Preview by Numbers: Tottenham Hotspur v. Arsenal

White Hart Lane, London
Saturday, March 5
7:45 a.m. EST, 12:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Mike Mullarkey and Steve Child
    • 4th Official: Roger East
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 1 - 1 Tottenham
  • This Match, Last Year: Tottenham 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 75 Arsenal wins, 55 Tottenham wins, 47 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-D-W-W-L-L
  • Tottenham's League Form: W-W-W-W-W-L
At full time on Wednesday, Arseblog tweeted that this Arsenal team did not have the footballing ability to be champions. Personally, I don't believe that that's accurate. There's no reason a team with engineers like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez can't win the Premier League, especially this season, no matter what you may think of Olivier Giroud up top.

It's this Sanchez quote, however, that tells it all: "I think we can win the Premier League with the players we have. That said, we lack a certain hunger. ... We lack self-belief, that we can actually be champions."

So, here we are. Three weeks ago, Arsenal were right back in the title race after a last gasp winner over first-place Leicester. Now, the Gunners are six points back with 10 games to play and they look more like a struggling mid-table side than champions. That has nothing to do with the quality of the players on the pitch and everything to do with their psychology. Bogey team or not, champions don't lose at home to the club in 16th. I mean, the most recent example I could find of something similar was United in 2007, who lost 1-0 to eventual 15th place finisher West Ham, but that happened in the final week of the season with the title already decided, so it's not really the same at all.

When it comes down to it, it's all coaching. It's locker room stuff. It's rousing-team-talk stuff. It's getting a little embarrassing, but this is where a club like Leicester City have an advantage; their "us against the world" mentality has done nothing but strengthen their belief all year. Meanwhile, Arsenal concede once and crumble to pieces.

Ironically, I think the best possible fixture to come up next in the list after a string of losses like this is the North London derby. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about this one. If you can't get your mind right for a derby of this magnitude, maybe professional football wasn't the right career choice for you.

The cliche says that form goes out the window in derby. Arsenal had better fucking hope so.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cech (calf,) Koscielny (calf,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Rosicky (thigh,) Cazorla (knee,) Wilshere (ankle)

Oh, and guess what? Petr Cech is hurt! Injured his calf (according to Arsene Wenger) or his hamstring (according to other witnesses) sprinting back to his goal after coming forward for a final corner. What a ridiculous way to lose your number one goalkeeper for, most likely, three weeks!

While I'm on the subject of Cech, there were quotes from Chelsea players (it might have been John Terry, in fact) that said the addition of Cech could have been good for an additional 12 to 15 points in the table. But now, 28 games gone in the season, and Arsenal have three fewer points than they had through the same number of matches last season. And, aside from the Cech, it's basically the same squad.

So, what happened? I think the most obvious is that Santi Cazorla is hurt. Arsenal might have survived December without the little Spaniard, but their goal scoring ability has dropped precipitously in 2016.

But, even without Cazorla, Arsenal have still been creating chances (thanks, Ozil!) They've just had abysmal finishing. That comes down to Alexis being exhausted (and, oh, there's another Copa America this summer, FYI), Theo Walcott being Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud operating at the same frustrating clip he always has, and Aaron Ramsey not being able to duplicate a 2013/14 season that was, let's face it, a statistical anomaly. Throw into the mix the fact that our center backs are having a season to forget and it's clear that the current Arsenal XI are trending downward. It's only the improved parity across the rest of the Premier League that is keeping Arsenal in this title race to begin with.

Speaking of downward trending center backs, Laurent Koscielny is out for Saturday with the calf injury that kept him out on Wednesday. Also, Cazorla hit back at the rumors that he'd had a setback with his Achilles tendon by insisting he'll be back in April.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Welbeck, Campbell, Ozil, Giroud.

Tottenham Squad News

Out: N'Jie (knee,) Vertonghen (knee)
Doubts: Dembele (groin)

Tottenham will be without Clinton N'Jie and Jan Vertonghen, both out with knee injuries, while Mousa Dembele is a doubt with a groin problem. They will, however, have Dele Alli available; he took a knock during the post-match warmdown last weekend and only made the bench midweek against West Ham. He came on as a 61st minute substitute.

