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Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur Preview: No bigger test

The start to the Ange Postecoglou era has been nearly perfect, but nothing compares to a North London Derby.

Arsenal FC v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The vibes around Tottenham Hotspur are the highest they have been in quite some time following Saturday’s dramatic win over Sheffield United. Ange Postecoglou has impressively earned 13 points through his first five matches and finds his squad tied for second place in the Premier League after one of the club’s best starts ever.

The next nine days will either raise this season’s expectations ridiculously high, or serve as a stinging reminder that significant overhauls to personnel and culture take some time. Next weekend’s match against boogeyman Liverpool will certainly be a challenge, but there is nothing comforting about Sunday’s North London Derby either.

Spurs have not won a league fixture at the Emirates since 2010 and have lost each of the last three. Arsenal looks to match last season's second-place finish and sits unbeaten so far with an xGD only behind Manchester City. Regardless of team quality, this is always a difficult battle, but there is no argument as to which rival has been playing better over the past 14 months.

And yet — Tottenham can rightfully feel cautiously optimistic heading into the derby. Postecoglou has remarkably turned this squad around in short order and has quickly addressed some of the big weaknesses that have cost Spurs in this contest the last few occurrences. I would say two points out of the next two matches would be a success, but expect the visitors to aim even higher.

Arsenal (t-2nd, 13pts) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (t-2nd, 13pts)

Date: Sunday, September 24
Time: 9:00 am ET, 2:00 pm UK
Location: Emirates Stadium, London
TV: Peacock Premium (USA), Sky Sports Main Event (UK)

Arsenal is feeling good about its start to the season, playing high-possession football and limiting opponents’ opportunities via the press. While the contributions of Declan Rice and Kai Havertz have not quite justified the cost so far, this squad continues to play well and clearly has a cohesive plan under Mikel Arteta.

Tactically, there is certainly cause for concern after Spurs lost both derbies last year. The attack should no longer be as obsolete as it was under Antonio Conte, but Arsenal is well structured defensively and will not yield a ton of prime chances in the box. Similarly, the Tottenham defense is drastically improved already, but expect some terrifying moments, especially with Arsenal’s wingers against the fullbacks.

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However, the match will be won or lost in the midfield. Tottenham never stood a chance playing two men against Arsenal’s three under Conte, but Postecoglou has not only shored up the formation, but has all three of James Maddison, Yves Bissouma, and Pape Matar Sarr playing at an extremely high level to begin the year.

I think I would prefer playing a little more cautiously given Arsenal’s press and danger in progression, but I am not sure Postecoglou is going to see it that way. Therefore, the Spurs midfielders need to be extremely sure-footed and smart enough to not allow back-breaking counters going the other way. Tottenham can play its style and get a result, but it will come with substantial risk; at least this trio gives the visitors a legitimate shot at success.