While there have been a few such occasions already this season, Thursday’s North London Derby is unquestionably the biggest game of the season for Arsenal. It doesn’t get bigger. Here is the predicted lineup.
There tends to be multiple ‘biggest games’ as the campaign progresses, but now we mean business. Arsenal could be a Champions League club in just 90 minutes’ time. So much is on the line for both sides, so how does Mikel Arteta go about ensuring it’s the Gunners who finish on top?
The main selection discussion heading into this game is the potential availability of Benjamin White. Absent from the last two matchday squads with a tight hamstring, Arteta stated he was hopeful of him returning for this game, with it thought his exclusion was precautionary.
If he does return, then another discussion emerges over where he plays.
Arsenal predicted lineup vs Tottenham: Benjamin White in a 3-4-3 shape with Takehiro Tomiyasu and Gabriel Martinelli starting?
Takehiro Tomiyasu played at left-back in the win over Leeds, putting in a characteristically solid display, and if White moves to centre-back it would mean Cedric Soares lining up against the best left-winger in the league. Heung-min Son will devour him.
Thus, either White could move to right-back and/or Arsenal could adopt a back three, similarly to how they lined up in spells away at Chelsea where they won 4-2. It will be fascinating to see how the team is set up.
In midfield Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka continue to form a strong partnership, although a shift to a back three may see some fluidity in positioning for the pair.
Up top there will be another close call between Emile Smith Rowe, who has performed well in North London Derby matches previously, and Gabriel Martinelli, who put in an excellent shift in the 2-1 win over Jesse Marsch’s side.
How might the team look, then?
Aaron Ramsdale (GK)
While mostly inculpable, Arsenal haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last seven Premier League games, and have conceded a goal from 50% of the shots on target they have faced in the last nine. Not great viewing.
Benjamin White (RB)
Could it be a similar system to the Chelsea game where White lines up as a right-back out of possession, but it switches to a three when Arsenal have the ball.
Rob Holding (CB)
It will be his task to be tight on Kane when Spurs go long looking for the striker to flick the ball on and let others collect second balls.
Not going to be an easy evening for Gabriel who has dealt with Kane very well in the past, and what will be crucial in this game is him keeping his head.
Takehiro Tomiyasu (LB)
When it does switch to a three at the back shape in possession this could see Tomiyasu push forward and support the midfield, allowing the wingers to stay high and wide.
Mohamed Elneny (CM)
Paying the best football of his career, in no other game this season will his calm head be more needed than away at Spurs. Never afraid to receive the ball in tight areas, due to opposition sides not expecting him to be progressive he’s been able to pick out neat forward passes lately.
Granit Xhaka (CM)
It’s one of those where he could drop a 10/10 masterclass performance or get sent off pulling Son back when he’s clean through on goal.
However, while he lost his head too much against Leeds, Xhaka is more aware than most in the squad what this fixture needs. Big performance needed, and expected.
Martin Odegaard (AM)
Tottenham needing to win this game could play into Odegaard’s hands. Spurs will already try to limit his time on the ball knowing his threat, but the gaps will open as they need to be assertive in this game.
Bukayo Saka (RW)
It is very apparent that Saka is not playing at the peak of his powers. Niggling injuries and the like are slightly holding him back, although there has been no obvious drop off in performance levels so it isn’t a substantial concern.
One massive game from him with the win secured and Arsenal should send him off to the beach two games early. Why not.
Eddie Nketiah (ST)
The timing of his inclusion in the team has worked out brilliantly for Arsenal. Nketiah has had four straight starts, his fitness is already improving, and his confidence will be soaring with four goals scored during that time.
In the form of his life, if this is to be his Arsenal swansong then what better way to bow out than a winning goal in the North London Derby?
Gabriel Martinelli (LW)
His performance against Leeds was very much a ‘I’m playing against Spurs, Mikel’ statement. The way he tore Luke Ayling to shreds will be the kind of electricity he’ll want to repeat against Emerson Royal, who could be in for a rough evening.
The toughest part of this game for Martinelli will be facing Cristian Romero who, and it can’t be overlooked, is an outstanding central defender.