Spurs rotated liberally against West Ham, which might be a legitimate excuse for losing, and could make as many as four changes to the side for this one. Mauricio Pochettino switched out both of his usual fullbacks, so Kevin Trippier and Ben Davies will likely drop for Kyle Walker and Danny Rose. Ryan Mason would drop if Dele Alli is fit to start, while Nacer Chadli might drop for Son Heung-Min, who came off the bench on Wednesday.

Predicted XI: Lloris, Walker, Alderweireld, Wimmer, Rose, Dier, Alli, Lamela, Son, Eriksen, Kane.

Current Form

I already mentioned in the intro that form goes out the window in derbies, which is good because Arsenal are winless in four and have lost three straight across all competitions. This is the first time this season that the Gunners have lost consecutive league fixtures; the last time Arsenal lost consecutive league games, it was to, you guessed it, Swansea City and Manchester United, in November of 2014. Arsenal have not lost three straight league fixtures since January of 2012, when they lost to Fulham... Swansea City and Manchester United. Yikes.

Tottenham also lost on Wednesday night, 1-0 to West Ham United at Upton Park. The loss snapped Spurs' six game winning streak in the league, which carried them from fourth to second in the table. They're out of the FA Cup now, having lost to Crystal Palace at home in the last round, but have advanced to the Round of 16 in the Europa League, where they've got a tricky tie against Bundesliga title contenders Borussia Dortmund. Spurs have the advantage of playing the second leg at home in that tie, with matches on March 10 and 17.

Match Facts

Arsenal and Spurs have already met twice so far this season, though with Spurs out of the FA Cup, this will be the final meeting between the clubs this year. At White Hart Lane in September, Arsenal knocked Tottenham out of the League Cup, 2-1, with Mathieu Flamini of all people, scoring twice. Tottenham's goal came via an own goal from Calum Chambers.

In the league encounter at the Emirates in November, Arsenal were ravaged by injury and held together by duct tape as they steamrolled toward an international break. Spurs controlled the early exchanges and scored on the break in the first half, through Harry Kane, of course. Arsenal were so hit by injuries, they needed Kieran Gibbs to come on as a winger instead of a fullback and, wouldn't you know it, he scored the equalizer on 77 minutes. Arsenal then dominated the rest of the match, but never found a winner.

Arsenal have struggled immensely at White Hart Lane, recent League Cup tie aside. Arsenal did win there in the winter of 2014, thanks to a Tomas Rosicky goal scored at the 72-second mark. Spurs had the lion's share of possession in that match, however, and could consider themselves unlucky to not have equalized. Of course, Tottenham won this fixture 2-1 last year, with Harry Kane scoring twice. Since the Arsenal's 3-1 win in 2007, the Gunners have lost four league fixtures at the Lane, drawn two, and won just once.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Oliver took charge of the League Cup final between Liverpool and Manchester City last weekend and, honestly, didn't have a great showing; he missed a clear cut penalty for City in the second half, then in injury time mishandled some handbags between Yaya Toure and Adam Lallana which probably should have seen the Ivorian sent off. Oliver ended up showing 10 yellow cards in the match.

Arsenal have fond memories of Oliver from last year's FA Cup sixth round match at Old Trafford, Arsenal's only win at Manchester United in any competition over the last 10 years. This season, Arsenal have had Oliver only once and they didn't win; that was the 0-0 draw with Liverpool back in August.

Spurs have had Oliver four times so far this season, winning two and drawing two. They beat Crystal Palace 1-0 back in September, then played a scoreless draw with Chelsea in November, a 1-1 draw with Everton in January, and a 4-1 win over Colchester United in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Oliver took charge of the North London derby at the Emirates last year, which ended 1-1. You'd have to go back to the winter of 2014 to find the last time either of these clubs lost a match with Oliver in charge, though oddly enough, both of those losses were by four goal margins. Arsenal's last loss with Oliver was the 5-1 loss to Liverpool in February of 2014, while Spurs's last loss with him was a 4-0 reverse to Chelsea in March of 2014.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Stoke City; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. West Ham United; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Aston Villa; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Bournemouth; St. James's Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Sunderland; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Norwich City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday (late): Watford v. Leicester City; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Sunday (early): Crystal Palace v. Liverpool; Selhurst Park, London
  • Sunday (late): West Bromwich Albion v. Manchester United; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is screaming both internally and externally. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat  for both screaming and non-screaming.