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Tottenham v Arsenal: why Sunday’s North London derby is one of the biggest in years

It goes without saying that every derby in north London means a lot to fans of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.

But Sunday’s game has much broader implications in what will be an intriguing top four battle in the Premier League.

Arsenal, pushed out of the Champions League by West Ham’s midweek win, are fifth with 35 points. Spurs are breathing down their necks in sixth place with 33 points and two games in hand.

Antonio Conte’s team thus has the incentive to overtake their bitter rivals if they take all three points on Sunday afternoon. Arsenal are of course determined to prevent that at all costs.

We take a look at some of the key talking points ahead of a fascinating competition.

Bukayo Saka was one of the goalscorers when Arsenal beat Tottenham in the September derby match

Bukayo Saka was one of the goalscorers when Arsenal beat Tottenham in the September derby match

Arsenal and Tottenham battle it out to make it to the Champions League next season

Arsenal and Tottenham battle it out to make it to the Champions League next season

Arsenal’s rotten record on the Lane

Who could forget Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles who won the Premier League in 2004 at White Hart Lane? Still, it hasn’t been such a happy hunting ground lately.

In fact, you have to go back to March 2014 to find the Gunners’ last league win at Tottenham, when Tomas Rosicky settled it after just two minutes. For that you have to go back to September 2007.

The Spurs want to beat Arsenal at home for the third consecutive season.

Arsene Wenger's Invincibles squad won the Premier League at White Hart Lane in 2004

Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles squad won the Premier League at White Hart Lane in 2004

Tomas Rosicky scored Arsenal's early winner last time they won in the league at Spurs

Tomas Rosicky scored Arsenal’s early winner last time they won in the league at Spurs

Son Heung-min and Harry Kane tore up a dire looking Arsenal in a 2-0 win last season and Toby Alderweireld took out a late winner in a 2-1 result in the previous campaign.

Tottenham are unbeaten in their last seven home games in this league game, winning five and drawing two. It is their best run since nine-in-a-row between 1960 and 1968.

If they win on Sunday, it will be the first time they have won three consecutive home games since August 1961.

But it goes without saying that Mikel Arteta’s team, which finished a humble eighth last season and missed out on European football, have improved tremendously.

Harry Kane and Son Heung-min were on target when they beat Arsenal at home last season

Harry Kane and Son Heung-min were on target when they beat Arsenal at home last season

Who the hell is going to play in Arsenal’s midfield?

Arsenal are in real crisis when it comes to injuries and illness and Arteta admitted after their Carabao Cup tie at Liverpool that this match is questionable.

The Gunners will likely have to fill their bench with academy players and it is in midfield where the problem is most acute.

Granit Xhaka, who was sent off for knocking down Diogo Jota while shooting on target, has been banned from the derby, but that is just the beginning of Arsenal’s problems.

Granit Xhaka was sent off for a fumble in Arsenal's Carabao Cup clash against Liverpool

Granit Xhaka was sent off for a fumble in Arsenal’s Carabao Cup clash against Liverpool

After a long ball forward, Xhaka Diogo caught Jota and was sent off as the last man

After a long ball forward, Xhaka Diogo caught Jota and was sent off as the last man

Martin Odegaard has tested positive for Covid and has been ruled out, Emile Smith Rowe is injured, Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny are at the Africa Cup of Nations and Ainsley Maitland-Niles is on loan to Roma.

It leaves Albert Sambi Lokonga as the only Arsenal senior midfielder available to take on the Spurs.

Arteta has a number of possible solutions, but the center of his team will inevitably take on a makeshift look.

Defenders Ben White and Calum Chambers have experience playing midfield roles and Arteta spoke about White’s versatility after the game against Liverpool.

Ben White (right) may need to step out of defense into midfield for the derby

Ben White (right) may need to step out of defense into midfield for the derby

Or he could put more faith in young star Charlie Patino, the 18-year-old who was tipped to be one of the best players to make it through the club’s academy.

Patino scored on his senior debut against Sunderland in the Carabao Cup last month and started last weekend with the FA Cup defeat in Nottingham Forest alongside Lokonga.

Whether Patino is ready to be thrown into the white heat of a north London derby is another consideration, but hopes are high for him and immediate hero status can wait.

Arsenal have also recalled teenager Miguel Azeez from a loan at Portsmouth as they try to find the numbers to play the game.

Academy star Charlie Patino may get another shot at the biggest game of his career

Academy star Charlie Patino may get another shot at the biggest game of his career

It is also restless at Spurs

If it’s the starting line-up causing a headache at Arsenal, there are concerns with Spurs that Conte’s stay could be very short-lived.

The Italian’s hiring was a stunning coup in November and the Spurs remain unbeaten in the Premier League under his leadership.

But they were outclassed by Chelsea in the two legs of their Carabao Cup semi-final and their own lack of strength in depth was revealed by a very unconvincing win over League One Morecambe in the FA Cup last weekend.

Tottenham players fear manager Antonio Conte will walk away if he is not supported in the market

Tottenham players fear manager Antonio Conte will walk away if he is not supported in the market

Tottenham's sluggish FA Cup win over Morecambe exposed the lack of plow depth

Tottenham’s sluggish FA Cup win over Morecambe exposed the lack of plow depth

Conte has sent chairman Daniel Levy a clear message that money needs to be spent to bolster the squad this month and players fear he will leave if he doesn’t.

Half the time has already passed and the club hasn’t signed anyone yet, and Conte’s volatility is a cause for concern.

Only on an 18-month contract, Conte has shown in the past that he is not afraid to quit if he doesn’t get the market support to justify his results.

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy will decide this month whether to pull the wallet

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy will decide this month whether to pull the wallet

Arsenal encouraged by lightning start in September

While the circumstances are very different this time around, as we’ve already discussed, Arsenal can follow the blueprint of their impressive 3-1 win over Spurs on September 26.

That afternoon at the Emirates, they blew their rivals away thanks to first-half goals from Smith Rowe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka.

It was the first clear evidence that this season could be a successful one for Arteta’s side and came not long after they propped up the table after a disastrous start.

Arsenal scored three goals before half-time to blow Tottenham away at the Emirates Stadium

Arsenal scored three goals before half-time to blow Tottenham away at the Emirates Stadium

But this win was built on the exuberance of youngsters Smith Rowe, Saka and Odegaard (20, 21 and 22 respectively) and the Spurs, then struggling under Nuno Espirito Santo, had no answer.

The problem is that Arsenal are missing quite a few of the key players that day and the Spurs are undoubtedly more determined under Conte, but the memories of that game will be encouraging.

Harry Kane has a good record against Arsenal but has struggled this season

Harry Kane has a good record against Arsenal but has struggled this season

Shoot Harry

The two legs of Chelsea’s semi-final proved frustrating for the striker, but the past month has provided clues that Harry Kane is finally getting back into shape.

The disappointment of not getting his move to Manchester City and losing the Euro 2020 final seemed to weigh heavily on the England skipper at the start of the campaign.

But he scored in three consecutive Premier League games – against Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Southampton in December – as well as against Morecambe last Sunday.

That brought Kane’s goal for the season to 12 – six of which were in the UEFA Europa Conference League.

By his standards, that’s a distinctly average return, but with plenty of football this season, Kane can still turn things around and ensure Conte’s time at Spurs is a success.

He has a very good record against Arsenal, having scored 11 goals in 14 league games in the past and another Sunday will be most welcome.

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