Arsenal negotiated the first of three hugely important fixtures in seven days by beating Olympiakos 3-1 in Athens on Thursday night.
After taking care of business overseas, the focus turns to a fixture against an old rival situated just up the Seven Sisters Road. Sunday’s north London derby.
Scoring three away goals in Greece gives manager Mikel Arteta the luxury of being able to field a first choice starting lineup, with an opportunity to rest regular starters for the second leg of their Europa League clash on 18 March.
Whoever Arteta chooses to play from the outset, individual mistakes must be eliminated for his side to have any chance of victory against Tottenham Hotspur. Errors when playing out from the back have cost the Gunners in recent weeks and, with the lively duo of Heung-min Son and Harry Kane in wait, Arsenal must ensure to make the right decisions when put under pressure. As fans know after Sead Kolasinac’showler against Spurs in July, lapses of concentration can be ruthlessly punished in this encounter.
An inability to play intricate, error-free football makes Alexandre Lacazette a more suitable option. If Bernd Leno frequently elects to go long, the Frenchman’s ability to hold the ball up and bring other attackers into play means a direct approach from Arsenal does not have to be all hit and hope.
Although Tottenham are enjoying a resurgence in the Premier League, winning their past three league matches, JoséMourinho has yet to settle on a familiar partnership at centre-back. Unfamiliarity in the heart of Spurs’ defence could be exploited by Arsenal, with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring eight goals in his last eight appearances in all competitions.
The return to form of Gareth Bale, who notched a brace in wins against Burnley and Crystal Palace means Kieran Tierney may not be able to bombard down the left flank to the same extent. In what will be a fascinating individual duel, the Arsenal full-back must focus on neglecting Bale’s influence before bombing forward.
The pace of Tierney’s opposite number Sergio Reguilón may see the Gunners attempt to channel their attacks down Tottenham’s left-hand side. Starting Aubameyang on the left wing when Tierney ventures forward and Martin Ødegaard or Emile Smith-Rowe dropping into the half-spaces from the No.10 role allows for overloads to be created in that area.
Discipline is always a factor in a game as hotly contested as the north London derby. Both sides will be brimming with passion even if they will be doing battle in an empty arena. Mourinho, famed for leaving no stone unturned, will be aware of Arsenal’s poor disciplinary record under Arteta. They have been shown nine red cards since the Spaniard took charge in December 2019, more than any other Premier League side. In a match notorious for being decided by the finest of margins, Arsenal cannot afford to give Spurs a numerical advantage.
Kane and Son may be the most lethal partnership in the league. However, Arsenal have played well enough in recent weeks without getting consistent results, to come into Sunday’s clash with confidence.
Mourinho’s preference to favour a more pragmatic approach in big games gives the Gunners the chance to impose their authority on the contest. Arteta has shown himself to be equally cautious in matches where more is at stake, yet Arsenal should take the game to their opponents in an effort to avoid playing catch up if they concede first.
A Spurs win would put the Lilywhites ten points clear of their north London rivals, so the onus may be on the Gunners to draw first blood. Although Arsenal have ten more games to make up ground and push for a top six spot, the magnitude of this rivalry means the north London derby would be a good place to start.
Not only would a victory give bragging rights to fans on the N5 side of the divide, but it could boost the squad’s confidence even further, serving as a reminder that the players are capable of dragging Arsenal back into the mix for European qualification via the Premier League.
Arteta demonstrated his prowess in cup competitions last season by guiding his men to the FA Cup last campaign. Despite this achievement, he knows the importance ofimproving upon last term’s eighth placed finish, not to mention a maiden win against Spurs as a manager. Sceptics may point to 2018-19 when Unai Emery’s selection became muddled and muddied, costing Arsenal a top four place. However, as we have seen so far this season, Arteta possesses a much larger, more experienced squad which lends itself to rotation.
This is why Arsenal’s best bet of qualifying for Europe is to rediscover some domestic form and there is no better place to start than Sunday’s crucial north London derby.