Opinion: Arsenal and Tottenham both searching for improvement after poor Premier League seasons so far
When Arsenal and Tottenham go head-to-head at the Emirates both sides will be hoping to claim north London supremacy. But beyond simply beating an arch-rival, Ibrahim Mustapha believes both teams know that a much-needed win could go some way to kickstarting what has been a relatively disappointing campaign for both so far.
The north London derby takes place this weekend with perhaps more apprehension going into the game from both sides than at any time in recent years.
Neither of Arsenal nor Tottenham will arrive at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon in glittering form and will be wary of adding a derby defeat to their already stuttering seasons so far.
Spurs’ problems were laid bare in their most recent league match as they were thoroughly outplayed by Chelsea, losing 3-0 at home to the Blues in a defeat that came just a week after another 3-0 loss at the hands of Crystal Palace.
Desperately hoping to avoid a third defeat in a third successive London derby, new boss Nuno Espirito Santo urgently needs to rediscover the optimism of the opening weeks of the campaign in which Spurs beat reigning champions Manchester City, his former side Wolves and Watford all by a score of 1-0 to temporarily top the table.
Tottenham’s top four, or even top six credentials were always going to be tested this season so a good start provided the perfect platform, on paper at least, to perhaps embark on a better campaign than many might have predicted.
However, back-to-back humbling defeats and the manner in which Spurs have simply failed to compete is a major worry and already has a number of people questioning Nuno just weeks into his tenure.
While the Portuguese manager’s tactical set up, even in victory, hasn’t looked the most inspiring, he can’t fully be blamed for the wider issues at the club, having arrived to what is far from a harmonious environment.
It’s no secret that Nuno wasn’t even first, second or even third choice in the club’s chase for a permanent replacement for the sacked Jose Mourinho, so it seems unclear what the long-term plan – if one exists, is for Spurs.
The club did also hire Fabio Paratici as director of football but the jury is understandably still out on the players he has helped recruit this summer. Former Barcelona defender Emerson Royal in particular, has struggled in both the Palace and Chelsea defeats.
It hasn't been the smoothest of starts for Nuno at Spurs
Image credit: Getty Images
Then of course, is the Harry Kane-shaped elephant in the room. The wantaway striker who failed to secure his departure during the transfer window has toiled on his return to the first team.
Yet to open his account in the league this season, many are now questioning his desire to even play for the club anymore - was it actually such a ‘masterstroke’ by chairman Daniel Levy to keep a player who doesn’t want to be there?
Of course, a match against Arsenal could be the ideal kickstart for his season – he is the current all-time top scorer in the fixture with 11 goals – but it would require a huge step up in performance from the England hitman based on what we’re seen so far.
If he is back at it, the hope at Spurs is that the levels of those around him may lift too.
The home side come into the match in contrasting form but no more convincing than their rivals.
The Gunners began their campaign with three successive defeats against Brentford, Chelsea and a thrashing at the hands of Manchester City which left them, unthinkably, bottom of the Premier League table.
An eighth-place finish last time out and a failure to qualify for Europe for the first time in 25 years had already raised questions over Mikel Arteta and this start certainly didn’t help his cause.
Back-to-back 1-0 wins over Norwich and Burnley have eased the pressure somewhat on the under-fire boss but the performances are doing little to suggest any improvement to a team that has spent more than anyone else in the summer.
Martin Odegaard celebrates scoring for Arsenal against Burnley in the Premier League.
Image credit: Getty Images
Martin Odegaard was the match-winner against Burnley and perhaps the best of Arsenal’s summer recruits, having already played for the club on loan last season, while Aaron Ramsdale’s display in goal was a pleasant surprise.
The football itself however has failed to ignite so far and everybody including Arteta knows that this needs to be better as his squad continues to gel. Scraping narrow wins without playing well isn’t a sustainable approach, as Tottenham will gladly tell you.
Without European football, the former Gunners captain has far more time to get his ideas across in training and so the expectation is that this needs to happen sooner rather than later. Ideally, on Sunday.
Midweek saw both teams in League cup action with Arsenal beating AFC Wimbledon 3-0 and Spurs coming through on penalties against Wolves, both will have wasted little time switching focus to their big derby clash.
Bragging rights are on the line for both teams but whoever comes out on top will hope a win will do more for their season than simply getting one over the other.