North London derby: Are Arsenal favourites to snatch victory?

Arsenal head into this weekend’s north London derby atop something of a wave, which is a strange and disconcerting place for Gunners fans to find themselves.

Typically, the build-up to this fixture – that is to say, the White Hart Lane leg – is typified by disarray at the club, with our league season in tatters and our Champions League campaign hanging by a thread.

Fans are variously calling for the manager, chairman, or chief executive to be impaled, if not all three simultaneously, and banners are normally being dusted off and unfurled ready for another public showing.

This season, however, there is a much calmer, more positive feel among the fanbase, almost disconcertingly so.

After a teeth-gnashing blip in Belarus, Unai Emery’s men have pulled themselves together and reeled off three straight wins, scored 10 goals, conceded only one, and welcomed the hitherto outcast Mesut Ozil back into the fold.

There is a fluidity about the team, they are attacking and defending reasonably well, they look like they are enjoying the football and at last understanding what has been asked from them.

They’ve not been perfect – by any means – but they are performing like a team fighting for the top four should and that has been almost therapeutic to long-suffering Gunners.

Of course, every bit of that tends to crumble into dust for the derby – with form, fitness, confidence, and supremacy tending to count for very little indeed. In years gone by that has worked in our favour at White Hart Lane, with a few draws snatched from the jaws of defeat, and a few hard-earned wins too.

However, any attempts to predict what might happen tomorrow would ultimately be fruitless. There are some outcomes more likely than others, but none which you could say with absolute confidence.

What I can say is that I agree with Emery, who said in his pre-match press conference that his side needed to seize the opportunity to close the gap on Tottenham to just a single point.

The team is in rude health at the moment and brimming with confidence, while Spurs are down on their luck, bang out of form, and carrying injuries. The ingredients are there for Arsenal, they just have to put them together at the right time.

Victory would be an enormous boon for confidence and for our chances of making the top four. Defeat would not be terminal, but it would let slip a golden opportunity to make our claim that much stronger and add fuel to the fire we’ve started burning.

I tend to agree with a number of commentators who have run the rule of this fixture: Arsenal need to go for the throat.

Amidst their current mini-meltdown, there is doubt in this Tottenham side and Arsenal need to exploit that in a big way. They need to go every bit as hard as they did at the Emirates where they rode their luck but earned a good chunk of it too.

Emery is a big advocate of energy and intensity and, if his side can conjure a hatful of it tomorrow, they will go a long way towards coming away with some points.

Would I take a draw if you offered it to me now? The pessimist in me still says ‘yes’ because this remains a dangerous fixture for the Gunners at a key time in the campaign but there is a glimmer of optimism that says our luck could be in too.

Timing has so much to do with success in football – whether it’s a managerial change before a run of easier games, the return of a long-injured star, or suspensions and dips in form playing into your hands – and this sort of feels like a good time for the Gunners.

However, I’m not getting carried away. I’ve had a taste of that dish and, while it starts off warm and delicious, it is soon vomited back up, still warm but slightly lumpy and no longer delicious at all.

I expect Emery will go for a high energy midfield (Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torriera, Granit Xhaka), with a direct and pacey front three (Alexandre Lacazette, Alex Iwobi, Henrikh Mkhitaryan).

How the manager will structure his back line really is anyone’s guess but, in the absence of Delli Ali, he might stick with a four. That’s only my best guess, though.

Despite some encouraging recent performances, I think Mesut Ozil will start this one on the bench, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang alongside him. However, with Aaron Ramsey an option too, we have ourselves some pretty impressive additions should we have need of them, and I think we will.

So, while at the moment we find ourselves riding the crest of our little wave, if we want to avoid wiping out, we’re going to need to be at our aggressive, energetic best. The good news is, for the first time in a long time, we have the opportunity to do just that.

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