The North London derby features a storied rivalry between two of London's biggest football clubs, Arsenal and Tottenham, but this Saturday's edition will see a rare element of camaraderie as old friends Unai Emery and Mauricio Pochettino face each other for the first time in the Premier League.
The two have pitted their wits against each other several times during their managerial spells in LaLiga, with Pochettino's Espanyol winning twice and being beaten four times by Emery's Valencia over the course of four seasons. In the past, both managers have spoken about the mutual respect and admiration that they harbour for each other, with Emery even going as far as to recommend the Argentine as his replacement, when he departed Valencia for an ill-fated spell at Spartak Moscow in 2012.
Despite being the vastly more successful manager, with ten major trophies, most of which were collected during his spell at French giants Paris Saint-Germain, compared to Pochettino's zero, Emery comes into this fixture as the underdog. His Spurs counterpart has worked in the Premier League for five seasons, four of which have come with Tottenham. Emery, on the other hand, has had just four months to impart his philosophy to his players, with Arsenal still navigating the aftermath of their hot-and-cold long-term relationship with one Arsene Wenger.
Emery's start to his campaign was less than ideal, with his first two matches resulting in defeats at the hands of Manchester City and Chelsea, but the Spaniard has overseen a remarkable turnaround in the weeks that followed. Since their defeat at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal have gone on an unbeaten run of 17 matches across all competitions and have qualified for the Europa League knockout stages on top of their group, with a match to spare.
Perhaps their most impressive performance in the run came against second-placed Liverpool in a 1-1 draw, in which they enjoyed the majority of possession and troubled Liverpool's defence with their expansive style of football. The acquisition of Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira, who has established himself as one of the first names in the team sheet, has given Arsenal a screen in front of their defence, and an excellent outlet to help their transition from defence into attack. The fine goal-scoring form that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is currently in has also given Emery's side more firepower in attack, with the Gabonese international's pace and efficient finishing proving too much for defences to handle.
Emery has also shown that he is open to the idea of experimentation, employing a slightly different set-up when Arsenal travelled to the Vitality Stadium to take on Bournemouth. The Spaniard lined up with three defenders at the back, with Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi slotting in next to Sokratis Papastathopoulos. Mesut Ozil was dropped to the bench, with Emery stating that the intensity of the match could have proven too much to handle for the Germany playmaker. Emery's statement does not bode particularly well for Ozil's chances of making it into the starting line-up against Tottenham, who are known for their energetic pressing and relentless style of play.
Pochettino's Tottenham have also been in fine form this season, dismantling the defences of Jose Mourinho's Manchester United and, more recently, Maurizio Sarri's Chelsea to occupy third place in the Premier League table. Spurs have been beaten on three occasions in the league, losing to Manchester City, Liverpool, and most surprisingly, Watford. They have, however, for the most part, come up with the goods in matches where they were expected to win, and are yet to draw a match.
Spurs have shown the same defensive fortitude they did in the last season, conceding just 11 goals so far compared to Arsenal's 16. However, both teams are tied for goal difference, with Arsenal's high-flying front-line coming up with more goals than Tottenham, who have been without the likes of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen for extended periods over the season.
Tottenham's injury woes can be attributed to the exertions of the World Cup, in which they had a number of players participating, most of whom were involved in the latter stages of the competition. Of the players from Tottenham to have featured in football's showpiece tournament, only Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Toby Alderweireld have not spent any time on the sidelines through injury.
Spurs' major concerns are in defence, with Kieran Trippier, Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen picking up injuries that have kept them out of the team. These injuries have forced Pochettino's hand, and he has had to resort to starting 20-year-old defender Juan Foyth next to Alderweireld in recent weeks. While Foyth has impressed in a couple of matches, most notably against Chelsea, he had a disastrous showing in Tottenham's 3-2 win against Wolverhampton Wanderers, giving away two penalties.
Their reliance on youth players to fill in vacancies created by injury is the outcome of their inactivity during the summer transfer window, where they failed to bring in a single player. While they have managed to come up with positive results in spite of being short-staffed, this might be a cause for concern in the upcoming spell of festive fixtures that will see them play five matches in just 12 days.
Sunday's match is the fourth consecutive top-flight fixture between the two in which Tottenham are placed above their historically more successful rivals Arsenal in the standings. Tottenham's progress is evident in the fact that if they were to secure their first victory at the Emirates since 2010, they would surpass their best-ever points total after 14 games since the inception of the Premier League.
This shift in the dynamic between the two teams that has come about as a result of years of astute financial management from Tottenham and a willingness to give younger players a chance to prove themselves. In the same period, Arsenal have failed to retain key players and have gradually slipped down the pecking order in the Premier League, a change that has not gone over too well with their supporters.
In many ways, Emery is the man entrusted with the task of restoring Arsenal to their former status quo of dominance over their North London rivals. While it seems highly unlikely that he will able to return the joy of St Totteringham's Day to the fans in this season, leapfrogging their rivals in the table with a derby victory at home should be more than enough to endear him to the Arsenal faithful.
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Updated Date: Dec 02, 2018 17:31:48 IST