A quarter of this season’s Premier League is finished. We are ten games into the season, and a few myths have been shattered. It is possible for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City to lose, and Jose Mourinho may not be Manchester United’s saviour after all.
The top five teams are separated by five points. Chelsea are at the top with 25 points, Manchester City at second with 24 and Arsenal and Liverpool in third and fourth, within a two goal margin of each other. Tottenham at fifth with 20 points complete the list of clubs who have managed to score a minimum of 20 points from their first ten league fixtures.
As the age old narrative of English football goes, the doldrums of November, and December will be met with cramped fixtures, leading to injuries, and fatigue among the Premier League’s best. Kick-starting this year end obstacle course is the North-London derby on Sunday. Arsenal host Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal come into this game on the back of excellent form, and team chemistry having been unbeaten since their opening day defeat against Liverpool at home, while Tottenham will kick off at the Emirates on the back an lacklustre month of football which saw them without a win in six games, losing two, and drawing four of them.
Arsenal cheering their fans up
Every Arsenal fan on the planet is weary of the end of the year. The matches in November and December are not something to look forward to, and have a dreary sense of being the defining factor, keeping the club away from winning the Premier League. However, this year, Arsene Wenger’s men are on course to cheer their fans up. Arsenal is one of the four clubs to have lost just a single match, or less in the league this year. With the addition of Shkodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka and Lucas Perez, Wenger’s chequebook finally shed its villainous past. Shedding extra weight by loaning out Jack Wilshere, and getting rid of Mathieu Flamini has helped lean the squad, and also positively affected the likes of Alex Iwobi, an academy graduate who has impressed the most this season.
Arsenal have not lost since the opening day defeat against Liverpool, and in their last five Premier League matches have outscored their opponents 11-4. Wenger has opted to play Alexis Sanchez up front, with a trio of Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil, and at times, Iwobi behind him. Walcott, and Iwobi are entrusted to stretch the play wide, with Ozil operating as the sole creator. In this setup, the German has flourished and is fourth in the Premier League’s key passes list. Sixty two percent of his chances have come from within a 25 yard distance from the goal.
Arsenal play a short passing game (89% of Arsenal’s passing is short, 8% long, 3% crossing, and 1% through ball) which usually starts with Santi Cazorla who has slowly transitioned into a central midfielder now in his career. He has a 91% passing accuracy, the third best in the league. However, along with Walcott, Monreal and Gibbs doubtful for the game, Wenger could feel the pinch of an unfit squad like he does every year.
With Giroud being sidelined to substitute appearances, Sanchez in his centre-forward role leads Arsenal with six goals, closely tailed by Walcott who has five. Twenty-year-old Iwobi from Nigeria has the third most take-ons (nine), and success rate (53%) among players his age, only bettered by Middlesbrough’s Adama Traore, and Tottenham’s Dele Alli. Arsenal began their league campaign with a defeat and draw, but have since, picked up 22 points from a possible 24. On the back on an inspiring comeback in the midweek Champions League game which secured their promotion to the next round, Arsenal’s demons may just be missing this time around.
A mixed season so far for Tottenham
Spurs have had a mixed season. They remain unbeaten in the league, and are the only team who can boast about it. They are just five points below leaders Chelsea, and two points clear of fifth placed Everton. On paper, this appears to be fine, but their form on the pitch suggests otherwise.
Tottenham will visit their cross town rivals on the back of six winless game weeks. Their last victory in the Premier League was at home against the leaders City on October 2. Since then, they have been outscored by their opponents 4-3, with defeats in the League Cup against Liverpool, and a defeat in the Champions League against Bayer Leverkusen which has put them on course for a Champions League exit, as they sit third behind group leaders Monaco, and second placed Leverkusen.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino’s high press game has worked well defensively, but Spurs have failed to capitalise on this intensity in the final third. In their defeat against Leverkusen in the CL, a midfield combination of Moussa Sissoko, Alli, and Christian Eriksen looked confused, as if they three were playing for the first time together. Passes never reached the intended receiver, which meant an overload of defensive duties on the midfield pair of Victor Wanyama and Moussa Dembele.
To add to Pochettino’s list of worries, he will be without Dembele, who suffered an injury against Leverkusen, and Eric Dier will continue to fill in for Toby Alderweireld in the centre of defence owing to the Belgian’s injury. Sissoko is unavailable for the derby, and is serving a suspension. One small piece of good news that Pochettino will look forward to is hearing that Harry Kane is fit to play. The England striker has been unfit since Spurs’ 2-1 victory against Sunderland. In his absence, the South Korean international Son Heung-min has stepped up, and done a decent job, whereas newly signed Vincent Janssen has been relegated to substitute appearances. In the time Kane was unfit, Tottenham have managed to pick up only nine out of a total 15 points, with draws against lower placed sides West Bromwich Albion, Leicester, and Bournemouth.
Spurs’ ability to hurt Arsenal at home will hinge on Eriksen’s form, and Kane’s availability. The Dane, operated in a role similar to Ozil, and the number ten duties often shift between him, and Dele Alli. With the addition of Son, and Lamela in midfield, these four Spurs players average just under seven key passes each game. With Harry Kane fit, these could well turn into goals for a Tottenham side in dire need of a win.
Arsenal who are currently experiencing the better form between the two are also playing at home to their advantage. Spurs have not been disastrous this season, but have faltered, and not made it count on multiple recent occasions. This might turn out too big a physical, and mental task for Pochettino’s men to end their run of poor form with a victory in the North London derby.