The Runner Sports

Loser Leaves Town: North London Derby

Tottenham and Arsenal are separated by just four miles, but on the field, the gulf is typically much larger.  Arsenal has a total of thirteen first division titles spread across seven decades while Tottenham has two, with the most recent coming all the way back in the 60s.  To further crystallize the big brother, little brother complex, Arsenal has finished with a higher league position every year since 1995.

Tottenham may finally be ready to take the next step in their eternal battle against their fellow north London neighbors.  The club has captured one of the fastest rising young managers in Mauricio Pochettino who has turned his squad of players into a quick, hard pressing unit, unlike any Tottenham manager in recent memory.  In addition to a rising manager, Tottenham has announced their plans for a state of the art 61,000 seat stadium that would further push the club into the elite conversation.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Tottenham appear to be able to hold on to their best players.  In the past, Tottenham has been an intermediary link moving the likes of Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, and others on to the biggest clubs around England and Spain.  At least for now, the word out of Tottenham is that none of their players are seeking a move to a more prestigious club.

Arsenal, on the other hand, seems stuck in a stake of very good, yet not great.  Long time manager Arsene Wenger brought revolutionary training, tactical, and financial approaches when he first set foot on English soil but has the rest of the league caught up?  Wenger prefers to use a very analytical approach to transfers, training and other aspects of building his club, yet his critics will point to his unwillingness to buy the super striker or world-class holding midfielder the club needs to breach the glass barrier.  The club is stuck in a comfortable top four position while never seriously challenging for title supremacy.

That brings us to this weekend’s North London Derby.  Arsenal’s season hangs on the edge of a knife as a loss could drop them nine points back should Leicester City win.  A loss from Arsenal would also afford the opportunity to a number of clubs to dramatically close the gap and could eventually lead to Arsenal falling out of the top four altogether.  From Tottenham’s perspective, a win would potentially draw them level on points with Leicester City at the top of the table, while a loss combined with a Leicester win would put the gap at six.

With both Arsenal and Tottenham facing pressure to perform in midweek European action and for Arsenal F.A. Cup action, a loss could greatly diminish the hopes for a Premier League title.

Despite the setback midweek against West Ham, Tottenham is on a very lengthy run of good league results. Dating back to mid-January, Tottenham had won six straight Premier League matches and when combined with a promising start to the Europa League knockout round, the club’s confidence has to be riding high. Arsenal, on the other hand, comes into the match having lost two straight in the Premier League and lost a difficult match at home in the Champions League against Barcelona.

At this point, Tottenham has to be considered favorites for the contest this weekend and that is before the news of the Arsenal injury list.

The injury list is also another example of these two club’s contrasting seasons.  In the Tottenham corner, the only major injury is still Jan Vertonghen as Pochetinno has stated Mousa Dembele might be returning this week.  As I’ve been mentioning all season, Pochettino’s ability and willingness to rotate his squad has largely been responsible for the lack of injuries.  While Arsenal is a totally different story, having lost numerous players through injury across this season.  The two names added to the fluctuating list of Arsenal’s walking wounded are goalkeeper Petr Cech and central defender Laurent Koscielny.  Both are obviously the first choice selections for Wenger and the downgrade from Cech to David Ospina is particularly damaging.

The match itself will be another interesting contrast between Arsenal’s propensity to possess and Tottenham’s desire to press.  Obviously, Tottenham comes into the weekend as the more rested squad, particularly in the midfield where they have rotated whereas Arsenal, through injury, have often been forced to field the same lineup.  Elsewhere on the field, a matchup that will be key is the battle between Harry Kane and the center back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Gabriel.  Both of the Arsenal defenders have come under scrutiny this season, for different reasons and against Kane mistakes will be punished.

Finally, who will lead this Arsenal squad?  In the match midweek against an underwhelming Swansea City side, at home no less, Arsenal lacked a player who was showing emotion.  In a huge derby match, I hope this won’t be the case as a loss would effectively end Arsenal’s title hopes at the hands of their biggest rivals.

If Arsenal lose, their title hopes are finished and a loss by Tottenham would position them as decided underdogs to lift the trophy.  That is what makes this match a loser leaves town.

John Harbeck

Ohio sports and all things soccer.If you like my writing follow me @JHarbeck5 on twitter

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