Two of Arsenal’s biggest matches this season, like every other season, will be against arch rival Tottenham Hotspur in a pair of North London derbies. The first of these highly-anticipated showdowns takes place at home at Emirates Stadium on Sat. Nov. 17. With seventh-place Spurs ahead of the eighth-place Gunners in the league table and just one point ahead of them, this game is vital…if not for first place, but for the race to finish in the top four and the chance to compete in the Champions League again next season.
One of the most memorable Arsenal games last season took place back in February when Spurs jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. Pessimists in the crowd thought it was going to be a long and uninspiring day for them, but the Gunners came storming back to take a well-earned and perhaps surprising 5-2 victory. The two contests in the previous season saw Spurs win 2-1 and earn a 3-3 draw. But no matter who has won these important derbies over the years, two things have usually been guaranteed, which are goals and entertainment. In the past 10 matches between Arsenal and Spurs, there’s been an average of 4.6 goals scored each time out.
One of the most memorable, if for all the wrong reasons for Gunners supporters, took place back in October of 2008 when Arsenal pulled ahead 4-2 at home. There were just a couple of minutes to play in injury time and it looked like all three points were in the bag. However, two late goals by Aaron Lennon and Jermaine Jenas resulted in a dramatic 4-4 draw. The Gunners also blew a two-goal lead to Spurs at home in 2010 with Younes Kaboul scoring a late winner for a 3-2 win. A few months later, Arsenal had a two-goal lead at White Hart Lane, but ended up settling for a 3-3 draw.
As we can see, no lead is really safe for any team in this derby, especially a two-goal cushion. This leads to exciting and nail biting matches for the supporters and neutrals, but it’s got to be hard on the managers. Of course, Arsene Wenger is used to these duels while it will be the first time that Andre Villas-Boas has been in charge of Spurs against Arsenal. These matches are very unpredictable so it’s really a bit of a wasted effort to try and tell readers what’s going to take place when this game kicks off.
What we do know though, is Arsenal needs a stronger defensive and goaltending effort against Spurs than they received in their 3-3 draw against Fulham last week. With the way the league table is going this year, it looks like Spurs and Arsenal will be fighting it out for fourth spot and for Spurs to take it they’re going to have to finish ahead of the Gunners, which is something they haven’t been able to achieve since back in 1994/95. But with Spurs in seventh and Arsenal in eighth, there are several other teams to leapfrog and stay ahead of from now until the end of the season. These are West Ham, West Brom, and Everton at the moment.
Both clubs will be shorthanded as injuries have taken their toll on them this season. It appears the Gunners will again have to do without the likes of defender Kieran Gibbs, midfielders Abou Diaby, and Tomas Rosicky, forward Gervinho, and goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski. Wenger is hoping that both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be able to suit up and Jack Wilshere has finished serving his one-game suspension. Spurs are also hurting with defenders Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekoto likely out of action along with midfielders Scott Parker and Moussa Dembele. Winger Aaron Lennon, and striker Jermain Defoe may also miss the game. However, you never know for certain until the final team rosters are released just before game time.
The choice of goalkeepers will be interesting as Villas-Boas seems to flip a coin before each game to decide if he’s going to go with France international Hugo Lloris or American veteran Brad Friedel. Of course, Wenger has been using Italian Vito Mannone of late, but sooner or later we’ll likely see Polish international Wojciech Szczesny take his place back between the posts as he seems to be ready to go after missing most of the season with injury. It will also be interesting to see if ex-Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor plays, especially if Defoe is still hurting.
While there are three huge points at stake in the Gunners vs Spurs derby on Saturday, as always there’s more to it than that and current team form can usually be thrown out of the window as it doesn’t really matter. Hopefully, the importance of the match will bring out the best in both teams and their respective sets of supporters. Embrace the passion while you can.