North London Derby: Victory could make Arsenal’s season, defeat will break it

I have never truly been confident going into a North London Derby in the Premier League era, for the simple reason that form almost always counts for nothing.

There have been rampantly dominant Arsenal teams that have travelled to White Hart Lane and been pummelled, just as much as there have been pretty rank Gunners sides who have fashioned victory against all the odds.

I expect this season’s outing to the dark side will be little different but there is a variable or two that make this clash just that little bit more intriguing.

It is almost certainly the last derby of its kind played at the old White Hart Lane, as Spurs will be plying their trade across London at Wembley next season.

To that end, you would expect them to be additionally keen to sign off with a win in what will be a fairly significant occasion.

(Is that the whirring of the DVD-making machine I hear in the distance?)

The match is also crucially important to both clubs in their varying league ambitions this season. Tottenham retain some small hope of winning the Premier League and, in all probability, will need to win every one of their remaining league matches to make that dream a reality. Make no mistake, they will be pushing hard for the win.

Arsenal on the other hand, cannot afford to cede the winning-momentum they have fought so hard to accrue as they cling on to the coat tails of the top four. Much like their old rivals, Arsenal probably need to win all their remaining league fixtures in order to stand a chance of sneaking in to the Champions League qualification spots.

In short, there is a great deal at stake for both clubs and our respective league ambitions could easily be thwarted should victory not be forthcoming.

To that end, one would expect to see an incredibly open, end-to-end encounter, which, it could be argued, would suit Arsenal better, given that we have made relentless, near-reckless attack our stock in trade this season.

A cagier, more possession-focussed match could well suit the hosts, who have had much more time and practise working on their version of the three-at-the-back system – something we have only recently adopted ourselves.

The eternal pessimist in me thinks the hosts may just win this one, but the reality is that you can just never tell with the derby. There hasn’t been a dominant force in this fixture for quite a while and you would hope the Gunners will be giving it their all to ensure Tottenham don’t stamp their authority on this one.

In terms of playing personnel, we should have a pretty healthy squad to chose from, particularly as Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain both look like making the starting line-up.

Our fledging 3-5-2 has shown some promising signs, with a particularly encouraging look of solidity when Leicester came to town in mid-week. Tottenham will be much more inclined to attack, however, so, in truth, this will be a real test of how much more resilient we are in our new formation.

You never can tell how any given Arsenal side is going to perform but the players have had the best part of a month to adapt to this new way of playing, and you would hope the rudiments and fundamentals are bedded in, if not the finer points.

I expect that we will see much the same sort of team that took to the field against Manchester City in the FA Cup. Although Olivier Giroud found the going quite tough in that encounter, I think he will have more joy against the Spurs defence and the team looked vastly more comfortable with him as a focal point for the attack than with Alexis Sanchez against Leicester.

The Chilean was denied the room to roam that he craves and, as a result, dropped too deep against the Foxes, allowing them to keep bodies behind the ball and largely nullify our threat.

There again, Arsene Wenger may opt for the greater work rate of Danny Welbeck up top which, again, I would not take issue with. The great thing is that we have a number of options to play with, the most important thing is running with a system that will get the best out of the players and cause the maximum amount of trouble for the host’s defence.

In midfield, Granit Xhaka and, I suspect, Aaron Ramsey will have a big job on their hands keeping tabs on Christian Eriksen and Delli Alli. Both will need to be tightly marked and well-marshalled in order to blunt their attacking qualities because, as we have seen, both are capable goal-scorers and movers of the ball.

Without doubt, this is going to be a tight match; a game of huge import to both sides, with both equally capable of victory. The only certainty is that it will be a difficult watch, involving a lot of crossed fingers and loud prayers to the footballing gods, and the referee.

A win would be huge for our season, a defeat will almost certainly end it.

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