This Saturday will provide something not seen before. Tottenham Hotspur versus Arsenal, at Wembley, but in the Premier League. There will certainly be a special atmosphere in and around the ground, with this fixture looking eye-watering for the neutral.
While Spurs endured the Wembley ‘hoodoo’ for a while, recent form at their adopted ‘home’ seems to suggest they are creating quite a fortress. Their recent blistering display against Manchester United is only a taste of what Arsenal could fear. Spurs have only lost one home Premier League game this season, against Chelsea which was incidentally their first league game at Wembley. With Arsenal struggling dearly on the road and only recording three wins all season away from the Emirates, Spurs fans have all the reason to going into the game with much encouragement.
Despite this, Wembley isn’t the typical away ground. Although the numbers in terms of fans will be considerable to the hosts, Wembley always breathes a cup tie feel, and thus a sense of neutral ground. Arsenal will be hoping to build on their superb form at Wembley, whereby they have been victorious in their last nine visits to the ‘home of football’. The huge pitch suits Arsenal’s play, and no one will enjoy the vast amounts of space more than Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang, who will thrive at the chance to get in behind into the masses of green grass. On the contrary, gaps of space will leave areas for the more creative players to thrive on the pitch. Expect Mesut Özil, Christian Eriksen and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to dominate on the ball and create vast amounts of chances. The difference between the rivals will probably come down to which team is more clinical on the day as it’s clear chances will be come to the way of each side. There’s not many better in the business than Harry Kane, so Arsenal’s defence will truly have to be at their best, just like they were on the return fixture in November where Kane was limited to feed off scraps.
The importance of the beginning of the game cannot be understated. After Spurs scored in the 11th second of the game against Manchester United, there wasn’t any looking back and the home side dominated for the remainder of the game. Yet, Arsenal themselves have started games at a quick tempo in recent matches too. First was the demolition versus Crystal Palace whereby the gunners were 4-0 up by the 22nd minute, while they also scored 3 goals in the first 20 minutes in last Saturdays game against Everton. Not just the result but also the performance last weekend seems to suggest that the new look Arsenal are revitalised and can definitely all combine and play as a fluent team, something we perhaps haven’t seen truly since the days before the certain Alexis Sánchez.
This sense of new life is unquestionably due to the new signings. The new duo have created another dimension to the Arsenal attack. Aubameyang will always grab the plaudits, and rightly so as his movement and finishing is second to none. However, the most enjoyable to watch last time out was clearly Mkhitaryan. In a similar mould to Santi Cazorla when he first joined, the adept and versatile playmaker can work on both sides of the pitch, both sides with his feet and is always creating chances. This in turn relinquishes all creative responsibility from Özil and means the side become a less predictable outfit.
Although Arsenal are looking mesmerising in attack, any chance of a win will be down to how the defence copes against a dangerous Spurs frontline, particularly Harry Kane. Last November Arsenal’s game plan was perfect, they will need that commitment and more to come out of Wembley with all three points.
What we do know is that this fixture always meets the colossal expectation. Personally, if Arsenal start the game on the front foot, they can enjoy much success; however with the North London Derby the only thing to expect is the unexpected. A win on Saturday will bring a Premier League double over Tottenham, to get 6 points from Spurs this season will be a sensational return against one of the most consistent teams in England. It will also reinvigorate any hope of finishing in a top 4 place. Most importantly however, it would mean Arsenal steal all the bragging rights in North London, which could perhaps be the most positive outcome in a largely disappointing season to date.