Change is hard, but Arsenal are doing their best with it. For the first time in more than two decades, Arsene Wenger is not failing to zip up his puffy coat on the sidelines. Instead, that task goes to Spaniard Unai Emery, late of PSG, who took over a team that deep down has been ready for a change for a long time and in the process allowed the tide to shift to blue in north London. Arsenal’s backslide in recent season has allowed Tottenham to step into their place, and for the first time in who knows how long, Arsenal are probably not favorites for top four.
However, that’s not to say that things are going badly. Far from it! Arsenal are riding an 18 match unbeaten streak, currently the longest such streak in the Premier League. They haven’t lost a match since back to back losses to Manchester City and Chelsea in the opening two weeks of the season.
They’ve done it with a new manager and a distinct new style of play. Gone is the swashbuckling, laissez-faire offense, and in its place is a much more regimented, detailed system. Under Emery, Arsenal have mostly set up in a 4-2-3-1 with a high line, fullbacks that push high and provide width, and attacking midfielders that tuck in and find space between the lines of defenders.
It’s a flexible system, and one that Arsenal’s players have started to adapt to. Their 28 goals this season, led by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 8, are significantly outperforming their xG of 19, and only Manchester City have scored more thus far. Aubameyang’s strike partner Alexandre Lacazette has chipped in five this season, but no other Arsenal player has contributed more than three.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that their defense has regressed significantly. The back line, which regularly features Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, and occasionally Sokratis Papastathopolis, has given up 16 goals thus far, putting them closer to Crystal Palace and Newcastle than Tottenham, Manchester City, and Liverpool. The high line employed by Emery is partly to blame, but it’s mostly that Arsenal’s defenders just aren’t very good.
That’s excellent news for Tottenham’s offense — there’s space behind those Gooner defenders, especially if fullbacks Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin get caught up field. The key for Spurs will be to try and get balls into the channels between defenders for their speedy attackers to run onto, while being aware that Arsenal are a good counterattacking team who will take advantage of any defensive miscues.
You’d like to think that Tottenham are the favorites on paper, especially in the midfield. But Arsenal are always tough at home — they held Liverpool to a 1-1 draw a couple of weeks ago, and their only loss at the Emirates this season is to Manchester City in the opening week. While Tottenham have been riding high after two big wins, this is the North London Derby. You can usually throw everything you think you know out the window. It will be a very tough match, one that either side can win.
How will Tottenham line up against Arsenal?
It’s the biggest match of the year if you’re a Tottenham fan. Tired or not, rotation or not you never punt against the Gooners because the fans will riot.
So there will be some tired legs out at the Emirates on Sunday, but I expect players like Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Serge Aurier, and Toby Alderweireld will all start. After his forced rest against Inter Milan, it’s tempting to pencil in Juan Foyth into the back line, but I still think you can’t bench Janby Alderweirtonghen in such an important match. Kane is a lock because it’s the NLD and he’s scored 7 goals in 7 matches against Arsenal; nobody loves scoring against the Gooners more than Harry. I do think we’ll see Danny Rose come in for Ben Davies, and Eric Dier for Harry Winks. Moussa Sissoko has the hot hand and I expect him to play again, and yes, it’s still weird to type this sentence.
Up front, however, it’s back to DESK - Dele, Eriksen, Son, Kane. If things are going well, expect Dele to be subbed off, especially in the second half, for Erik Lamela.
There will be time to rotate and rest against Southampton and Leicester City. But this is Arsenal. You play until your legs drop off.
That’s my predicted lineup against Arsenal. What’s yours?