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Women’s North London Derby preview: maybe this time it happens?

On Saturday, Spurs will try again to do something they’ve never done: beat Arsenal.

Arsenal Women v Tottenham Hotspur Women: Vitality Women’s FA Cup Quarter Final Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur Women have had by almost any metric a heck of a season thus far. After six matches, Rehanne Skinner’s side sit third in the table with four wins and 13 points, with their only loss being to fellow league upstarts Brighton & Hove Albion. Along the way they’ve picked up one major, if fortunate, win away at last season’s runners-up Manchester City. Compare that to last season’s campaign, which saw them pick up a total of 20 points from 22 matches, and this is looking like it could be a breakthrough season.

The one thing Spurs have not yet done, however, is beat their close neighbors. They get another chance to do so on Saturday at The Hive. Arsenal are undefeated in Women’s NLDs, a match-up which doesn’t have nearly the history that the men’s competition does due to Spurs only promoting to the top flight two years ago. Even so, the matches have not been especially close. Their last meeting was a 5-1 thumping by Arsenal in the FA Cup quarterfinals, and the closest Spurs have ever come was a penalty shootout loss to a heavily rotated Arsenal side in the WSL Cup a year ago.

That said, even if Spurs just manage to put the pressure on it would represent a significant improvement. Arsenal are heavily favored, along with Chelsea, to compete for the WSL title, but after them it’s wide open. Spurs retooled significantly over the summer, letting 11 players go this summer and bringing in nine new faces. With the win over City and a hard-fought draw against Manchester United last weekend, Spurs have set themselves up to be among those in the conversation for a Champions League spot, and who would’ve imagined THAT this time last year?

Spurs have struggled a bit on offense, scoring only 8 goals this season, but their retooled defense has been exceptional behind club captain Shelina Zadorsky and newcomer Molly Bartrip. Tottenham also reinforced their midfield, a notable area of concern, with the addition of former Everton CM Maeva Clemaron, and opted to sign South Korea captain Cho So-hun on a permanent deal after a short term loan from West Ham last season.

But this team will face easily their stiffest test yet against an Arsenal team that is scoring at will and boasts an impressive amount of firepower. The quartet of Beth Mead, Kim Little, Vivianne Miedema, and Katie McCable have already combined for 17 total goals in six matches. Miedema on her own has a npxG+xA/90 of 0.98 and Arsenal have outscored their opponents 23-2 so far. It will be up to Spurs to somehow stop that scoring juggernaut.

Spurs will likely start with Finnish backup Tinja-Riikka Korpela in goal, replacing the injured Becky Spencer, and who is coming off a very good game against United. Manager Skinner has not been afraid to set up in a defensive formation against top teams, and it’s quite possible we’ll see Spurs set up in a back three with Zadorsky, Bartrip, and Ria Percival dropping into the back line. Ashleigh Neville will likely start on one fullback flank (she can play either) with either Asmita Ale or Karrys Harrop on the other side.

Expect to see Clemaron, Cho, and the improving Jessica Naz in the midfield in some capacity, though Skinner’s Spurs players tend to be tactically flexible so there’s every chance we could see a surprise against Arsenal. However, Spurs are likely to lean on the attacking talents of veteran striker Rachel Williams with Kit Graham playing just behind. If Skinner expects Spurs to play on the counter, it’s possible we could see one of Rosella Ayane or Angela Addison, either in the starting XI or as late substitutes to run against tired legs. Chioma Ubogagu and Tang Jiali are available as strike options as well.

It’s going to be a challenge, despite playing at The Hive with a home crowd behind them. Even improved as they are, Spurs are still heavy underdogs and it’s more likely going to be another humbling defeat to their noisy neighbors than a win or result. But what if it was? It’s the hope that keeps bringing you back.