Saturday’s North London Derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal just took on a huge importance. Thanks to two consecutive league losses to Burnley and Chelsea, Spurs went from title contention and what looked like an unassailable lead on the Blues, Arsenal, and Manchester United to just a four point lead on the Gunners. Lose at Wembley on Saturday and that lead drops to a single point and Spurs have a fight on their hands to finish in a Champions League place by the end of the season.
Arsenal, by contrast, look like they are finally hitting their stride under Unai Emery. Winners of three straight league matches and six of their last eight, the Gunners tonked Bournemouth 5-1 at home mid-week and are coming into the NLD on a wave of confidence. Not so with Tottenham — two straight losses have put Spurs supporters into a mild panic, and even Pochettino appeared annoyed with his sides’ performances since Harry Kane returned to the lineup.
Spurs desperately need a win today to stop the bleeding and give them some breathing room heading into the Champions League match at Dortmund and two winnable league matches against Southampton and Crystal Palace. Lose, and there’s a decent chance that the entire season starts to slide off the rails.
But no pressure.
How will Tottenham line up against Arsenal?
Here’s the problem with predicting the lineup for this match: the team news provides enough ambiguity that it’s almost impossible. We know Dele Alli and Eric Dier won’t feature. Jan Vertonghen and especially Harry Winks however are critical to Spurs’ overall shape based on the available personnel.
Tottenham rolled out a back three formation against Burnley, but played a back four with a midfield diamond against Chelsea. I would like to see Spurs revert to the back three against Arsenal, especially considering how effectively the Gunners pressed Spurs’ midfield in the first Premier League match at the Emirates.
If Winksy can’t go, there are a couple of options, and none of them are especially good. Victor Wanyama would be one option at the base of the midfield diamond because he is a natural defensive midfielder. But there’s no evidence that he’s 90 minutes fit and ready to start one of the biggest matches of the season. Another would be to give Juan Foyth his debut at defensive midfielder, but that would also necessitate the return of Jan Vertonghen into the back three. And the idea of playing Foyth as a DM is theoretical at best — Pochettino has shown very little with his tactics to suggest that he is open to the idea this season, much less in one of the biggest league matches of the year.
For the sake of argument let’s say that there’s a back three, both Jan and Winksy are ruled out, and neither of the above options are feasible. That leaves Spurs in the unenviable position of either playing Oliver Skipp beside Moussa Sissoko in the midfield, or pushing Christian Eriksen deeper and bringing in someone like Erik Lamela, Lucas Moura, or Fernando Llorente in the forward attacking band. Given those options, I prefer pushing Eriksen deeper. Skippy is a decent young player, but this is a pressure-cooker of a match and he’s not a defensive mid.
With Lamela playing a lot of minutes on Wednesday, I can see a scenario where either Llorente comes in as a target man from the beginning, or Lucas Moura plays alongside Harry Kane (with dropping into space between the lines) and Sonny pushing out wide.
I honestly don’t know, y’all. This is a guess, I don’t like it, and it’s quite possibly dead wrong. This is my predicted lineup for Tottenham Hotspur against Arsenal. What’s yours?