Spurs sit top of the Premier League and look ready to challenge for the title under Jose Mourinho, while Arsenal are down in 14th after their worst start to a season since 1981 and will find themselves 11 points behind their north London rivals should they suffer defeat.
So should we read much into the form of both teams or will that be thrown out of the window? Will having fans there make a difference? How will the managers approach the game tactically?
Our Tottenham and Arsenal correspondents, Dan Kilpatrick and Simon Collings, dissect some of the big talking points ahead of the game.
Does the match represent a power shift between the clubs?
DK: No. The balance of power in north London has been debated ahead of almost every derby over the past 15 years and the question has largely lost significance. The story of the two clubs remains fairly consistent, with Spurs the more upwardly mobile and impressive but still without silverware, and Arsenal lurching from one crisis to another while still finding a way to win trophies.
I suspect both fan-bases would claim to be the happiest over the last six years but the clubs now want a taste of each other’s successes, with Spurs craving silverware at any cost and Arsenal desiring the kind of stability their neighbours enjoyed under Mauricio Pochettino.
SC: No. The balance of power simply cannot shift based upon the result of one match. There is constant talk of a “power shift” in north London, particularly among supporters.
Arsenal have, however, remained the most dominant side given their ability to win trophies – but Tottenham have slowly but surely transformed into a force ever since Mauricio Pochettino was appointed. Jose Mourinho’s appointment, and their form this season, has only added to the feeling the tide is turning – but Sunday’s result will not give us a definitive answer as to whether that is the case.
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Should we read much into the form of both teams or will that be thrown out of the window?
DK: This fixture has an established history of upsetting the odds and it often feels like the more fancied one of the sides is, the more wary their supporters should be, which bodes badly for Spurs.
That said, the clubs could scarcely be approaching the match in more contrasting positions, with Spurs flying at the top of the league and full of confidence, and Arsenal on the cusp of another crisis. That will surely be a factor, particularly if the hosts start well.
SC: It is a cliche that form goes out the window for a derby, but cliches often exist because they are true. I certainly think that is the case for Arsenal and Tottenham, with history only showing that too. Just think back to when these sides met early this year during Project Restart.
Arsenal were heralded as a side going places under Mikel Arteta, while Tottenham were deemed in trouble under Jose Mourinho. What happened? Mourinho’s Spurs won and made a strong end to the season. Arteta will hope the reverse happens this time as Arsenal need a boost.
Will having fans there make a difference?
DK: Yes, I think so, although having been at the Valley for Charlton’s defeat in front of 2,000 fans on Wednesday, it might not necessarily be to Tottenham’s favour. With so few fans, it is probably easier for players to detect frustration than support, so it may be something for Arsenal to try to use to their advantage.
There will inevitably be a little extra pressure or motivation for both sides and at this level those fine margins can make the difference.
SC: Yes, I believe it will. There may only be 2,000 or so in there – but the fact they are all Tottenham supporters will surely help Spurs.
It will undoubtedly make for a better game overall too. The most recent derby at Spurs’ new ground felt flat. There weren’t any big tackles or feisty moments – and the lack of a crowd surely contributed to that. The best thing about derbies is the edge and the sense they may boil over. Fans only add to that feeling.
How will the managers approach the game tactically?
DK: They will both play the only way they know how. Mourinho will let Arsenal have most of the ball, wait for them to make mistakes and instruct his side to launch rapid counter-attacks, just as they did in the corresponding fixture last season.
Given Arsenal’s propensity for shooting themselves in the foot, it seems like a sensible approach. Arteta, by contrast, will want his side to dominate possession, build from the back and try to play through the thirds with quick passing football. Another clash of styles awaits.
SC: Arteta has shown since his appointment that he has plans for big games. His record against the conventional big six is very impressive and that should fill Arsenal fans with confidence.
It is most likely Arsenal will look to sit back and hit Tottenham on the counter. It is how they beat Chelsea and Manchester City in their run to FA Cup glory last season and it suits Arteta’s side. It sounds strange, but Arsenal are actually better when they have less of the ball.
Which players could make the difference?
DK: Harry Kane (assuming he is fit), Heung-min Son and Tanguy Ndombele have been Tottenham’s biggest threats this season and it is unlikely to be any different on Sunday. The players around them – Moussa Sissoko, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Steven Bergwijn – are mainly there to do the heavy lifting.
Arsenal will surely be looking to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to step up on the big occasion. For all their impressive work of late, it still feels like Spurs’ defence can be got at.
SC: Arsenal have been crying out for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to hit form this season – and Sunday would be the perfect moment for him to do it. He has a fairly good record against Spurs and you’d back him to relish downing them in front of their fans.
Other than that, Arsenal’s defence will be vital. Gabriel has been excellent this season and a real shining light, but playing against Harry Kane will be a true test of his talent.
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