Arsenal vs Tottenham: Why the Gunners should beware the north London derby underdog

The team higher in the Premier League table has failed to win nine of the last 12 north London derbies, and this time around the odds are stacked heavily in Arsenal's favour

Jack de Menezes
Saturday 05 November 2016 13:56
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Arsene Wenger will lead his Arsenal side into the north London derby as favourites
Arsene Wenger will lead his Arsenal side into the north London derby as favourites

Arsenal head into Sunday’s north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur off the back of a 15-match unbeaten run, so you’d forgive them for being in a confident mood ahead of the encounter at the Emirates Stadium. Spurs haven’t won any of their last six matches, and have suffered two recent defeats as well as a number of hindrances in the form of injury and suspensions.

But should Arsenal really be confident of victory? Recent form suggests no, they shouldn’t.

If there’s one trend that can be taken out of the recent history of the north London derby, it is the rise of the underdog status. Under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal have very much been the powerhouse in the battle for north London supremacy, having never finished below Spurs in the Premier League.

That run of dominance came close to ending last season, when it took a late-season collapse from Spurs for them to concede second place to Arsenal on the final day of the season. There’s no doubting though that the gap between the two sides is as small as it’s ever been, such has been Tottenham’s development under Mauricio Pochettino.

Looking back at all of their matches since the 2010/11 season, it’s clear to see that the side higher in the Premier League table appears to struggle with the tag of being favourites for the match. In nine of the last 12 encounters between the two sides, the team higher in the table has failed to win, having lost five times and drawn the other four.

Both have experienced the boost that comes with being the underdog of the north London derby, with Arsenal gaining a win or draw when behind in the table on five occasions to Spurs’s four. These numbers are slightly offset by Arsenal’s terrible start to the 2011/12 season, as the Gunners were still in recovery mode when they met in February 2012 and promptly enjoyed a 5-2 demolition of Harry Redknapp’s side after going two goals behind.

Arsenal v Spurs: North London derby match preview

However, Arsenal can buck the trend this weekend given that Spurs are in a terrible state heading into the game. Harry Kane looks set to start, but the striker has not played for seven weeks and there has to be serious questions over his fitness and if he has been rushed back too soon to salvage Spurs’s strong start that has faded away.

They are without Moussa Sissoko – suspended after elbowing Harry Arter in the recent draw with Bournemouth – and Toby Alderweireld, who is still struggling with injury and joins Erik Lamela and Ben Davies on the sidelines.

In Kane’s absence, Spurs have lacked goals with both Vincent Janssen and Son Heung-min failing to convince they can challenge the England striker for his place, and neither Dele Alli nor Christian Eriksen have been able to replicate their form of last season.

Arsenal, in contrast, are beginning to look like a side who believe in their own abilities. Having fought back from 2-0 down to beat Ludogorets and confirmed their progression to the Champions League last-16, Wenger’s side will be filled with confidence. The 4-3 defeat by Liverpool, their only loss of the season, feels like a distant memory, and in Olivier Giroud they have an in-form back-up striker who is challenging the current starting XI that is being led brilliantly by Alexis Sanchez.


Mesut Özil is adding goals to his game this season and looks very much the player Arsenal believed they were signing for £42.5m, while Wenger may finally have stumbled on a defence capable of winning the Premier League.

Arsenal have their own injury problems, but they are nothing compared to Tottenham’s. Theo Walcott, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal are all expected to be passed fit for the encounter, meaning their only absentees are Santo Cazorla, Danny Welbeck and Per Mertesacker, and only Cazorla would get into the current starting line-up. Granit Xhaka is also back from suspension and will give Arsenal a much-needed bite in midfield when they battle Spurs.

The odds appear to be stacked in Arsenal’s favour, but that may prove to be their undoing. Beware the north London underdog.

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