Second host seventh at the Emirates in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off, which will be the 165th meeting between these bitter north London neighbours, their 147th league clash and 37th in the Premier League. But the ever-present pressure to win this fixture will be intensified because Arsenal have the incentive of going top, even if only temporarily, by winning – and Spurs have the incentive of making sure that doesn’t happen, while closing the gap on fourth-placed Manchester City.
Arsene Wenger’s side enjoyed a near-perfect weekend last time out, beating Everton away after Manchester United had been held by Aston Villa and before Chelsea crashed to an unaccustomed home defeat by Sunderland.
Those results meant that the Gunners closed to with two points of the Blues, in sharp contrast to an alternative scenario which would have seen Chelsea eight points ahead had the Black Cats been despatched and the Toffees stuck it to visiting Londoners. The challenge for Arsenal now is to build on that turn of events by achieving a third straight win; the boost to local pride will be highly desirable secondary bonus.
However, their impressive wins at Molineux and Goodison last week should not obscure the fact that Arsenal’s recent home form has been below par. Defeat by West Bromwich Albion, somewhat laboured victories over Birmingham and West Ham, and that loss to Newcastle speak ominously of a team currently ill at ease on their own turf.
Wenger will be desperate to re-establish dominance at home, which is an imperative for any title-winning team. And his squad are certainly contenders. Midfielder Samir Nasri – whose speed of thought and foot impressed for France at Wembley – is optimistic it could be Arsenal’s turn this year. Beating Spurs on Saturday wouldn’t guarantee that but it would underline their intent.
Recent history is undoubtedly on their side: the Gunners have taken 29 points from a possible 33 in their last 11 home league games against their rivals, have lost only one of the last 21 and are unbeaten against Tottenham at home for 18 years. Moreover, they beat Spurs 4-1 at White Hart Lane in a League Cup tie in September.
...But Spurs Feel The Balance Is Shifting In Their Favour
Tottenham, though, sense the wind of change blowing through north London. Their 2-1 win at the Lane last April finally ended a nightmare sequence against the old enemy, and was a key stepping-stone on their route into this season’s Champions League. Having had to endure watching the Gunners go far in that competition year after year, Spurs are now participants, enjoying themselves hugely and making many sit up and take notice with a scintillating win over defending champions Inter.
Striker Peter Crouch said this week: “We're a lot closer to them than we have been for a long time, and against the best we seem to raise our game.”
That may be true, but a damning statistic for Spurs fans is that it is now 68 league games since Tottenham last won away against one of the Premier League’s 'big four' clubs - Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool. They’ve had 20 draws and 48 defeats against this quartet since beating Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield back in August 1993.
However, in Rafael van der Vaart and Gareth Bale they boast two of the League’s most in-form players, and they will make the short trip down the Seven Sisters Road buoyed by their 4-2 victory over Blackburn Rovers last weekend, and with boyhood Arsenal fan Redknapp trying to convince his players that the Gunners are unusually vulnerable at home just now.
Spurs have already beaten Stoke City and Fulham away from home this season, and will feel they have a good opportunity to achieve their first win on Arsenal turf since May 1993 when George Graham, who went on to manage at White Hart Lane, fielded a shadow XI at Highbury a few days before the Gunners’ FA Cup final appearance and duly paid the price with a 3-1 defeat.
Central defender Laurent Koscielny is back in contention having completed his two-match suspension, imposed after collecting his second red card of the season towards the end of Arsenal’s last home game, the 1-0 defeat by Newcastle United.
Young midfielder Jack Wilshere, who missed England’s midweek friendly thanks to a back injury sustained during the win at Everton last Sunday, faces a fitness test but is hopeful of making the north London derby.
Also facing fitness tests after the midweek internationals are Andrey Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky.
Robin van Persie played a pre-agreed 45 minutes for the Netherlands against Turkey, and came through unscathed and with his return to full fitness enhanced.
But Manuel Almunia (elbow), Abou Diaby (ankle), Emmanuel Frimpong (knee), Aaron Ramsey (broken leg/fitness) and Thomas Vermaelen (Achilles) are all still sidelined.
Possible starting XI: Fabianski; Sanga, Koscielny, Squillaci, Clichy; Nasri, Song, Denilson; Walcott, Fabregas, Chamakh.
Striker Jermain Defoe, having recovered from ankle surgery, is back in training and could be included in Harry Redknapp’s squad, possibly as a substitute.
Winger Aaron Lennon is due to have his fitness assessed following his hamstring problem, but midfielder Tom Huddlestone has been ruled out for three months with an ankle injury.
Michael Dawson (knee & ankle), Robbie Keane (ankle), Giovani dos Santos, Ledley King & Jonathan Woodgate (all groin), and Jamie O'Hara (back) are all unavailable.
Possible starting XI: Gomes; Hutton, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto; Van der Vaart, Jenas, Modric, Bale; Pavlyuchenko, Crouch.