The North London Derbies of recent years have been characterised by a tendency towards caution from both sides.
After years of big scores and swashbuckling attacking affairs, the last three or four seasons have seen both teams retreat into a sort of truce, an unofficial agreement that a draw is good enough to keep everyone happy.
Today (Saturday), however, I suspect things will be different, not least from Arsenal. The Gunners are at risk of falling hopelessly far behind the teams above them (they are already a mere dot on Manchester City’s horizon) and can’t really afford to suffer another defeat.
To do so would leave them chasing no better than fourth place in the Premier League this season. I genuinely believe that.
To that end, Arsene Wenger’s men have to do what they do best; attack. To sit back and try to work Tottenham out, in the classic cat-and-mouse style of recent years, just won’t cut it. Even a draw this afternoon will do the Gunners no favours, aside from preventing a full scale riot among fans.
Of course, in committing numbers to attack we risk leaving ourselves exposed to the Tottenham counter attack – and I feel certain that will be their modus operandi today – but, frankly, it can’t be any other way.
We have to back ourselves to score more than them. We need these three points to keep ourselves afloat and moving in the right direction.
For all its faults, the ethos against Manchester City was, for me, the right one. We attempted to press and defend in numbers, while attacking with pace and precision when we did get hold of the ball. The execution on the day wasn’t quite right, for one reason or another, but the blueprint was sound.
Arsenal lack the discipline and organisation to be able to sit deep and encourage teams on to them, so forward is, for my money, the only way.
We will have the attacking talents of Alexis Sanchez, Alexandre Lacazette, and Mesut Ozil at our disposal, and we must play to the strengths of that triumvirate. However you feel about continuing to play Sanchez and Ozil, our contract rebels, they remain our most capable and dynamic players and to sideline for a fixture like this would be counter-productive.
Let them sing, let those behind them press and harry and manage the likes of Harry Kane and Delle Alli. Our front three must be allowed the freedom to combine and attack and take the game to Tottenham.
Mauricio Pochettino’s gamble today is whether he too encourages his team to come out firing, or whether he feels discretion might be the better part of valour. My money is on the latter and I expect that they will get chances in the game, because they are efficient exponents of that art form.
But the question for Spurs is whether they will prove capable of preventing us from creating and, hopefully, scoring chances at the other end.
At the Emirates, I don’t think they will.
So, for the first time in a long time, this North London Derby is a simple one for Arsenal. There are no ifs, buts, or maybes – they need to win. If every player is switched on, focused and as revved up as they should be for a derby, they are comfortably capable of getting the win today.
Despite the fact that I really should know better, I am confident Arsenal can get the right result today.