It almost seems unnecessary to say this out loud, but Saturday’s North London derby is a very, very big game.
It is perhaps unnecessary, because of course it is always a big game, but given the start to the season that both sides have had, it almost seems like Tottenham’s visit to the Emirates has taken on added significance this time around.
It is Mauricio Pochettino’s first taste of the fierce North London rivalry, and that in itself is an interesting subplot. How will a manager who never even played in the Premier League react to one of the most intense derbies in English football? Will he understand the importance, and will he set out his team in a way that the fans would be proud of?
What is clear is that Pochettino is extremely determined to deliver this Saturday, telling the press that he wants to ‘write history’ bY beating Arsenal on their own turf. Whether his team can deliver on that remains to be seen, however. Spurs have not had a stellar start to the season, soundly beaten by Liverpool at home; unconvincing in draws with Partizan Belgrade and Sunderland; and unimpressive in a 0-1 home loss at the hands of West Brom.
Pochettino’s side has – at times – looked impressive, but distinctly average at other junctures, and it remains to be seen which outfit will turn up to face Arsene Wenger’s side on Saturday.
For Wenger, too, this match is a tad more complicated than merely ‘just another’ North London derby. Question marks are once again being asked of the Frenchman (it was ever thus), and there remains serious doubt as to whether Wenger is the man to take the Gunners to the next level. In particular, the manager has been criticised for his lackadaisical approach towards recruitment – particularly in the defensive department – with Thomas Vermaelen departing for Barcelona towards the end of the transfer window and no replacement being brought in.
Wenger has admitted that his team is light on defence, which makes his decision not to delve back into the transfer market all the more perplexing. What is certain is that if Arsenal’s defenders have a poor game and allow the white half of North London pre-eminence on Saturday, Wenger will certainly cop some flak.
One thing is almost assured: the game will be a good one. Neither side will be content to sit back and soak up pressure, and the result is likely to be an open game. Most football fans will know that an open game will suit Arsenal more than Tottenham; but Pochettino will be hoping that his team’s ability to press high up the pitch will put pressure on the Gunners. Liverpool enjoyed fantastic success with a similar tactic against Wenger’s side last year, and it seems likely that Pochettino will be looking to emulate the Reds’ success on Saturday evening.
For Wenger, this is unlikely to be a massively significant game. His FA Cup win at the end of last season has certainly endeared him to the fans once again, and a loss against Tottenham would be seen as nothing more than a road bump, albeit a sizeable one. However, a loss would probably also confirm that Arsenal are not contenders for the title this season; a realisation that would not be treated with much understanding by the Arsenal faithful.
For Pochettino, this is a pretty big deal. Win at Arsenal, and the shaky performances of the last few games will be forgotten about. Let us be frank; whatever anyone says, the Argentine will need to show that he can play winning, attractive football in order to keep his job, and a good place for him to start would be with a win on Saturday. No pressure then.
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