(Photo credit: (Mick Baker)rooster)
12:30 GMT, Saturday 10th February, Wembley Stadium (London, England), BT Sport
The battle for the top-four will carry a local flavour this weekend as 5th-placed Tottenham welcome 6th-placed Arsenal to the home of football.
While both sides are currently on the fringes of qualification for next seasons Champions League competition, both teams also have high hopes of making the grade.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side have picked up seven wins from their last ten games with only defeat by Manchester City denting their current charge. This has put them at the top of the current form table (8 games) and made even more impressive by their most recent games against Manchester United and Liverpool.
Only two points behind 3rd-placed Liverpool going into this weekend, there’s every chance a victory over their arch-rivals could also be enough to restore their top-four status.
By contrast, the Gunners come into this fixture limping from a period which has produced only four wins from their last 12 league matches.
The addition of two new attacking players in January, both of whom played a starring role in the 5-1 dismantling of Everton last weekend, has served to invigorate belief once more.
Having won the reverse fixture at the Emirates earlier this season, the two North London clubs must now battle it out at Wembley for the first time since 1993 when Arsenal won on that occasion too.
Last Time Out
Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Newport County (FA Cup)
Tottenham cruised past the League Two side at the second attempt as Newport’s trip to Wembley gave them nothing but memories.
With one eye most probably glancing towards this weekend’s fixture, Pochettino made ten changes to his team with Son Heung-min the only player to stay in the side. However, Tottenham still fielded a strong team which proved more than too much for the Exiles.
First-half goals from a deflected Moussa Sissoko shot and a well-worked move finished by Erik Lamela effectively put the tie out of reach before the interval, although, it could easily have been a greater margin in the scoreline by then.
With Newport deflated and Tottenham ahead, the second-half was more professional than exhilarating. A trip to Rochdale now awaits Spurs, with the match due to be televised next Sunday.
Arsenal 5-1 Everton (Premier League)
Arsene Wenger’s side brushed off his counterparts pre-match comments about them being defensively weak to seal a very comfortable win against the Toffees.
While this may have been an eighth consecutive game without a clean sheet, Arsenal’s attacking more than compensated with a ruthlessly efficient first-half display.
A Laurent Koscielny header was sandwiched between two goals from Aaron Ramsey in the opening 20 minutes as Everton were made to pay for their defensive lapses. While Ramsey wrapped up his first-ever hat-trick to take the match ball, it was the new boys in the team who helped him steal the limelight.
While Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang capped a lively display with a well-taken goal just before half-time, Henrikh Mkhitaryan showed the sort of form he promised at the beginning of the season with Manchester United. Three assists and plenty of promising signs that a partnership is emerging with Mesut Özil was as good a home debut as the Armenian could have hoped for.
Tottenham have no major injury concerns. However, Lucas Moura is not expected to start such a big game having played little football this season.
Using the same starting eleven who began against Liverpool, Tottenham could line-up in a 4-3-1-2 formation to take a stronger grip on midfield area.
This is where they lost out at the Emirates in the reverse fixture as they were unable to cope with the Gunners high-pressing game.
Petr Cech (calf) is now expected to start this match after missing training earlier in the week. Along with Nacho Monreal and Danny Welbeck who are also recovering quicker than expected, Wenger’s injury problems look to have eased over the past 24 hours.
This means only Santi Cazorla (Achilles) is unavailable although Arsenal are highly likely to line up with the same team which started against Palace last weekend.
Key Battle: Harry Kane (Tottenham) vs Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
The battle which everyone will be keen to watch is that of the two high-profile strikers.
Harry Kane scored again last week and not only loves a big game, he loves to play against London clubs.
While he didn’t score in the reverse fixture during November, he has six goals from his last six appearances against the Gunners and will be looking to hand out some retribution for that last encounter.
Lining up for Arsenal is the Bundesliga’s top scorer (31 goals) of last season.
Having got off to a flying start with a goal on his debut against Everton, he will know a goal in the North London derby will instantly endear him to the Gunners faithful.
Furthermore, he already has four goals from his four previous appearances against Spurs in European competition so will hold no fear when he takes the pitch this weekend.
Ready for action
While the FA Cup replay win over Newport County may have been made to look like a regulation exercise, there were more positives than simply the result wrapped inside the game. Both Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld started the match for Spurs and both completed the full 90 minutes but for a final minute substitution.
Although neither are expected to begin this weekend, they picked up vital minutes to aid their recovery and get closer to being fully match-fit. For Alderweireld in particular, this was a good test after so long out of the action.There was also an impressive game had by Juan Foyth, a player yet to make his Premier League debut following a summer transfer.
All of this serves to provide great promise for the Spurs defence in both the near and longer-term future.
While Sam Allardyce’s assessment of Arsenal may have proved ill-judged, it remains a cause for concern for the Gunners. Wenger has stated that his team need to find the correct balance between attack and defence this season, something which they’ve so far only managed against the divisions lower sides.
The win over Tottenham at the Emirates is the only victory from seven games played against the five teams currently above Arsenal in the table. While they’ve kept two clean sheets, the other five matches have seen them concede 15 goals.
One of the biggest positives from Arsenal’s display against the Toffees was the way in which the team worked together. The defensive co-operation between defence and attack was vastly improved with Özil, Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi all playing a significant role in helping their team with the grittier aspects.
While they’ve shown themselves capable of playing this system, they now need to show they can not only do so against a top team but also maintain their work rate for the full 90 minutes.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 Arsenal
The early kick-off time could dampen the early parts of this match, however, the first goal is likely to spark a fierce reply from the opposition – whoever manages to score first.
Both teams have shown themselves capable of delivering a devastating attack while the fact this is a derby can negate Arsenal’s poor away form to some degree.
The fact that Tottenham have shown greater belief and an ability to play their way back into games should see them edge what could be an action-packed encounter at Wembley this weekend.