The Premier League returns in style Saturday as Arsenal hosts bitter rival Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium in the first North London derby of the season.
After the international break, managers Arsene Wenger and Mauricio Pochettino will be keen to get their respective league campaigns on track in what promises to be a blockbuster top-flight encounter.
Neither side can afford a slip-up. Although Spurs have started the season impressively and already have qualified for the UEFA Champions League round of 16, they’re eight points behind leader Manchester City.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are even further back, 12 points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s pacesetters after losing 3-1 at Etihad Stadium last game. That was the Gunners’ fourth defeat in 12 league outings this season, and a loss to Spurs will only heap the pressure on Wenger.
Intriguingly, Wenger has not managed to beat a Pochettino-managed Spurs side in six attempts in the league. Can he break that particular duck?
Our friends at Football Whispers take a look at where the game could be won and lost and uses its unique algorithm to predict the most likely starting lineups.
Key Battle: Laurent Koscielny vs Harry Kane
Koscielny endured a difficult game against Man City and will face a similarly robust examination of his defensive abilities against the league’s deadliest striker.
The Frenchman was unable to stop City attackers Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus but will be hoping he can offer a stouter defense of Petr Cech’s goal and help Arsenal to a first shutout in the league in five games.
But Real Madrid transfer target Kane has been in irresistible form this season. He has eight league goals and scored both home and away against Arsenal last season.
It was Koscielny who conceded the penalty kick from which Kane scored in the 1-1 draw at Emirates Stadium last November when he tripped Mousa Dembele. The 32-year-old will be eager to avoid a similar individual mistake this time around.
It’s almost impossible to keep Kane fully quiet for 90 minutes, however, as the 24-year-old has managed 22 shots on target this season (an average of 5.9 per game), eclipsed only by Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah.
Potential game winners: Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal) & Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
Wenger raised a few eyebrows when he decided to drop £52.7 million ($68 million) summer signing Lacazette for the trip to Man City, and the France striker did more than enough to convince his manager he is worthy of a starting place by coming off the bench to score Arsenal’s only goal in that game.
The former Lyon hitman has been the Gunners’ most reliable source of goals, with six to his name in the league. Alexis Sanchez is not currently firing on all cylinders — the Chilean has managed just the one goal this season — so Wenger will look to his record signing for inspiration up front.
The veteran coach will have been pleased to see Lacazette scoring twice for France as it drew 2-2 with Germany in Tuesday’s exhibition game. Wenger will hope Lacazette can replicate that scoring touch against Spurs.
While Kane is always a likely game-winner for Pochettino’s side, Eriksen has been in fine scoring form this season. The Danish playmaker comes into the game fresh off netting a superb hat-trick against Ireland to secure his country’s World Cup place. He also has three Premier League goals this season. Add in the 25-year-old’s two assists and 2.2 key passes per game, he is likely to have a say in the final outcome of the match.
How they’ll line up
Football Whispers uses data to predict the starting line-ups for sides by accounting for a number of different factors, including injuries, suspensions, the statistical likelihood to play, the match the competition is played, the player’s previous performance and the style of the opposition.
Olivier Giroud is a doubt for Arsenal after picking up a thigh injury on international duty with France. Rob Holding remains unavailable, but Shkodran Mutafi is nearing a return. Danny Welbeck is back in training but is unlikely to start ahead of Lacazette.
Tottenham currently has several key players missing. Third-choice keeper Paulo Gazzaniga may retain his place in the line-up, with Hugo Lloris a doubt and Michel Vorm injured. Pochettino also is without Toby Alderweireld (hamstring), but Jan Vertonghen has recovered from his ankle injury and will be ready to start.
Kane, Dele Alli and Harry Winks all pulled out of the England squad for exhibition games against Germany and Brazil but are expected to be fit for Saturday’s clash.
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