From Celtic vs Rangers in Scotland to Boca Juniors vs River Plate in Argentina, the fiercest of football rivalry adds a whole other layer of intrigue to a fixture. Whatever the bitterness is based on, the most eagerly anticipated matches of any season are typically those involving two teams that detest one another.
There can be no denying the depth of the ill-feeling that flows between Tottenham and Arsenal – and these days there is so much more at stake than mere local pride. Both of these teams are vying for a place in the Premier League’s promised land: those top four places that secure automatic Champions League qualification.
Tottenham are currently in fifth place with Arsenal at sixth, just four points behind their rivals. Bragging rights are one thing, the £13 million in prize money for qualifying for the continent’s premier competition is quite another.
The pair meet for the 195th time in their illustrious history at Wembley Stadium on Saturday lunchtime and it's sure to be a captivating episode of a rivalry that has created some of the most iconic moments in English football.
Whenever a high-profile managerial position becomes available, it’s no coincidence that Mauricio Pochettino’s name is linked. The Tottenham boss has done an incredible job of transforming his side from also-rans to, at one point, title challengers, and his tactical nous has not gone unnoticed at European football’s elite outfits.
The Argentine once again showed his class in the 2-2 with Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday. Two goals down, he substituted Davinson Sanchez, brought on Victor Wanyama and switched Dele Alli to a deeper role. Wanyama fired home an outstanding equaliser, while Alli pulled the strings in midfield that eventually created the penalty that Harry Kane stuck away.
It’s not the first time that Pochettino has changed the nature of a game with his tactical decision making and his team’s ability to switch between three and four at the back is down to the diligence and attention to detail that he's applied. Tottenham’s upward curve in the past few seasons is no fluke.
For many years, dating back to the era of Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal fans have been crying out for Arsene Wenger to sign a genuine striker. Olivier Giroud is very good at what he does – i.e. using his height and strength to sledgehammer his way through opposition defences, but he isn’t a classy operator in Arsenal’s rich tradition. Alexandre Lacazette was brought in during the summer and has done a decent enough job, but he, like Henry, is more of a left winger who enjoys cutting in on that right foot of his.
So step forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a £56 million signing from Borussia Dortmund on transfer deadline day. The Gabon frontman is widely considered an elite-level marksman and his goal return in the Bundesliga – 98 in just 144 appearances – is testament to that. He will surely be the subject of plenty of football betting activity for this game.
The capture of Aubameyang has created a shift in Wenger’s set up too, with the Frenchman opting to revert back to a four-man defence against Everton in order to accommodate Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan as a three-pronged attack behind their new teammate. The result? The Gunners blew Everton away, running up a four-goal lead in 20 minutes before taking their foot off the gas and settling for a 5-1 victory. Most pleasingly for their supporters, Aubameyang opened his account on debut after climbing off his sick bed to play.
With both Arsenal and Tottenham in good form, Saturday’s clash is hotly anticipated by spectators and punters alike.
Without their world-class centre back Toby Alderweireld, Tottenham have, on occasion, looked rather vulnerable in defence. His temporary replacement, Sanchez (a big money signing from Ajax in the summer) is a powerful presence but is yet to show the poise and composure of the Belgian. In the stalemate with Liverpool, Sanchez was found wanting.
Spurs are more secure defensively than Arsenal, it has to be said. Seven of the Gunners’ last eight Premier League games have witnessed both teams scoring and a total of three or more goals and their last clean sheet came in mid-December.
From a betting perspective, this game is too close to call. A case can be made for the solidity of Tottenham or the cavalier attacking play of Arsenal and punters are encouraged to leave the outright market be. Instead, focus on the goals markets: specifically, Both Teams to Score & Over 2.5 Goals at 5/1 with 888sport is an interesting wager in what should be another chaotic North London derby.