Arsenal v Tottenham | Sunday 26th September 2021, 16:30 | Sky Sports
Saturday night sees a heavyweight title bout in north London, then on Sunday, two of the Premier League’s biggest rivals go toe-to-toe at the Emirates Stadium.
In the red corner, supposed crisis club Arsenal have won two on the spin to climb to 13th in the table, after failing to win any of their opening three games. Consecutive 1-0 wins over Norwich and Burnley has given Mikel Arteta a hiatus from the unrest shown by the Gunners’ faithful.
But those in the white corner haven’t had it all their way in the last couple of weeks. Nuno Espirito Santo’s honeymoon period could be over after slipping to back-to-back 3-0 losses against Crystal Palace and Chelsea.
After such a promising start to last weekend’s game v Chelsea, the match changed at half-time when Thomas Tuchel brought on N’Golo Kanté. That gave the Blues impetus, something Spurs never had with Harry Kane playing like the invisible man.
This is unlikely to be a high-scoring thriller. Arsenal have only scored twice – the joint lowest – while Spurs have only bagged three themselves. So, goals could be at a premium.
It’s no surprise Spurs have scored few goals with them ranking 19th out of 20 for shots. Their 46 is only better than that of Leicester’s 43. However, the Lilywhites have a better shooting accuracy, having 20 shots on target compared to Arsenal’s 17.
Nuno will be boosted by the return of Lucas Moura, but Steven Bergwijn and Ryan Sessegnon both remain out for the visitors.
Mikel Arteta has similar headaches, but we could get to see Alexandre Lacazette who has been a thorn in the Spurs side of late. The French forward has been involved in six goals in his eight Premier League appearances against them. Whilst he’s scored in each of his last three against Spurs at the Emirates.
Arteta said that Lacazette has a chance of starting, as do Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka after overcoming their own battles. But the Gunners boss gave little away surrounding who’ll have the number one jersey, although Aaron Ramsdale has kept back-to-back clean sheets.
The only other question for Arteta is whether he goes with Emile Smith Rowe or Nicholas Pepe on the left side. I had considered some shooting angles for the latter but will leave them out in case he’s only a substitute.
The betting angles
I’m starting with backing the Arsenal corners handicap, which some might find strange considering the Gunners have only had one more than Spurs so far this season (25-24).
But Arsenal’s two home league games have seen them take 17 corners. While Spurs have only managed six in their two away games.
Just looking at Spurs under Nuno this season has seen them lose the corner count 11-3 at home to Man City, 11-5 against Chelsea last week and 8-2 at Crystal Palace, when Japhet Tanganga was dismissed.
Taking last weekend as the example, Chelsea were able to pin Spurs back in the second half and racked up plenty of corners, which they took full advantage of, especially with Thiago Silva breaking the deadlock.
Looking back through recent north London derby history has seen the -2 corners handicap land quite frequently in Arsenal’s favour.
In last season’s clash at the Emirates, it finished 6-3 to the Gunners. While the game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium finished 9-3 in Arsenal’s favour. Plus, the meeting at the Emirates in September 2019 saw the corner count finish 11-6 to Arsenal, making it three of the last four.
If you take head-to-head contests literally, then Arsenal have taken three or more corners than Spurs in the last five clashes here at the Emirates, a run that started in 2016.
With corners being the first angle, I did try and find an Arsenal player who could profit. Chelsea exposed Spurs’ deficiency in the second half last weekend with Thiago Silva on the scoresheet. The Brazilian had two efforts on target, as did fellow centre-back Anthony Rudiger.
Meanwhile, in the League Cup in midweek, Leander Dendoncker managed two headers on target, so someone with height and presence is what to look for when facing Spurs.
However, this is Arsenal. It’s not the land of the giants. You could make a case for Gabriel getting his head to one of the set-pieces, but nothing I’d be too sure about. So, that’s something I’ll try and spot when it kicks off.
My second and third bets are quite similar. I’ve split 75% and 25% across these two with them entwining somewhat.
When writing a preview about a north London derby, it’s hard to ignore the record of this fixture’s walking yellow card – Granit Xhaka. The fact he’s returning from suspension means he has a point to prove.
The tough-tackling Swiss midfielder has been carded in six of his last seven north London derbies in all competitions – a match made in heaven!
He walks a disciplinary tightrope, having been sent off for a two-footed lunge against Man City, and last season saw him collect seven cautions. In 19/20, he picked up 10.
He’s 6/4 to be carded – in some places he isn’t even the favourite for a card – while I’m going to have 25% of one point on him to be the first player in Craig Pawson’s notebook at 10/1.
Although I believe that referee’s do give Xhaka a bit of a longer leash, this is a fixture where he could go flying into a tackle early. And with Pawson in charge, he’s not generally one to shirk showing an early yellow either.
So, last season, Xhaka picked up his cards in the 20th, 82nd, 53rd, 90th, 62nd, 58th, 80th and 90th. Quite a few of those were late in games, highlighting part of my belief about him getting away more than most.
Again, I jotted down the card times in that 19/20 campaign: 45th, 81st, 90th, 9th, 55th, 90th, 77th, 35th, 90th and 81st. So, there are a couple of early ones in there.
His disciplinary record is hard to ignore, so taking him for a card looks like a solid approach, while the first booking must be considered with how deep Kane now drops to pick up the ball. If they do end up battling, I’d expect Kane to come out on top.
It’s also worth noting that Pawson took charge of four Arsenal games last season and managed to book Xhaka twice.
The Yorkshire official also had four Spurs games last term. The only player of theirs he booked more than once was Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. So, there could be a few doubles to be had.
But in what should be a close, hard-fought contest, I’ll take the Gunners in the corner handicap market along with another card for Xhaka.