 and make it seven games unbeaten across all competitions.
Such slip-ups in the Premier League could prove more costly in the long run and, while Spurs currently lead the way and have already done so for longer this season than in the previous 10 seasons combined, they will be well aware that only four points separate the top seven teams and six points separate the top 11.
A sudden slump could therefore change the complexion of their title challenge completely, then, and there is no doubt that Arsenal would relish the chance to begin such a downturn in fortunes more than any other club.
The Gunners have enough of their own problems to focus on at the moment, though, and the Arsenal supporters may be dreading Sunday’s short trip to Tottenham more than they have any other North London derby in recent times.
Some of those supporters were back in the ground to watch Arsenal run out 4-1 winners over Rapid Vienna at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night as their convincing passage through the Europa League group stages continued, cruising past the Austrian runners-up while Spurs were struggling against a team that finished fourth in the same division last season.
That European form is in stark contrast to their Premier League form, though, and Mikel Arteta‘s side come into this match having won just one of their last six top-flight outings, losing four.
Defeat against Wolves last weekend was a third on the bounce at home and, while they have actually fared better on the road so far this season, the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is one of the last places they will want to go right now.
Arteta may actually think the opposite; their only league win in the last two months came away to Manchester United and he may hope that a North London derby is the perfect fixture to snap his side out of their current malaise.
There is no getting away from the fact that it has been a dreadful start to the season for Arsenal, though – their worst since 1981-82, having taken only 13 points from their opening 10 games.
The Gunners’ current 14th-placed standing is the lowest they have gone into a North London derby since 1993 – when they were 21st after only one game of the season – and only rock-bottom Sheffield United are on a longer current winless run in the top flight.
It represents a stark downturn in form under Arteta, who already has two trophies under his belt as manager and lost just five of his first 22 league games in charge, whereas he has now lost five of the last eight.
The Spaniard has seen his role come under steadily increasing pressure as a result – for the first time in the near-year since he took over – and defeat against a Spurs side this weekend would do nothing to help that.
All is certainly not lost, though, with Arsenal still only five points off the top four despite their poor start to the campaign, while away from home only Liverpool and Manchester City have beaten them in nine games across all competitions this season.
Tottenham Hotspur Premier League form: DWWWWD
Tottenham Hotspur form (all competitions): WWWWDD
Arsenal Premier League form: LLWLDL
Arsenal form (all competitions): WLDWLW
Tottenham’s talisman Harry Kane faces a race against time to be fit for this one, having picked up an apparent muscle injury and subsequently missed out in midweek.
Mourinho has stressed that he does expect his forward to play, but the Premier League’s leading assist-maker this season will need to be assessed ahead of kickoff.
Should he pass that late fitness test then history beckons, with Kane needing just one more goal to become the outright leading scorer in the history of the North London derby.
Kane’s partner in crime Son Heung-min played 82 minutes on Thursday night and netted his 12th goal of the season in all competitions – behind only Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Kane himself among Premier League players.
Kane’s back-up striker Carlos Vinicius also has a question mark hanging over his head, but Mourinho is hopeful that the Benfica loanee, Sergio Reguilon and Toby Alderweireld will be fit for this one.
Alderweireld suffered a groin injury against Man City last month and has not featured since, but there is a chance he could be ready for this match. Erik Lamela is Tottenham’s only guaranteed absentee.
Arsenal were able to welcome long-term absentees Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers back on Thursday night, while Sead Kolasinac also shook off a problem to start.
The Gunners are still without the suspended Nicolas Pepe, but they could be boosted by an early return for Thomas Partey, who is set to be back in training ahead of this match.
David Luiz will also be assessed ahead of kickoff after the sickening clash of heads between himself and Raul Jimenez last weekend.
The decision to allow Luiz to play on in that game was widely condemned, but Arteta has opened the door to him featuring again this weekend if the scar is healing as expected.
Gabriel Martinelli, meanwhile, is nearing a comeback and is expected to play for the Under-23s before making his first-team return early next year.
Tottenham Hotspur possible starting lineup:
Lloris; Aurier, Alderweireld, Dier, Reguilon; Sissoko, Hojbjerg; Son, Ndombele, Bergwijn; Kane
Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Leno; Holding, Gabriel, Tierney; Bellerin, Ceballos, Elneny, Saka; Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Head To Head
Tottenham’s 2-1 victory in the corresponding fixture last season, when Alderweireld scored a late winner, means that Spurs could win back-to-back Premier League games against Arsenal for only the third time in the competition’s history here.
Spurs are also now unbeaten in their last six top-flight home games against their near neighbours stretching back to 2014 – their longest such run since a nine-game streak from January 1960 to January 1968.
There could be a place in history for both managers this weekend too; Arteta is looking to avoid becoming only the second Arsenal boss ever – after Bertie Mee in 1966-67 – to lose his first two North London derbies, while Mourinho is looking to become only the second Spurs boss – after Jimmy Anderson in 1955-56 – to win his first two.
We say: Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Arsenal
Mourinho has never lost a home match against Arsenal in 10 previous matches across all competitions, and we cannot see that record being blemished this weekend.
Arsenal’s Premier League form is poor at the moment whereas Tottenham are flying and can smell a title challenge. Add the return of fans into the mix and Spurs will be rubbing their hands in anticipation of this match as they look to add to Arsenal’s woes this season.
Top betting tip
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