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

Published in International Watch

There was no hiding the impression that Tottenham put forward on Wednesday, during their 2-0 win over Manchester United. A fast start, and an overwhelming display were on show, and Spurs were barely flattered by the scoreline, and will know they should have added more, as they remained in touch with the top four.

And come Sunday, there’ll be an opportunity to climb into it for Mauricio Pochettino and his team, even third place is possible by the end of this weekend, all they have to do is win at Anfield. A place where Spurs have won just twice in 25 Premier League games, where Liverpool haven’t lost in the league since last April, the Lilywhites will know their work is cut out for them. Their record away to the rest of the top six teams under Pochettino is barely any good as well, with nine points since 2014, a record that has one win in it.

Liverpool have done well to respond to those league (Swansea) and FA Cup (West Brom) setbacks with a comprehensive 3-0 win at Huddersfield, and climbed to third place, above Chelsea on goal difference. That loss to Swansea has been their first in the league since Tottenham hit four past them in October, a result that had left them back in ninth, and now Spurs’ midweek result means even second-placed United are well within their sights.

It’s a clash between two sides of similar styles, with similar levels of momentum, and similar league aspirations, but neither will get any similar level of satisfaction after the final whistle on Sunday.

Elsewhere

  • Crisis? Perhaps. One league win in 2018 so far, out of the League Cup, and dismantled at home by Bournemouth, the ‘C’ word appears to be hovering above West London, on the verge of touch down. Antonio Conte and his Blues team (for how long will that continue to be the case?) will be hoping that opponents Watford don’t get the new manager bounce, in Javi Gracia’s first league game at Vicarage Road.
  • Southampton still haven’t hit the panic button and decided to dismiss Mauricio Pellegrino yet, despite the poor run of form, the Saints have no league wins in 12. They haven’t lost in three, however, performances are improving somewhat, and the Saints hierarchy will hope their faith in Pellegrino, alongside the winter arrival of Guido Carrillo, can spark a revival, although their patience might snap should they suffer defeat here and move to the foot of the table. Hosts West Brom have scored only four goals at home since Alan Pardew took charge, all from set pieces. Talk about finding it hard to move on following a break-up. They’ll more than take it, mind, if a bunch of set-piece goals takes off the bottom of the league.
  • After the hapless display at Wembley in midweek, Manchester United will no doubt be keen to get back on track, especially following manager Jose Mourinho’s criticism post-match. They’ve only lost once at Old Trafford this season, which was to league leaders Manchester City in December. Huddersfield, visitors to the Theatre of Dreams, have lost eight of their last 11 away, conceding two or more in them. The Terriers are not unlikely to find themselves in the red zone at the end of this one.
  • Beset by injuries, bothered by transfer fracas once again, West Ham’s smiles over the past months look to be abating. The Hammers travel to Brighton next, a win takes them to the top half, as well keeps the focus mostly on the pitch. For the East Londoners, and their shoddy PR, that’ll be welcome.
  • It’s a homecoming for Theo Walcott, as he and his new side, Everton, travel to the Emirates. Walcott has begun life at Goodison in fine fettle, scoring twice and setting up one in three games, and might relish causing Arsenal’s troubled backline (as Swansea showed) some problems. The Gunners have some new signings of their own on show, Henrikh Mkhitaryan might make his first league start for the club, although Arsene Wenger says illness could delay Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang making his debut. The history books rarely favour the Toffees in this one, they’ve lost eight out of 10 games against Arsenal in the month of February, and have never won at the Emirates. Expect the Sam Allardyce special away to a top six club.

Fixtures

Liverpool v Tottenham

Arsenal v Everton

Bournemouth v Stoke

Crystal Palace v Newcastle

Manchester United v Huddersfield

West Brom v Southampton

Leicester v Swansea

Brighton v West Ham

Burnley v Manchester City

Watford v Chelsea

Published in International Watch