North London Derby : Will the real Arsenal please stand up?

When Tottenham and Arsenal players march out of the tunnel on Sunday for the North London derby, the situation of both clubs couldn’t be more dissimilar to each other. On one end, you have Arsenal sitting in 14th spot on the Premier League table with just thirteen points from a possible thirty in what has been quite an unexpected situation for the gunners this season. On the other end however, there’s Tottenham, who seem to be punching well above their weight in some sense, sitting in first place with twenty one points and looking every bit like title contenders as things stand.

Arsenal recovered from a home loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers last weekend with a convincing midweek win over Rapid Wien in the Europa League. Whilst the win may have lifted the spirits a bit in the gunners’ camp, there are still worrying signs that suggest that the derby with Tottenham could be more difficult than expected. What’s even more worrying is the idea that a lot of the difficulties that Arsenal could face might not be because of Tottenham’s brilliance. Take for example Arsenal’s recent run in the league, one win (vs Manchester United) in the last five games, just two goals scored over that period whilst conceding six. The club’s away record this season has also been unimpressive, Mikel Arteta’s men have only registered two wins on the road this season (five games), averaging a goal per game in those games but conceding almost as much. To make matters worse, the club’s top scorer from last season and quite frankly, best striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has struggled in front of goal this season, scoring just one goal in the league – a penalty – since the away trip to Fulham on the opening day of the season.

Mikel Arteta team has often been accused of being too rigid, with most fans and neutrals pointing out the team’s lack of creativity and blaming this on the coach’s decision to leave Mesut Ozil – who is arguably the club’s most creative player – out of the club’s Premier League squad list. That may not be too far from the truth, especially as stats show that the team has played just 95 shots in the Premier league this season, at least 25 less than any of the big six teams. The team also has the lowest number of big chances created among the big six, averaging just under two big chances per game. A lot of focus has been on Ozil’s absence but the squad isn’t particularly devoid of creative players. In Willian, Dani Ceballos, Nicolas Pepe and even Bukayo Saka, Arsenal possess a quartet of players that can constantly create chances under the right tactical set up. Arsenal’s lack of goals and creativity may be caused by Arteta’s system which requires that the players follow to the letter, a strict set of instructions and moves that have been worked upon time after time in training.

It’s not all doom for Arsenal though, Mikel Arteta has shown on more than one occasion that he has what it takes to win games where his Arsenal side are not favourites. He has picked maximum points in games where Arsenal were less fancied to win; wins against Manchester city in the FA cup, Liverpool towards the end of last season and the Community Shield triumph at the start of this season are perfect examples of what the Spanish manager is capable of on his day.

Mikel Arteta goes into the North London derby knowing that a good result in the tie has the potential to turn the tide for them in what has been a very underwhelming season. A win could just serve as the boost in morale that the players need to go on a run of positive results while a loss could compound their woes ahead of a run of tricky fixtures which include trips to Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park, they’ll also welcome struggling Burnley and high flying Southampton over the next five games.

The importance of this fixture cannot be overstated for Arsenal. Apart from the bragging rights that they stand to claim, at least until the next meeting between both sides, this fixture could just serve as the turning point in what is currently a below-par season for the gunners.

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