Tuesday, January 25

North London Derby: This will be an entertaining draw that ultimately solves nothing

Both Tottenham and Arsenal have been much better acquainted with crisis this season than the top four, yet even with one managerial sacking and a soap opera apiece featuring their principal strikers it is entirely possible to put a positive spin on their league results.

Spurs are unbeaten in the league since Antonio Conte took charge in early November, keeping five clean sheets in eight for good measure. As for the Gunners, if they didn’t have to play those pesky clubs from Manchester or Merseyside, they’d be up there challenging. Arsenal signed off 2021 with four straight wins, scoring freely.

Alas, they are contractually obliged to play City et al, teams that starkly reveal the flaws still prevalent in Arteta’s ‘project’ while regarding Spurs, it would be a falsehood to claim they’re in recovery-mode under Conte. Another laboured cup performance this week is further illustration of a lack of quality beyond the starting XI and if that’s a problem at the best of times, it’s potentially disastrous in the current climate.

So once again we embark on a North London Derby where the points and bragging rights are not the only considerations because come the final whistle on Sunday, we will hopefully be better informed about the state that each club is in, for better or for worse. We will certainly know more than what some routine victories over Norwich and the like can tell us.

Looking at the bigger picture beyond this clash, there has been interesting movement on Arsenal to finish top four on the Exchange with punters backing the Gunners 3.1511/5 to finish ahead of Spurs 3.259/4.

Boom to bust in the blink of an eye

It’s plausible that the 45-minute mark against Manchester City a fortnight ago will be looked back on as Arsenal’s seasonal zenith.

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In the five games leading up to that effervescent first-half, that saw them dominate the league champions, Arteta had selected only 12 players as he finally settled on a set-up and line-up that brought the best out of his side.

Furthermore, it was a mandate that leaned heavily into youth, with Saka, Smith Rowe and Odegaard all flourishing. Over half of Arsenal’s goals this term in the league have been converted by players aged 21 or under and when you’re building something anew that matters.

That high-water mark on New Year’s Day however already feels like an eternity ago because ever since an imperfect storm of suspensions, injuries, poor application and Covid absentees have taken all momentum from their sails.

It was ill-discipline that cost them the City game while nothing excuses their pitiful display at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup. Granit Xhaka’s patented dismissal at Anfield meanwhile on Thursday evening means he will be unavailable this weekend and his absence will be felt because elsewhere, Arsenal have been decimated by injuries and illness.

Up front Aubameyang and Pepe are out but it’s in midfield where the visitors are seriously hit, with Smith Rowe, Odegaard, Partey and Elneny all missing. To negate Liverpool this week, Arsenal showed some uncharacteristic fight and Arteta’s reconfigured side will need to have a backbone again here.

Only the top three have had more shots than the Gunners this season and they can count themselves unlucky too after hitting the woodwork more often than any other team. Even factoring in their weakened line-up, back them to have 5 or more shots on target at odds-against.

Back Arsenal to have 5 or more shots on target at 2.35/4

Harry Kane, Tottenham.jpg

A post-crisis funk

A rumour doing the rounds today suggests that Antonio Conte has become so disillusioned in N17 that he could depart before the season is out and though some scepticism should accompany this hearsay, merely the fact that it’s being written up and taken seriously says a great deal.

The highly demanding Italian has come in and been as Conte as we all expected, banning ketchup, installing his favoured 3-4-2-1 and notably improving the odd player or two who were previously coasting. But all told, it has not been enough. Not nearly enough.

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One player who has not picked up form is Harry Kane, even if a three-game scoring streak over the Christmas period says otherwise. The struggling England international has now played 14 games across all comps for Conte after playing the same amount under Nuno Espirito Santo and despite his numerous blanks making headlines at the beginning of the season, his strike-rate was better under the sacked manager.

With Son out and Bergwijn very unlikely to return, it once again falls on Kane to provide a cutting edge in a fixture where he has previously excelled, scoring 11 in 16. Can he be the difference? Recent weeks says no.

And yet, one aspect of Tottenham’s relentlessly stuttering campaign that has picked up of late concerns their attacking intent. At their lowest ebb Spurs went a remarkable four hours without testing a goalkeeper but attempts on goal are up 44% in Conte’s opening eight league games compared to Nuno’s last eight.

It’s in the assist market where the value can be found for Spurs. Lucas Moura has carved out three goals in the league and is 6.511/2 to assist anytime.

Back Moura for an assist @ 6.511/2

It’s a NLD so back the draw

These two historic, local rivals have come to blows on 59 occasions in the Premier League and remarkably, 38.9% of them have ended honours even.

To put that into context, the Manchester derby has ended in a draw 18.3% of the time in that same period and if the inordinately high volume of spoils sharing is pertinent so too is the amount of comebacks witnessed in this fixture. In 17% of the contests, the team who conceded first went on to win the game.

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It makes sense then to head into the in-play market the moment the deadlock is broken and back a draw or a dramatic twist in the tail.

More so, it’s possible to predict who will emerge the happiest from the stalemate. Tottenham have accrued seven points this term from losing positions so have it in them to do so. Arsenal meanwhile have scored 10 goals inside 25 minutes this season but have conceded exactly twice as many goals in the second period as the first-half.

The draw is a must at 3.39/4 while Arsenal/Draw offers up generous returns at 12.011/1.

Back Arsenal/Draw in the half time/full time at 12.011/1

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