Match Preview: Arsenal v Tottenham – Who has the upper hand?

The North London derby has come early this season in just the fourth round of fixtures, with Arsenal set to host Tottenham on Sunday 1st September. With both sides coming into the fixture on the back of a loss this early on in the season, three points would obviously be desirable.

Going into the match, both sides have differing issues that they are already facing relating to how they’re currently performing on the field. Chris has already analysed in “Pepe’s time to shine” the possible frailties of Tottenham’s back line, so I’ll be looking at other issues that both Unai Emery and Mauricio Pochettino look to be facing, and how their opposite number could possibly exploit them.


While Arsenal have come out triumphant in two out of three matches, their already some concerning trends appearing in their games. Their wins aren’t convincing dominant displays, and are usually a moment of individual brilliance rather than a superior team performance.

If we take a look back at their two wins so far this season, both were by a solitary goal. Whilst there is no debate that three points, is three points, and the team did what was needed, a dominant display would have been welcomed. For example if we look at the match stats from both the Newcastle and Burnley games below;

Possession-wise, absolutely no problem. Arsenal are seemingly in control of the game if we go by possession only, but the alarming numbers to keep your eyes on are the amount of shots that they had to face during the 90 minutes. In fact, there has not been one match this season where the Gunners have had more shots than their opposition.

Now I know just showing these stats alone it still doesn’t show the whole picture. For all we know, all those shots could be coming from forty yards out, not even troubling the keeper. But the fact of the matter is, and with the help of the graphics below, that is simply not the case especially in the Burnley game at the Emirates.

It could be argued that having the lions share of possession that Arsenal had control in the majority of the matches, which is a valid point of debate. But if we take a look at the player influence tables in the images below, we can see the average position of each player. Also, the bigger the name, the more touches the player had of the ball, the bigger the influence they had on the direction of the match.

So BIG BOLD NAMES is a very good sign when reading this chart. But what I see when I read this is how deep all of the teams’ average positions are and perhaps even more alarmingly that in both images, Leno’s name is bigger than any of the strikers.

In hindsight, it didn’t matter as Arsenal won both games. No argument there, but the lack of a dominant display could give any team with something about them the opportunity to pick up a victory against Arsenal. For example, Liverpool of course are one of the best two clubs in the league and beat Arsenal 3-1 in the league last week with a top display. This week against Tottenham, Champions League finalists last season, with an attacking trio of Kane, Son and Lucas will certainly give Arsenal something to think about.

During the Summer transfer window a lot was made of how little Arsenal had to spend and how they may struggle this term. Then they blew all them rumours out of the water by more than exceeding their perceived transfer kitty of £40m.

Signings like Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos are absolutely superb acquisitions. Kieran Tierney could be an absolute revelation down the left when he returns from injury. Gabriel Martinelli has shown glimpses of what could be a very good player.

Note: I have written articles on both Kieran Tierney (Kieran Tierney: Hit or Miss in the EPL) and Nicolas Pepe (Stealing the Headlines: Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal) and what they bring to the table for Arsenal.

But an area they were lacking from last season was in the centre back position and it almost seems as this was overlooked by the hierarchy. Of course, they have signed one of the brightest prospects in Europe with Saliba then proceeded to loan him back to the club they signed him from.

Then Arsenal signed David Luiz on deadline day from Chelsea. In what appeared to almost be a panic buy, the 32 year olds transfer came out of nowhere. I doubt many Arsenal fans were jumping for joy at the sight of Luiz pulling on an Arsenal jersey. More were excited about having Luiz and Guendouzi’s hair on the pitch at the same time.

However, I digress, the point being that in central defence coupled with the loss of Koscielny does not look any stronger than last season and last season is where the team lacked. This is their weakness. Guendouzi as promising as he looks still has a mistake in him, Xhaka goes missing some games, and Torreira can’t do the job on his own.

If Tottenham can get someone like Christian Eriksen or Giovani Lo Celso operating in that area, then the goals could start flowing. However, Arsenal have shown time and time again, both last season and early this season that they do not need a lot of opportunities to score goals.

So can Tottenham cope against Arsenal’s prolific force? Let’s take a look.

Tottenham Hotspur

Coming off the back of shock 1-0 defeat at home to Newcastle, Spurs fans have every right to be concerned. With a record stretching back to last season they have four victories in their last fifteen games in the league, that is relegation form. Needless to say their appearance in the Champions League final, and that monumental second leg away to Ajax quite nicely covered up their shortcomings in the run in domestically last season. If you remember, getting Champions League football because no one else in contention could pick up a victory either.

Tottenham’s issues are quite different to that of Arsenal on the pitch though. I think it’s fair to say that since the loss of Dembele Spurs have found it difficult. At his best, Dembele was a force in the centre of the park for Spurs, contributing greatly in progressing the ball to Eriksen who was positioned perilously between the opposition’s midfield and defence, with the ability to create something from nothing.

When Dembele was sold, he was missed. Alli, Eriksen and Kane were all forced to drop deeper to help out the midfield and get the ball forward proficiently. For me this explains their slump towards the end of the season, they missed that player.

Now, with Tanguy Ndombele, and possibly with Lo Celso too Spurs have appeared to have filled that void. The problem this week being that Ndombele has been ruled out with a thigh strain and Lo Celso is yet to have a starting berth, with Pochettino stating he is not yet ready. On top of this, Pochettino’s reluctance to start Eriksen in two of their opening games has stifled their flow and creativity and ultimately their ability to win convincingly, and some time win at all.

Pochettino’s team still largely dominates possession as seen above, but the game so far this season has not been played on their terms. For example, both Aston Villa and Newcastle had done their homework on Spurs and allowed them to have the ball, almost inviting Spurs to attack. There was no closing down done outside their own half and they were superbly drilled defensively (particularly Newcastle) knowing that Tottenham struggle to break teams down.

Opposition seem to be able to find it easier to counter-attack against Spurs now and Tottenham do not look the threat they did two seasons ago. If we look at Tottenham’s player influences tables from the Villa and Newcastle game, you’ll see that their average positions are a lot further up the pitch in comparison to their rivals, whilst Lloris’ name is barely even seen (the same could be said for Kane against Newcastle). But it’s one thing to have the ball, it’s another to use it effectively.


In Summary, Arsenal have issues defensively without a doubt and David Luiz is not the player they needed but he was available. Harry Kane could be relishing this battle over facing Sokratis and I wouldn’t be surprised if we seen the striker position himself between the midfield and in front of Luiz. David Luiz does have a tendency to follow his man and if he does that come Sunday there could be a gap being left behind him for the likes of Son and Lucas.

I believe that Spurs have signed solutions to the issues I have mentioned above, unfortunately Ndombele is out of the game, Lo Celso may not start and Spurs could be back to square one. With Pochettino reluctant to start the likes of Vertonghen or Eriksen, we could definitely see Tottenham’s profligacy allow Arsenal’s front three having a field day on the counter attack.

Who will win? This is so finely balanced I can’t see anything but goals. Tottenham play better against teams that don’t sit back, and Arsenal will not allow a ninety-minute back to the wall job, so there will be space for Spurs to find that pass and end product. Tottenham like to press high and close down quick resulting in a high defensive line. With the pace of Pepe, Aubameyang and Lacazette we could see Spurs more reluctant in their pressing approach.

It will be a chess game between the two managers but it should be an absolute spectacle. I can’t wait.

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