September rolls around on the calendar with Arsenal facing arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur at home at the Emirates on Sunday the 1st at 4pm. The Gunners are coming off of an impressive 2-0 home win over Turkish side Fenerbahce in the second leg of their Champions League qualifying series on Tuesday. Ironically, Arsenal could have been hammered in both legs and Fenerbahce wouldn’t have advanced to the group stage since the CAS upheld their UEFA ban.
The Istanbul-based club was banned from playing in European tournaments for two seasons earlier this year due to domestic match-fixing. They appealed the ruling handed down by UEFA and the CAS didn’t have an answer ready until the day after the series against Arsenal. This means they won’t be allowed to play in the Europa league this season and any European event next year.
The other big news for Arsenal this week was the return of French midfielder Mathieu Flamini. Manager Arsene Wenger brought the 29-year-old back to the club from AC Milan on a free transfer. Flamini played for the Gunners from 2004 to 2008 after joining from French side Marseille. He made a total of 153 appearances for the London club and managed to find the back of the net eight times. He also scored eight goals for Milan in 122 games.
Flamini will add some depth to the squad while Lukas Podolski sits out the next 10 to 12 weeks due to a torn hamstring. The newcomer could be inserted into the starting 11 against Spurs. Joining Podolski on the sidelines is Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, who’s out for between six and 12 weeks, as well as midfielders Abou Diaby and Mikel Arteta. It also looks like Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen is still out of action as well with a back problem.
The good news for Wenger is that French defender Laurent Koscielny is back in the team after sitting out last week’s 3-1 win at Fulham due to a one-game suspension. Koscielny received the ban after being tossed out of the Gunners’ season-opening 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa with a pair of yellow cards. Also, don’t be surprised if you see outcast striker Niklas Bendtner back in the Arsenal squad sometime soon as Wenger said he plans to use him this season.
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas has bought several new players during the summer transfer window and they will come in hand since Spurs also have a few injuries to deal with. It looks like English international winger Aaron Lennon may miss the match with a foot problem along with striker and former Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor and defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Of course, don’t expect Gareth Bale to be in the squad either as he’s still trying to force a move away from White Hart Lane, preferably to Real Madrid.
The newest of Villas-Boas’ signings are Vlad Chiriches and Erik Lamela, but they aren’t likely to start. Midfielder Lewis Holtby and striker Jermain Defoe played well in Spurs 3-0 victory over Dinamo Tbilisi in Europa League qualifying on Thursday with Defoe scoring a pair of goals. He will still likely start on the bench though as newcomer Roberto Soldado is also banging in the goals.
Spurs have won both of their league contests by 1-0 scores over Crystal Palace away and Swansea at home. They sit tied for second in the table with Liverpool. Arsenal is in eighth place with their three points and trail league leading Chelsea by four with a game in hand. Arsenal and Spurs have met a total of 164 times over the years with the Gunners winning 68 of them, Spurs taking 52 and the other 44 ending in draws. Arsenal has outscored Tottenham 259 to 227 in those games.
The Gunners won 5-2 at home last season and dropped a 2-1 decision at White Hart Lane. Oddly, the two teams managed the exact same results the season before. This fixture usually features a few goals and some exciting momentum turns. Everybody knows how important the North London derby is and Arsenal will need to be at their best to take all three points.