Last Chance Saloon? Arsenal Clutching at Top Four Straw as They Play Guests in Upcoming North London Derby: Premier League; The Weekend That Will Be

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It’s a bit of a cliché, almost annoying really, that once a North London derby comes round, it’s described as the most important one yet. From top four battles, to title challenges, and issues of a power shift in the North of the capital, every derby is seen as the most pivotal to have come, until the next one.

So, in that vein, this is probably the most important derby yet. Okay, maybe not, but there’s a fair bit riding on the 195th meeting between Arsenal and Tottenham, especially in the case of chasing a top four spot. It’s a measure of how much the Gunners have risen and slipped to note that they were well behind Spurs before the first leg in November (which they won), and by December they were well ahead of the Lilywhites. Inconsistency, squad unrest, and sometimes, just plain erratic football has seen them tumble down and firmly rooted to sixth place, five points away from the top four. Alexis Sanchez finally left, this January, but the arrivals of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has brought its fair share of optimism, which was augmented last weekend, Mkhitaryan with a hatrick of assists, while Aubameyang scored on his debut as they thrashed Everton out of sight.

But there’s still Arsenal’s tendency to implode when optimism takes hold, and the fans would surely have that on the back of their minds, not so long ago they followed up a 4-1 win against Crystal Palace with a 3-1 loss at Swansea. Arsene Wenger will undoubtedly know his side can’t afford the same here, lose at Wembley, and they’ll be at least seven points off the top four with 11 games left. The Gunners have an enviable record at the national stadium of late, though, they’ve won their last nine at the ground (including penalty shootouts), and Spurs will have one eye on Juventus, whom they face this midweek when the UEFA Champions League returns.

In spite of their European commitment, Spurs know their best chance of a successful season lie on the domestic fronts, and securing a top four spot come the end of the season will a part of that. With Chelsea slacking off since the start of the year, there’s a window of opportunity for either side. One neither can afford to miss.

Elsewhere

  • It seems like there’s a grudge match lying in wait at Goodison Park this weekend, as Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace travel to face Sam Allardyce’s Everton. It’s one in which the focus is going to be placed on both managers a bit, Hodgson having demanded an apology from Allardyce, following the latter’s comments after succeeding the former for the English job back in 2016. With both sides not out of danger though, on the pitch is where the more pressing matters lie. Hodgson would surely take a win over an apology.
  • No wins in eight. All defeats in five. Huddersfield are basically steering into the skid at the moment, the Terriers have dropped into the relegation zone following last weekend’s defeat at Old Trafford, where, once again, they showed little enterprise going forward. Surely that’ll change at home to high-flying Bournemouth. Eddie Howe’s Cherries are top of the 2018 form table, and will relish the chance to play in front what would be a rather edgy home crowd.
  • Two years ago this week, Leicester arrived at the Etihad stadium to face a Manchester City side who had recently found out that Pep Guardiola would be their manager once the season ended. The Foxes came, played City off the park, scored three goals, and earned all the plaudits on their way to that unprecedented title. Two years on they arrive in relatively comfortable state, although the absence of Riyad Mahrez is not a cause for jubilation so far, the Algerian hasn’t played since Leicester rejected a bid from Man City. They haven’t won any of the two games without him in the side, which doesn’t make facing the log leaders a particularly pleasant task at the moment. Not that it would be pleasant at any moment, mind.
  • Plus, expect a ring of boos when anytime Virgil van Dijk touches the ball for Liverpool at Southampton this weekend.

Fixtures

Tottenham v Arsenal

Newcastle v Manchester United

Southampton v Liverpool

Swansea v Burnley

Stoke v Brighton

Manchester City v Leicester

Huddersfield v Bournemouth

Everton v Crystal Palace

West Ham v Watford

Chelsea v West Brom

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