Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal kick off the weekend’s English Premier League (EPL) action early on Saturday in what should be a fascinating accounting between two of the division’s fiercest rivals. This will be the 156th league North London derby and it has rarely been as meaningful or intriguing. One place and just two points separate the teams with each in hot pursuit of a top four place (and ultimately a Champions League place).
Both teams are also playing by far their best football of the season. Tottenham has lost just twice in its past 14 matches, while Arsenal has won 12 of their last 15 games. Even more promising is that the two sides appear to have found attacking rhythm over the past month. Spurs have scored 20 goals in all competitions since the calendar turned to 2015, which is the most among all EPL sides. Meanwhile, Arsenal has 23 goals (and 22 points) in 10 league games since the start of December, both of which are best in the Premiership.
The key to the game for the home side will be one of the English game’s most talented youngsters, Harry Kane. He has 20 goals (in all competitions) already this season and is a player who creates by dropping off, turning to face and run at defenders. Much of Tottenham’s recent attacking success has come since Kane established himself as the team’s first choice striker ahead of Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado.
Kane has some pretty good support. Moussa Dembele, Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli playing as advanced midfielders behind the striker. Mauricio Pochettino has found the balance in his line-up between scoring goals and a defensive structure. He’ll surely be secretly relishing an opportunity to jump ahead of former team Southampton with victory on Saturday.
Their record since the beginning of September is a pretty good indication that Arsenal have finally found their groove after a sloppy start to the 2014-15 season. They actually began the New Year with a disappointing 2-0 defeat the hands of the Saints, but have been on something of a rampage since. They beat Stoke City 3-0, before travelling to the Ethiad Stadium and beating Man City 2-0. Last weekend they demolished Aston Villa in clinical fashion running out 5-0 winners.
It’ll should be the away victory over Man City that provides most inspiration ahead of Saturday’s encounter. All too often in recent seasons Arsenal have failed to knuckle down and grind out tough wins against the EPL’s top teams. However, in that game Arsene Wenger set his team up to stifle City and they executed that plan to near perfection.
Arsenal’s formation will be interesting, but regardless expect Francis Coquelin to play a crucial role in picking up Kane’s movement and providing vital protection for the team’s back four. Meanwhile, up front it looks like Wenger will rely on Olivier Giroud to lead the attack with leading goal-scorer Alexis Sanchez expected to miss out due to injury once again.
Betting Preview: Tottenham win 9/4, Arsenal win 13/10, Draw 5/2
There’s actually some debate as to who the favourite to win should be in this matchup. The oddsmakers have generally settled upon Arsenal. That’s fair enough given the quality in their squad, the fact that they grabbed a 1-0 victory at White Hart Lane last season and have won five of the last seven meetings between the two teams.
Given that this is the start of a vital month for both teams and the close proximity between the clubs in the standings, expect a lower-scoring affair than might be suggested by their recent goal-scoring records. It might be a boring route to go, but the best money-making odds are on the draw and it’s actually the best bet given the fact that neither team will be interested in losing.
The Pick: Draw (5/2) (www.bet365.com)
Arsenal • Arsene Wenger • English Premier League • EPL • Harry Kane • North London Derby • Spurs • Tottenham Hotspur