Three points and local bragging rights will be on the line when Arsenal host Tottenham Hotspur in the 199th North London derby at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday (11:30am ET).
Arsenal have a strong recent record on home soil in this fixture. They have won five and drawn three of the last eight Premier League meetings at the Emirates. It is necessary to go all the way back to 2010 to find the last time Spurs triumphed there in the league.
Even over the last three seasons, in which Spurs have always finished ahead of Arsenal, the Gunners have taken two wins and a draw. Last season’s encounter was a typically entertaining affair. Arsenal took an early lead, Spurs hit back with two goals to go in ahead at the break, only for Arsenal to come on strong thereafter, scoring three goals for a 4-2 win.
Come the end of the campaign, however, it was Spurs who were able to grab the final top-four spot to secure Champions League football for the fourth consecutive season. Arsenal had to settle for fifth, and a third consecutive year in the Europa League.
Unai Emery’s side have their sights set on ending that run by finishing in the top four this time around. After the early weeks of the campaign, they have moved ahead of Chelsea and Manchester United in the US oddsmakers’ rankings of the top-four favourites, slotting in as the fourth favourite (at around evens) behind Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs.
Arsenal began the season with a 1-0 win away at Newcastle followed by a 2-1 win at home to Burnley. They did, though, receive a dose of reality in their 1-3 defeat away to Liverpool last weekend. Emery went for a counter-attacking approach, sitting deep and relying on the pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe to create opportunities on the break.
It wasn’t a bad strategy given the strength of their opponents and things might have been different had Pepe finished off a rapid break just past the half-hour mark. As it was, Liverpool went ahead from a corner late in the first half and then pretty much finished things off by converting a penalty early into the second. A third goal arrived before the hour. Lucas Torreira’s late return strike was a mere consolation.
Arsenal spent a good amount of money over the summer, including over £70 million on Pepe. They have a decent chance of breaking into the top four this time around, not least because Chelsea, who finished third last time out, look a little weaker. On the early evidence, they don’t look all that much stronger than they did last season.
Sunday’s opponents Tottenham will expect to be better than they were in 2018-19. While they did still finish in the top four, fourth was their lowest finish in four seasons, and they also picked up six less points than they had in 2017-18. Between a lack of reinforcements and a series of injuries, coach Mauricio Pochettino did well to keep them more or less on course.
The summer signing of Tanguy Ndombele filled a huge gap in the Spurs midfield, while Giovani Lo Celso is another player capable of making a strong impact once he is up to speed. On paper, they look stronger, but they have not really got going so far. They came from behind to defeat Aston Villa in their opening match, somehow scraped a draw after being dominated by Manchester City in their second, and then lost a home to Newcastle last weekend.
Spurs probably created enough over the course of the 90 minutes to have justified at least a point, and they also had a pretty clear looking penalty shout turned down, but there was still something very laboured about their performance. Afterwards, Pochettino made it clear that the uncertainty over the future of some of his players, including Christian Eriksen, has created a difficult atmosphere in the dressing room.
Tottenham just look a bit disjointed at this stage, and with Ndombele’s participation put in serious doubt due to the injury that saw him miss the Newcastle match, they look vulnerable enough to suggest that Arsenal have a solid chance of emerging victorious on Sunday.