Where the biggest North London derby in decades will be won
Can Elneny stop Kane the creator?
One of the unlikeliest comeback stories of the season can be found in Arsenal’s midfield. Mohamed Elneny had not started a game for his club since December but the Egyptian has been superb ever since he was thrown in against Chelsea last month.
Elneny is a popular and hard-working member of the Arsenal squad, and his performances in the past few weeks have been a major reason for the renewed stability of Mikel Arteta’s side. Elneny has started the past four games as Arsenal have worked themselves into a position where a win will guarantee fourth place.
As the primary defensive midfielder, it will be Elneny’s responsibility to stop Harry Kane from thriving in the playmaker role for Tottenham Hotspur. So many of Tottenham’s attacks come through Kane, who likes to drop into midfield and spray passes to either Son Heung-min or Dejan Kulusevski.
Kane has registered eight assists this season, more than any other Tottenham player, and so many of those have come from withdrawn positions. On the counter-attack, especially, his passing is one of the most dangerous weapons in the league. If Elneny can deny him those opportunities, Arsenal will have cut off one of Tottenham’s main sources of goals.
Romero’s aggression or White’s composure?
North London derbies are intense affairs and there are few players more intense than Cristian Romero, the all-action centre-back at the heart of Tottenham’s defence.
Antonio Conte will need Romero to keep a cool head, which is not always easy for the 24-year-old.
Arsenal will be aware that they could exploit this and get under his skin, especially in such a fervent atmosphere.
Romero was an expensive summer signing at the start of the season, while Arsenal have one of their own in Ben White, who is a player of the opposite temperament to Romero.
White’s game is built on composure, with and without the ball, and his calm approach will contrast sharply with Romero. White and Romero’s respective disciplinary records prove the point: in the past three seasons, White has been shown a total of 11 yellow cards. Romero, meanwhile, has picked up 39 yellows in the same time.
Which style is best suited to a derby of this magnitude? The answer might not become clear until late in the game. One mistake, or one crucial tackle, could make all the difference.
Who can counter threat of Son and Kulusevski?
There can be no underplaying the threat posed by Son and Kulusevski, two wingers who can beat defenders with the ball at their feet or by running in behind.
With Kieran Tierney out for the rest of the season due to injury, Arteta is in a difficult position. Back-up left-back Nuno Tavares is surely too unreliable to play directly against a forward as dangerous as Kulusevski. Takehiro Tomiyasu was selected at left-back in Sunday’s victory over Leeds United and he could play there again.
An alternative option for Arteta is to match his team to Conte’s system by playing with a three-man defence. Arsenal took this approach in their victory at Chelsea, deploying White, Rob Holding and Gabriel Magalhaes in the same back line.
Odegaard and Saka hold key to Arsenal’s attacking hopes
It is not quite a partnership to match the output of Kane and Son, but Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka’s on-field relationship is growing into one of the most impressive features of this Arsenal team.
Odegaard regularly drifts towards the right wing, working in close proximity to Saka, and they are always looking to hurt teams with their quick passing and technical skill. This season, Odegaard has created 18 goalscoring chances for Saka, while Saka has created seven for Odegaard. If Tottenham are able to stop one, they will find it much easier to stop the other.
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