North London derbies are just like London buses, you wait ages for one game and then two turn up at once. That has certainly been the case this season where Arsenal face Tottenham twice in the space of three weeks after their recent Premier League victory at Emirates Stadium. On Wednesday night the two sides meet for a place in the Carabao Cup semi-final and while the game may not have the same significance as a league meeting, the meaning and passion on show will almost definitely still be there.
Recent derbies between the two teams have not necessarily harnessed the special significance of an historic rivalry between two of London’s best. While Spurs finished above Arsenal for the first time since 1995 last season and recently qualified for the last-16 of the Champions League, it is Unai Emery’s men who have taken over the mantle of a team in transition. The 4-2 win did prove one thing though – that Arsenal are ready to fight again no matter what. Frenetic scenes after Eric Dier celebrated his equaliser in front of the Arsenal fans saw players from both teams tangle with eac hother, with Emery insisting that emotion in a controlled manner can be a positive thing.
“The emotion is not bad. I think showing our emotion, the players, the fans and me, is good,” said Emery ahead of the cup clash.
“But every time we must respect them. I think showing emotion is very important. I think football is emotion. In a derby, maybe this emotion is greater. When you win, it’s amazing. When you lose, it’s horrible. But respect is important.”
“We can show this emotion with respect when we are playing but also when they scored against us, they can show their emotion with their supporters. But with respect. We need to show this emotion when we are playing, when we are winning, because I think football needs this passion.”
Matteo Guendouzi’s celebrations with supporters after the recent win over Spurs showed that there is an understanding of what a derby means to the fans. Tottenham’s progression under Mauricio Pochettino has provided them with an outstanding platform to build upon, one which will see them eventually move into a new 60,000 seater stadium. European football has also been a regular sight on the white side of north London in recent seasons, but Arsenal’s 22 game unbeaten run in all competitions under Emery has served as a reminder to Pochettino and co that the Gunners are by no means a spent force in a league which they last won in 2004.
Arsenal will be without Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac for the cup tie, while Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos are both expected to return. While the game may have previously been used as a tool to blood inexperienced youngsters and give fringe players an opportunity to start, Wednesday’s derby presents itself as a pathway to a cup semi-final at Wembley and potentially the first piece of silverware in 2019.
The Gunners faced Manchester City in last season’s final and were dismantled by Pep Guardiola’s team who picked up the trophy for the third time in five years. A win on Wednesday would almost certainly see a match-up against City whether it’s in the semis or final – and Emery will be fully aware of the challenge that lies ahead if his side do complete the double over Spurs before Christmas.
Passion is the vital ingredient of any football match and the north London derby still remains one of the biggest derbies in world football. As Arsenal improve under Emery they have a genuine opportunity to show further signs of progress by beating Pochettino’s men and challenging for the first trophy of the season, although Tottenham will certainly have revenge on their minds after the defeat earlier in the month.