Our Spurs and Arsenal correspondents give their predictions for Saturday’s north London derby
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Our Spurs and Arsenal correspondents give their verdicts on Saturday’s eagerly-anticipated north London derby.
Ben Pearce, Spurs writer:
Tottenham and Arsenal will battle for local pride on Saturday, but the north London derby has become bigger than that – a genuine six-pointer in the battle for Champions League qualification.
Spurs will be aware that their fortunes against their arch-rivals tend to have a large bearing on their own success at the end of the season – in 2006, 2012 and 2013, they were within two points of Arsene Wenger’s side when they just missed out on a seat at Europe’s top table.
Last term Tottenham ended up 10 points behind Arsenal, but the derby in mid-March was arguably the killer blow.
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Mauricio Pochettino has a fully-fit squad and a few selection dilemmas this weekend. Will he deploy Mousa Dembele as the No10 and play Christian Eriksen on the left again, or will he reinstate Nacer Chadli, who scored at the Emirates in September and has nine goals this season? Could all three be accommodated behind Harry Kane?
In central midfield, Nabil Bentaleb has returned from the African Cup of Nations but, with Ryan Mason and Benjamin Stambouli in good form, Pochettino must pick two from three. He must also choose between Danny Rose and Ben Davies at left-back.
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Spurs struggle to break down negative, defensive opponents at the Lane, but Arsenal are unlikely to adopt such an approach so the Lilywhites’ attacking players should get room to manoeuvre.
The concern is at the other end. When Spurs have conceded recently they have tended to ship another goal soon after, and Arsenal would probably punish such mental fragility.
With so many creative players on form in both teams, it promises to be an exciting showdown worthy of an enthralling top-four battle. Prediction: 2-2
Ben Kosky, Arsenal writer:
For many Arsenal fans, the euphoria of last month’s astonishing performance at Manchester City soon gave way to a simple question: can they do this again?
Organised, disciplined and sharp on the counter-attack, the Gunners displayed characteristics that had been noticeably lacking in the majority of their most testing away trips in recent years.
Saturday’s short trip along the Seven Sisters Road represents the ideal opportunity to prove that their efforts against the champions were more than a one-off.
Of course, Tottenham are not Manchester City, but their performance at the Emirates last September suggests they will press the visitors and close them down.
Arsenal’s rhythm in that last meeting was hampered somewhat by a trio of injuries in midfield, as Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere were all forced off during the course of the game.
Despite that, Francis Coquelin remained an unused substitute that day – but there is little doubt that the young Frenchman will be an integral member of the starting line-up on Saturday.
Coquelin’s renaissance has helped to engender a more steely flavour in the rest of the Arsenal side, as has the industrious approach of Alexis Sanchez.
If the Chilean fails to shake off a hamstring problem, Danny Welbeck could return to the side while, at the other end of the field, the Gunners’ chief concern will be how to deal with the in-form Harry Kane.
Laurent Koscielny, whose return to fitness has made a key difference to Arsenal’s back line, is likely to be handed that task – and, although he should do it efficiently, an extension of the Gunners’ recent run of clean sheets may be too much to hope for.
A point certainly isn’t, though. Prediction: 1-1