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Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal Preview: The rubber meets the road for the bitter rivals

As always, the North London Derby comes with high stakes for both sides.

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League - Emirates Stadium Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

It feels like it has been a minute since Tottenham Hotspur’s New Year’s escape against Watford. Since then, Spurs have squeaked by unconvincingly in the FA Cup and were completely outplayed over two League Cup semifinal legs against Chelsea. More interruptions to the Premier League schedule lie ahead, but not before three critical fixtures over the next week.

Up first is headline-grabber, a North London Derby at home. Arsenal won lopsidedly at the Emirates in September, but the rivals enter the weekend in quite different states from earlier this season. Both do enter in good form, however; the Gunners come in having won four of their last five league fixtures, while Spurs are unbeaten in eight since the introduction of Antonio Conte.

Both teams of course want to crush each other, but the stakes feel even higher given how the table currently stands. Arsenal enters the weekend in fifth place, two points ahead of Tottenham but having played two additional matches. There is plenty of season remaining, but three points would be huge for both sides.

Tottenham Hotspur (6th, 33pts) vs. Arsenal (5th, 35pts)

Date: Sunday, January 16
Time: 11:30 am ET, 4:30 pm UK
Location: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, England
TV: Peacock Premium (USA), Sky Sports Premier League (UK)

The last four outings have not been overly encouraging for Spurs. Breaking down an extremely defensive Watford was a struggle, Chelsea was clearly the superior team on both occasions, and the reserves looked rough against League One Morecambe. Now without Heung-Min Son, Tottenham cannot afford to continue this poor form.

The drastic improvement under Conte should give supporters some optimism heading into this crucial match. No way that Spurs will look as poor as the did the last time the teams met, and the switch to the back three has paid dividends on both ends of the pitch, especially with the involvement of the wingbacks in attack.

Arsenal sits fifth in xG but just 15th in xGA. There may not be Son, but if there were ever a time for Harry Kane to take over, this would be it. Lucas Moura has looked great under Conte as well, and perhaps Giovanni Lo Celso is healthy enough to play a consistent role in midfield. There are goals to be had, and there are the pieces to take advantage of it.

Three themes

  1. Emerson Royal has been a controversial figure, but this feels like a match where he can really bolster his case. Spurs will have plenty of chances near the box, and his myriad of crosses against Watford came with mixed results. Conte needs Royal to be both a reliable outlet and distributor for this system to work.
  2. Availability will be a huge factor, with both sides having plenty of players in question. A huge week lies ahead for Tottenham, and at some point Eric Dier and Cristian Romero are expected to return to the back line. Meanwhile, Arsenal looks to be without Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny, and Martin Odegaard for a variety of reasons, which may be a big differentiator.
  3. Spurs are unbeaten in their last seven home North London Derbies in the league. Draws in 2015/16 and 2018/19 are the only times the club did not all three points, such as through Toby Alderweireld’s late winner after the restart in July 2020 and Son and Kane’s dominance in front of a limited crowed in December 2020.