Bragging rights and title ambitions collide in Arsenal-Spurs showdown
Gunners riding a 15-match unbeaten run in all competitions, while Tottenham are wobbling
Sunday night’s Arsenal v Tottenham clash shapes up as the match of the season so far in the English Premier League. This is always one of the most hotly contested derbies and, on this occasion, both clubs are serious title contenders who play stylish football – one unbeaten in the league, the other without a defeat in any competition since the opening day.
Arsenal have not lost since the 4-3 home defeat by Liverpool. . Their unbeaten run in all competitions has stretched to 15 matches and, while most of those games have been against distinctly beatable opposition, they have had standout results with a 3-0 home win over Chelsea in the Premier League and a 1-1 at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
The victory over Chelsea answered some of the questions over the Gunners’ record against the better teams, but the fact remains it was only their fifth win out of 22 against other big-six sides since the start of the 2014-15 season.
A better return from those head-to-heads may well hold the key to a more sustained title challenge this season and, with the home games particularly important, another three points on Sunday would send a clear message to their rivals.
Another issue for Arsenal to address is their habitual poor results at this time of year. Arsene Wenger has suffered worse results in November than in any other month during his 20-year reign at the club and they have dropped down the table in that month in three of the past four seasons.
That factor could be a little overblown as the exception in those recent seasons saw them stay top of the Premier League through November with five wins out of six in all competitions.
Tottenham are wobbling, with no win in six in all competitions since their excellent 2-0 home victory over Manchester City.
Four of those last six matches have ended all-square – “draw-itis” is a common affliction for Mauricio Pochettino’s side – but they suffered a major blow on Wednesday with the 1-0 home defeat by Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.
Harry Kane’s absence from the attack is an obvious reason for Tottenham’s reduced win rate, as they have scored nil or one in seven of the nine games he has missed since September against top-level opposition.
It will be a big boost for Tottenham if he is fit to return, but it is still asking a lot for him to come back for such a high-intensity match.
Pochettino arguably has the most rounded team in the Premier League when they are at full strength, but the quality of his replacements for key players is a major question mark.
Kane’s absence brought an early opportunity for Vincent Janssen, the young Dutch striker bought for £19 million in the summer, but he has not adapted to English football.
Tottenham are hanging on to the leaders by virtue of their strong defence, which has conceded just five goals in the opening 10 Premier League games, and it is the battle between Arsenal’s attack and Tottenham’s defence that is likely to hold the key.
Arsenal have scored two or more goals in 12 of their 16 games in all competitions and, with Alexis Sanchez playing centrally and Mesut Ozil taking up a more advanced role, they have a more dynamic attack this season.
Their win odds look pretty decent, even if Kane comes back for Tottenham, and an Arsenal win is likely to mean over 2.5 goals.
The best bet is Leicester at home to West Brom. The reigning champions have had better results in the Champions League than domestically but they have adjusted gradually to the extra burden imposed by European football and their overall form is not as bad as their league position of 11th suggests.
Leicester’s only bad result was the 2-1 loss at Hull on opening day and all their defeats since have been against big-six teams (Chelsea twice, Liverpool and Manchester United).
Another factor is that their three heavy defeats all came before European games and, if we strip out results against big-six teams, their record in all competitions is won six, drawn two, lost one.