The 204th North London Derby promises to be as fiery and combative as ever, writes Stephen Tudor.
Three games into 2021/22, it really felt like a narrative was forming in North London.
Arsenal were a club spiraling into crisis, with key players reportedly angling for moves, and a trio of defeats leaving the Gunners rooted to the bottom of the Premier League. In one of those losses, only a solitary attempt was made on the opposition goal and though the story of this season was barely underway it already looked like Mikel Arteta’s position was becoming untenable.
By way of extreme contrast, Tottenham were top, courtesy of three 1-0 victories, one of which rousingly saw off Manchester City. A week later, Harry Kane ended a drawn-out summer of discontent, declaring he was staying put, and though nobody was getting carried away, a new dawn under Nuno Espirito Santo was looking brighter by the day.
All of this was just three short weeks ago, with an international break in between. It took many of us longer to complete a lockdown jigsaw.
Should Arsenal prevail in this Sunday’s 204th North London Derby it will cap a remarkable reversal of fortunes with Arsenal on the up, while it will be Spurs entrenched in drama and turmoil for the foreseeable.
Granted, the Gunners’ two recent wins have come against the bottom two clubs, but shoots of recovery have unquestionably been in evidence. In their desperately needed bettering of Norwich, Arteta’s men executed the same number of shots on target as their previous three fixtures combined and then the archetypal tough test of Burnley at Turf Moor was impressively navigated. “It’s two wins in a row, two clean sheets. Let’s go again. We have a lot to catch up,” Arteta stated post-game, and you can almost hear the sleeves being rolled up on the last syllable.
The accuracy from Martin Odegaard ????pic.twitter.com/63PANJst0K
— GOAL (@goal) September 19, 2021
As for Tottenham, consecutive defeats can be excused but the manner of them perhaps not. Comprehensively outclassed by Crystal Palace and tactically outmaneuvered by Chelsea, this autumn’s ‘club in crisis’ – because there is always one – managed a meagre three shots on target and appear to be creatively constipated, although it must be said minor injuries to Son Heung-min, Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura have hardly helped their cause.
Exacerbating matters, Tottenham have had to deal with the absence of Kane, or at least Kane the goal-poaching hitman of old. Worn down by waiting for nonexistent through-balls that would have arrived every few minutes at the Etihad from Jack Grealish, Riyad Mahrez, Kevin de Bruyne and company, the 28-year-old has resorted to attempting the impossible – to create chances for himself and then magically appear on the end of them. In fairness to last season’s Golden Boot winner he is at least pulling off half the miracle with some clever dinks into acres of space he would normally thrive in.
Across the two games, Kane has had five scant touches in the opposition penalty area as he stubbornly goes deeper and deeper to the clear delight of defences. Up front he is the best in the business. In midfield he is a portrait artist painting kitchen ceilings. He does them very well, but still.
Looking ahead to this weekend’s defining clash however, we do find reasons to be cheerful for a beleaguered Spurs. Only three defeats in the last 12 meetings reveals they often have the measure of their neighbours, while Kane himself boasts a terrific record against Arsenal, with 11 goals in 15. On the other side, it is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who consistently comes alive in this fixture, with seven in 11.
And like usual Harry Kane picks up a NLD goal to maintain averaging one goal per derby pic.twitter.com/VaysBBR6AH
— Karl G ???????? (@goldthorpekarl) September 1, 2019
Indeed, studying the head-to-heads uncovers an intriguing quirk about this game that is pertinent to Kane and Aubameyang’s sustained successes, in that 15 of the last 22 goals scored in the NLD have come from centre-forwards. That is unheard of. In fixtures where strikers habitually take the plaudits, they might contribute half at most. Yet here they run the show.
With this in mind, give the less-fancied goalscorers a miss for Sunday. Kane’s +188 to notch anytime may be a touch slim but twice a season it’s a bet that stands out.
The same thinking should be applied to the possibility of a draw: +235 should ordinarily be swerved but again the head-to-heads tell us we’re in exceptional territory because peculiarly 23 of the 54 Premier League encounters between these bitter rivals have ended in stalemate. Typically, a top-flight contest finishes even one in every four. When Arsenal and Spurs collide it’s nigh-on every other game.
Add both teams to score with a draw as a bet builder to get +350 value.
Further supporting the draw prediction it needs saying that, for all of the positives surrounding the hosts, they are absolutely not out of the woods just yet. Arsenal, frankly, will be petrified of losing this one and immediately regressing back to a climate of doom and gloom, especially with a relatively uncomplicated October on the horizon. Spurs meanwhile – if only from a psychological standpoint – will view a draw at the Emirates as welcome respite to the ever-loudening chatter of crisis.
On 11 occasions in the Premier League era this engrossing match-up has finished one apiece. +500 says it happens again.