The North London Derby. It’s not just a derby it’s THE derby. 90 minutes of heart pounding, nerve racking football with the pride of an entire club and fanbase on the line. 90 minutes in which the rest of the league’s context seems to disappear and form means next to nothing once the whistle blows.
A win in this match affirms to everyone that your club is the best in north London. Better than the scum down the road and the only club that anyone should bother with. Tottenham on top of the table? Doesn’t matter. Arsenal winning 9 and drawing 7 in the last 24 matches against one another? Doesn’t matter. What matters is here and now.
It’s the fixture your eyes scan for when the schedule is released, and the matchup in which you have too many favorite memories to pick from. Winning it all on their turf in 1971? Rosicky’s world class volley into the upper corner? Arsenal’s back to back 5-2 wins? Wenger’s first derby win? Countless others and today wouldn’t be a bad day for Arteta to get his first win in the derby.
Last time out will still be a fresh wound for many Gunners. Kolasinac’s errant back pass and an 81st minute Alderweireld winner? I know, you didn’t need the reminder. It was a game that could be summed up in two words — Jose. Pain.
Arteta was hardly the first manager in history to get suckered into a Jose Mourinho masterclass. It was the type of match script that has made Jose one of the best, and it makes me sick to write. Arsenal dominate possession, Jose’s side create chances on the break and sucker punch their way to a winner. All in a day’s work.
But it was all an odd affair. A stale atmosphere compared to the electric-charged days of packed stadiums filled with blood-thirsty fans looking to see their team make their mark. With no fans in allowed in, the match seemed to come and go. It stung, but something was missing.
That won’t be the case this year. Even with only 2000 fans allowed in, you can be certain they will be doing their best to create the most hostile environment they can. For all the joy and passion having Arsenal fans back in The Emirates created against Rapid Vienna, we can be certain Tottenham will get the lift tomorrow. I can’t think of a better way to welcome their fans back than a loss to us in a derby match.
To do that, Arteta is going to have to find a way to get Arsenal’s attack buzzing, while shutting down Tottenham’s supply chain into Harry Kane and line breaking balls for Son to run onto. With 9 assists for Kane and 9 goals for Son in their first 10 games, the duo are off to a frightening start. It could be a very big day for Gabriel to exert his physical dominance, while his defensive partners have their hands full dealing with Son and Bergwijn looking to play off Kane in behind.
After yet another dominating win the Europa League in which Arteta deployed a fluid 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 formation, it’s fair to question what he has in mind to translate that success to the Premier League. While those were effective in a match Arteta knew Arsenal were the better side, a return to a familiar, effective shape that saw them claim victory at Old Trafford may be in the cards.
Adding an extra defender in central areas to deal with Kane while shielding against counters. Offering a bit of pace, possibly through Kieran Tierney or David Luiz, joined by wingback support, could be the ticket. While this would leave the midfield pivot out numbered in the center, that’s not unusual for them and can be counteracted through wingbacks coming central and attackers dropping deeper.
It’s not the most thrilling style of play, it may not leading to another 5-2 scoreline, but when you’re away from home, in the derby, you do what you have to to get the result.
Arsenal have a 9-8-7 record in their last 24 matchups with Tottenham and have only lost back-to-back Premier League matches to Spurs twice. Preventing a second straight loss and putting a stop to Spurs’ recent run of good form that has seen them claim a spot at the top of the league will be top of mind for the Gunners.
With a run of bad form, this may come down to character, fight, workrate, and the ‘non-negotiables’ that Arteta has talked about during his first year. How have the team soaked in the message and identity he has tried to instill in them? Everyone saw a lot of fight at the end of the season, but how it shows up in the major matches tells an entirely different story.
Most of the lineup selections are reflected from the conversation above. Gabriel to physically handle the battle with Kane, Luiz and Tierney to help combat some of the pace that Son and Bergwijn offer. A return to the 3-4-3 pivot that succeeded in keeping Manchester United’s attack quite away from home.
Saka and Bellerin as the two wingbacks, something that has become a rather simple selection at this point. Sorry Maitland-Niles. Maybe this comes across as disrespectful to his performance against Rapid Vienna, but even when Arsenal are struggling as they are, opposition quality has to be taken into account. What is a MUST, however, is AMN being present on the bench. He is far too versatile to be left out.
Up top, I have returned to a lineup that sees Aubameyang move to the left. The main reason is because the 3-4-3 doesn’t allow for a natural number 10, which could make it difficult for the central striker to remain high — something Aubameyang needs when he’s leading the line. Not impossible for Aubameyang to still be central — Arteta could ask a winger to come across or one of the wingbacks — but it’s not the same, and historically we see the ST fill the hole. If Lacazette does get the call, I would prefer his role be altered, as well. Something a little more like the image below.
Look at this however you please — 3-2-3-2, 3-4-1-2, or simply a variation on the 3-4-3. All I would be looking for is Aubameyang and Nelson to come a bit more central while Saka and Bellerin look to offer width. Lacazette fills that hole at times, much like we will see Harry Kane do, or like Lacazette offered against Vienna during the midweek match.
Finally, without Pepe in, I have opted for Reiss Nelson over Willian. Is it too much to ask? Probably. It seems like Arteta continues to hunt after the white whale that is Willian’s quality, but Reiss Nelson offers a lot of pace, dribbling quality, ball carrying ability, and a bit of direct play that I believe gives Arsenal an added element. He has been in really great form in the Europa League, but he needs it to make the leap to the next level. It’s a big ask to have it be done in a North London Derby, but as a Hale End product, he knows what this is all about.
There is an interesting stat about the team that scores first in this matchup has failed to win in 27 of the 51 meetings between these two teams that have had at least one goal scored. It tells an interesting story about the way these two clubs battle to overcome early adversities against one another, however, I expect this match to be in the minority when it comes to that stat.
The first team to score WILL win. My prediction? 1-0 Arsenal!