The North London derby finds the two clubs involved in very different shape this weekend. Could Spurs really win the title? And what’s with Mikel Arteta’s cross obsession?
Remember all that ‘mind the gap’ banter? St Totteringham’s Day? Woijciech Szczeny filming himself singing ‘It happened again…’ well after leaving Arsenal?
Feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Tottenham go into this weekend’s North London derby sitting astride the table, top after ten games and a whopping eight points above Arsenal already.
They look so superior to their rivals at the moment that the question is not whether they’re the best side in North London, more whether a win in the derby will just be a step on their path to winning the Premier League.
“It is down to Harry Kane,” said Duncan Alexander on The Totally Football Show. “I think if he can get through 35, 36 games this season then I think they’ve got a pretty good chance, but if he misses a couple of months, as he often does, I think it will derail them.
Tom Williams said: “The only danger for teams like Spurs and Chelsea is if Liverpool go on an incredible run and open up a ten-point gap. But it doesn’t feel like that is going to happen and I can’t see anyone running away with it this season.
“We’ve not been used to seeing proper mass title races in the Premier League era, but it feels like if we’re ever going to have three or four teams going into the last couple of weeks in with a shout, it will be this season. Spurs are just as likely to be part of that group as anyone.”
But Michael Cox warned: “My concern would be that there are a few defensive players that have an error in them. You need a lot of points to win the title and you can’t withstand many errors. But going forwards they look exceptional.”
Tottenham: title contenders then. But if you’re hoping for a classic, blood and thunder derby this weekend, then you might be a little disappointed.
“Over the last ten years this has maybe been the most eventful fixture in the Premier League,” said Michael Cox, “but I feel like this game could be quite different. We know Arsenal aren’t scoring goals – because they’re not creating chances [in the league], and they’re playing quite defensively – and in big games Jose Mourinho is pretty cautious.
“Spurs have kept three clean sheets in a row, in their last two against Chelsea and Manchester City, so they’re being quite solid. I think this could be quite a ‘patient’ North London derby – usually it’s blood and thunder and one of the few games in the Premier League that does have a real derby feel.
“I don’t know what a North London derby will feel like in front of 2,000 fans. Players have got used to playing in front of zero fans, but playing in front of 2,000 – will they need to adjust psychologically? Will there be so few fans they won’t notice? I don’t know: but I sense that this could be a slow-burning game.”
The signs aren’t great for Arsenal, who are as many points from the top three as they are from the bottom three. Plus, as James Richardson pointed out, Jose Mourinho has never lost a home game against Arsenal, and Arsenal haven’t beaten Spurs away since 2014.
Moreover, there were some concerning noises coming from Mikel Arteta recently.
Duncan Alexander said: “Arteta talked about the number of crosses Arsenal put in against Aston Villa. He said: “If we do that more often, I’m telling you we’ll score more goals. It’s maths – pure maths, and it will happen.”
“I don’t think it is pure maths, and I think it’s proven that putting in lots of crosses isn’t the answer to football.
“It’s interesting that when City under Guardiola are struggling a bit they put in a lot of crosses, and obviously Arteta was trained in the school of Pep.
“It also reminded me of that Carlos Carvahal quote when he was talking about not liking statistics – he said: “It’s like if you and me went for a picnic and we take a chicken – I eat all of it, and you have none, statistically you have eaten half a chicken.”
Tom Williams doesn’t like the sound of this talk from the Arsenal boss:
“It’s almost the most concerning aspect of the Arteta story arc we’ve seen this season.
“He came in last season, had an immediate impact and you saw immediately that there was cohesion with and without the ball. They win the FA Cup, they get some decent results in the league, there’s some momentum there. But it’s all fallen apart in the last few weeks.
“Arsenal have become this painfully ponderous team who don’t create any chances and don’t move the ball around quickly enough.
“I assume Arteta is still holding onto these principles that he has been trying to introduce from the start, but to hear him come out with this almost Sam Allardyce-esque assessment of the value of the cross is a troubling development from an Arsenal perspective.”
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