Football Features

Spurs’ front three is Arsenal’s worst nightmare

By Ben Green

Published: 6:15, 1 January 2021 | Updated: 12:26, 26 March 2021

Not since the inaugural Premier League season in 1992/93 have Tottenham completed a double over Arsenal, but they could end that 28-year wait for ultimate north London bragging rights when the fierce rivals meet on Sunday.

Jose Mourinho’s men ran out comfortable 2-0 victors at the start of December, a result that, at the time, extended their brilliant autumnal run to 10 games unbeaten and consolidated their standing atop the Premier League table, then leading Man City by six points.

That result also underscored the recent power shift in North London, with Spurs now five games unbeaten against their bitter rivals (losing just twice in the last 12 derbies) and having finished above the Gunners in each of the past four seasons.

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Of course, as the age-old dictum goes, form counts for nothing when the stakes are so unbearably high, and they don’t come much higher than a North London derby, a tinderbox contest where emotions are routinely stirred.

Spurs, of course, make the short journey to the Emirates riding the crest of a wave, having recently turned the tide with three consecutive wins, which has put them back to within five points of Chelsea in fourth, while they have also committed to a rare policy of attacking football in that time.

Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have naturally been at the forefront of the club’s recent resurgence, now combining to score 14 Premier League goals, a record total for link-ups in the division, overtaking Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, who threw down the gauntlet in Blackburn’s surprise 94/95 title win (13 goals).

However, the shift can also be attributed to the rise of Gareth Bale in recent weeks. There were suggestions that Bale had gone to seed, but he has since exploded into life with several key goals, both domestically and in Europe, proving quite the attacking menace and a now valued member of Mourinho’s squad.

In fact, Bale has now had a hand in six goals across his last four Premier League appearances (four goals, two assists), rolling back the years with a string of performances reminiscent of the halcyon days of his first stint at White Hart Lane, and his track record against the Gunners is also particularly noteworthy.

The Welshman has netted five Premier League goals against Arsenal in his career, more than against any other side in the competition. And he has once again become the chief tormentor of defences after several teething problems during the first few months of his return from Real Madrid.

Combined with Kane, who is the all-time highest goalscorer in North London derbies (11 goals), and Tottenham have an attack teeming with sharpshooters in this fixture. Son, for his part, has also bagged three goals across his last five games against Arsenal, including that trademark curler in December.

So, the task at hand is looking particularly daunting for Mikel Arteta, whose defence is far from convincing at the best of times, with their flaws laid bare during the 1-1 draw away to Burnley at the weekend. Granit Xhaka’s latest blunder shone a torch on a defence often prone to errors and guilty of mishaps.

It may explain why the Gunners currently lie 10th in the table and some 12 points off the top four. Arteta catered to Arsenal’s thirst for success by winning the FA Cup last season but since then his side have largely flattered to deceive in domestic competitions, and a current mid-table standing will do little to pacify the frustration.

Fans have indulged in the fantasy that some of Pep Guardiola’s managerial stardust has rubbed off on their coach, and while Arteta has impressed in spells, noticeably the rapid promotion of youth, he could become the first Arsenal manager to lose his first three games against Spurs if he is not careful this weekend.

If three points does go the way of the visitors then Mourinho, by contrast, will become the first Spurs manager to win his first three North London derbies. And Mourinho, revelling in his roll as the pre-match pantomime villain, has already stoked the flames and looked to get the psychological edge. 

“I look up, I don’t look down,” said Mourinho.

“If Arsenal was seven points ahead of us, I would look to them but because we have seven points more than them, I don’t look down.” 

Of course, if Spurs are to come away with three points on Sunday then it will take a lot more than casual pot-stirring to do the trick, but rather, a change in approach for away games. As it stands, Arsenal have lost just two of their last 35 home league games against Spurs, a sensational return.

Couple that with Spurs’ recent travel sickness this season, winning just two of their last nine league games on the road, and Mourinho is in for a tough game, no matter what the table suggests or how free-flowing his formidable front three are playing.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have an attacking trident firing on all cylinder and particularly prolific in this fixture. If Arteta is to avoid the dreaded third derby defeat, then he must drill his defence to cope with the lightning pace of Spurs’ attack, abandon their error-prone tendencies and stay composed.


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